Archive for June 2014

Card Wars Lite Review

If you watch Adventure Time by any means aside from Netflix then you have most likely already seen the episode Card Wars. If you like Adventure Time and for some reason have not, then you should really go watch it as it is pretty good.

On the other hand if you do not watch Adventure Time, and especially if you dislike the show, then unless you are really into casual, competitive card games then you will probably not care too much about this game, either (though truth be told being a fan of the show might make you actually dislike this game more, but I will get to that in a bit).

Playing the Game
Despite Jake describing it as "super complicated" and taking 2 hours to try to explain the rules to Finn, Card Wars reminds me of a massively stripped down version of Magic: the Gathering (which is not necessarily a bad thing): you draw cards, play them, and basically just try to beat up your opponent with a series of ridiculous creatures like Husker Knights, Cool Dogs, Green Mermen, and Sand Angels.

Each player controls a row of four landscape cards, which are matched up across from each other to form four lanes. During your turn you draw a card and have two actions to spend, which you use to play buildings, creatures, or spells.

Cards are either associated with a landscape or are untyped Rainbow cards: for example the Cool Dog is a Blue Plains creature, while the Husker Knight is a Cornfield creature. They cost anywhere from 0-3 actions to play (3 action cards require you to use some other spell or floop-ability that gives you a bonus action), and you need to have a number of associated un-flipped landscape cards to play them equal to the card's Action Cost. The Cool Dog I mentioned has an Action Cost of 2, which means that you not only need to use both of your actions to play it, but you have to have at least two un-flipped Blue Plains landscapes (Rainbow cards work with any landscape).

Each landscape can only contain one creature, and one building can be placed behind it. Once you spend your actions each of your creatures either must floop (ie, activate a special ability) or attack. If there is another creature in the opposing land tile they both deal damage to each other, but if the other tile is clear you damage the other player, and the first player to 25 is the loser dweeb.

Something that Melissa and I did not know for several games is that you can "replace" a creature or building by paying the action cost of the one you want to play, discarding the card already in play, and placing the new one where it was. It might seem counter-intuitive, but since your creatures must either floop or attack it might actually help you avoid taking damage when your opponent goes.

The Good
The game is cheap to pick up ($20 for two completely playable decks), easy to learn, and plays pretty quickly once you know what you are doing (though you might overlook a rule or three).

Given the lackluster production value I was also honestly surprised that the decks seem to actually have their own kind of play style:
  • Creatures in the Cornfield deck are often fueled by the number of flipped-up land tiles you have, making them ideal for an aggressive player. The downside is that Pigs can flip them, and if you stick them in a Blue Plains deck it can be pretty easy to bounce them around to other lanes: on a few occasions I was able to lock down all of Melissa's Cornfields, rendering her helpless until she got a Big Foot or Reclaim Landscape card.
  • The Blue Plains deck seems geared toward screwing over the other player and setting up combos: some creatures get Attack bonuses if you move them to another land tile or when you cast spells, which is easy to double-down on if you load your deck with several Teleport cards (I should mention there is also at least one creature that can yank Rainbow spells out of your discard pile).
  • The Useless Swamp deck seems to start out slow, but get better the heavier your discard pile gets: a lot of cards require at least 5 cards to see any sort of effect, and at least one creature cannot even be played until you have 10 cards in it.

Even better is that you can mix and match landscape tiles and cards. In fact some cards work better if you do: for example the Immortal Maizewalker is a Useless Swamp creature that deals triple damage if you play it on a Cornfield tile.

The Bad
I did not like that the decks came randomly intermixed. We started out buying the Jake vs. Finn deck, which contains Blue Plains and Cornfield landscapes. Both decks came individually wrapped, but featured a mixture of Blue Plains, Cornfield, and Rainbow cards.

We ended up having to sort out the cards, and divvying up the Rainbow cards where they made the most sense: the Blue Plains deck got the Pigs (since they flip Cornfield tiles) and the Teleport spells (since a lot of Blue Plains cards get bonuses when you move to another land tile), while the Cornfield one got all the Big Foot cards and Reclaim Landscape spells (since both can un-flip landscapes).

The major drawback is the art, which is...pretty abyssmal at times. I get that Adventure Time has a simple style, but a lot of the time the show features some interesting, evocative designs. In Card Wars there are a lot of cards that look lazy or just outright bad, as if someone with no artistic talent was just trying to half-ass the show's style. As an example here is the ancient scholar from both the show and card game:

For another check out these, uh, "gems":

And then there are the ones that are just slightly modified copies:

All I am just saying is that I do not think it would have been hard to find someone that could at least do a passable imitation. Plus there was so much potential to come up with more creative cards: did they really need to copy so many? I am frankly surprised they bothered to give them different abilities.

Finally, after reading the wiki entry on the game, even ignoring the holographic elements this game does not seem nearly as interesting as the one on the show (which you won by wiping out your opponent's buildings and creatures, not by dealing damage to who/whatever the player is intended to represent). I think all around a much better imitation could have been done.

I only would get this game if you are a huge fan of casual, competitive games. It plays alright and can have its fun moments, but I am not sure if being a fan of the show will make the game more appealing or just disappointing due to the poor art and unimaginative cards. I mean yeah, you can say stuff like "I floop the pig", but I do not think it is worth the twenty bucks, nor do I really feel like I am playing the game featured on the show.

Honestly it feels largely like a half-assed branding ploy, a waste of the source material, and after some other disappointments I do not see myself picking up any other Adventure Time stuff in the future without seeing some glowing reviews beforehand.
June 28, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Battlemind Preview

Coming out of 3rd Edition one of the great things about 4th Edition was how classes tended to be more focused in scope and actually functional.

Yeah, some people complained about not being able to play a fighter with a bow and be as effective as the ranger class (despite the ranger being a perfectly viable substitute), but to me it is refreshing to be able to pick a class and actually have it do what it is supposed to right out of the gate.

The battlemind was one of the those classes that worked, oftentimes frustratingly so, but seemed to lack a kind of...conceptual focus: you could harden your body into metal or stone, teleport yourself or enemies, and implant hallucinations.

When I was running Sundered World I created a kind of monster on the fly that basically evoked what I always wanted a battlemind to do, drawing inspiration from Fullmetal Alchemist's Greed and metalcrafters from Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series: he could transform his limbs into into weapons, coat parts of his body in metal to deflect attacks, stretch out his arms, grow spikes from his flesh, etc.

That is basically what this preview is: my take on a kind of better focused battlemind that I always wanted to play, seen through the lens of Dungeon World. Let me know what you like and dislike. Is it something you would play? If not, why not?

Choose one for each:
Metal-Flecked Eyes, Steely Gaze, or Molten Orbs
Bald, Wild Hair, or Helmet
Minimal Clothes, Concealing Cloak, or Easily-Removed Clothing
Toned Body, Lots of Scars, or Metallic Plates

Your maximum HP is 12+Constitution.
Your base damage is d10.

Starting Moves
Choose any race and how you acquired your psionic powers:

Over many years you have learned to hone your mind. When you focus your psionic energies you always gain 1 focus, even on a miss.

Your powers manifested from too much Far Realm exposure. When you shape your body into weapons or armor, there is always an organic component like eyes, mouths, or chitin. When you focus your psionic powers, regain hit points equal to the number of focus you gain.

Your mind is a wellspring of power. You start with mindspark.

You start with these moves:

Psionic Focus
When you spend a few moments to try gather and focus your psionic energies, roll+CON. *On a 10+, gain 3 focus. *On a 7-9, gain 1 focus and choose one:
  • Take -1 ongoing to focus your psionic energies until you make camp.
  • A psychic cascade dazes you, preventing you from acting for a few moments.
  • You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot—the GM will tell you how.

Living Weapon
When you spend a few moments concentrating, one or both of your hands transforms into a weapon with the hand and close tags. When you hit with an attack, spend 1 focus to do one of the following:
  • Deal +1d4 damage.
  • The attack gains the forceful tag.

Body Armor
As long as you hold focus you can always choose to defy danger against a weapon by enduring. With a thought you can harden your skin: when you are hit by an attack, you can spend 1 focus to reduce the damage you take by 1d4.


Succeed through decisive action.

Protect someone from harm.

Rush heedlessly into the fray.

Your load is 10+STR. You start with dungeon rations (5 uses, 2 weight). Choose your defenses:
  • Chainmail (1 armor, worn, 1 weight) and bandages (3 uses, slow, 0 weight)
  • Scale armor (2 armor, worn, clumsy, 3 weight)
Choose your backup weapon:
  • A well-balanced long blade (close, precise, 1 weight)
  • Spear (reach, thrown, near, 1 weight)
  • Dagger (hand, 1 weight) and a bandoleer of 3 throwing knives (hand, near, thrown, 0 weight)
Choose one:
  • 2 healing potions (0 weight)
  • A broad, spiked shield (+1 armor, hand, 2 weight)
  • Antitoxin (0 weight), poulices and herbs (2 uses, slow, 1 weight), and 5 coins.

Advanced Moves
When you gain a level from 2-5, choose from these moves.

Cold Iron
Weapons you shape from your body deal +1d6 damage against fey. You can spend 1 focus to slice through magical barriers and wards, or to take +1 against a spell.

You can unleash blasts of electricity from your body. Treat this as the volley move, except that you roll+CON, and on a 7-9 if you choose to reduce your ammo you instead reduce your focus by 1.

Hardened Flesh
As long as you hold focus, gain +1 armor, and when you spend focus to reduce damage, reduce it by 1d6.

Iron in Your Blood
Weapons you shape with your body deal +1 damage, and when you spend focus to deal extra damage, deal +1d6 damage.

Liquid Metal
When you shape a weapon with your body, it gains the precise and 1 piercing tags.

When you try to focus your psionic energy and roll a 12+, gain 4 focus.

You can spend 1 focus to regain 1d6 hit points.

Reactive Armor
When you defy danger against a melee attack and roll a 10+, spend 1 focus to deal your damage to the attacker.

Stretching Limbs
As long as you hold focus, your arms gain the reach tag.

When you use the defend move, you can spend focus as well as hold.
June 27, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Down in the Deeps

  • Augustine (5th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (5th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (5th-level gnome thief)

They had three choices: try to get as far away from Hell's Arch and the Autumn Monarch's army as possible, infiltrate the Autumn Monarch's army and assassinate him (which, given that they were fey and all, chances were that someone might have already done just that), or sneak over into the neighboring fortress, liberate some fey prisoners—including the king of the duskies—and sneak back.

After much discussion they opted for the third option: what it lacked in the highest chance of survival, it made up for in the amount of treasure they would get. Plus Fionna totally owed Mouse, her and Jaya had that whole friend thing going on, and something something Augustine honor blah blah blah.

Escorted by one of Fionna's Jarlsmen they refilled their packs and bought a couple of healing potions before heading deep underground. After wandering through winding passages they came to a wide underground stream that flowed out of a cavernous opening, cascading down to the land below: it was the waterfall that they had seen during their approach to Hell's Arch. A stone bridge spanned the stream near the opening, giving them an impressive view, and lead to a stone door that was guarded by another pair of Jarlsmen.

They approached and their escort explained the plan. The other two listened, nodded when he finished, and one turned to open the door. He pushed a large, square button in the wall, and as it slowly reset the ground rumbled loudly and the door began to rise. Inside was a small room, with another large door and a button on the opposing wall. Before they proceeded one of the guards handed them a sheet of parchment: it was a crude map that showed most of the complex with varying degrees of accuracy. They then bid them good luck and sealed the door.

Beyond the second door was a large hallway, with yet another door and button at the end. The hall looked completely unremarkable, which caused Mouse to expect an ambush or least some kind of trap: sure enough, while the walls and floor seemed safe, there were numerous small holes in the ceiling.


Since there was no way to tell if anyone was waiting above, Augustine cautiously walked the length of the hall. When nothing happened Jaya and Mouse emerged, and when still nothing happened they started toward the third door. As Augustine went to push the button Jaya stopped him: there was a strange sign scratched underneath. It looked somewhat like an eye, and she suspected some kind of divination magic, but was not sure if it allowed Shorna to continuously see into the room, if she had to enact some magical effect, or if it triggered an alarm when the door was opened.

They were about to take their chances with the door when Mouse suggested investigating the murderholes: whoever would have manned them had to be able to access them from the inside. The holes were just wide enough to accommodate Mouse, but it was possible that the switch on the other side lacked any such warding. Plus, if Mouse was out of sight it would give them an edge if anyone did attack. Augustine and Jaya formed a human ladder, and once Mouse climbed out of the murderhole he lit a torch to get his bearings.

Fortunately there was no one waiting for him, and as far as he could tell there were no traps or witch-signs. He followed the hall into a square room. It had a balcony that overlooked another hall that seemed to be just beyond the door. There was no obvious way down, but a few passages extended in different directions and there were also four levers along one of the walls. With some brief and noisy experimentation he discovered that two of them opened both doors in the hallway, while the other two caused them to slam back in place.

Once Jaya and Augustine made it through they examined the map more closely. There were no markings or notations, so they just chose a general direction to start with and hoped for the best. They figured that Mouse might as well stay above them to better offer support, but since the elevated passages were not marked on the map he would just have to try and follow along as best he could.

Once Mouse left Augustine muttered a brief prayer, causing his holy symbol to flare with light. It illuminated the room with a soft, azure glow, and he could see several large alcoves that he guessed were once stalls for...whatever it was that dwarves rode around on. The wood, if they even used wood, was gone, but he could still see metal hinges driven into the stone.

Jaya on the other hand spotted a few figures just beyond the edge of the light. The only details she could make out was that they were wearing hooded cloaks, though after a few arrows whizzed by and clattered off of Augustine's armor also realized they were both armed and had definitely noticed them.

Augustine dashed into one of the stalls while Jaya ran in another direction, hoping that they would focus on the light and fail to spot her. She rounded a corner, intending to keep well out of sight until they advanced upon Augustine, after which she would try and sneak up on them. She immediately stepped onto a stone ramp, and it was a testament to dwarven craftsmanship that, even after the countless decades, possibly centuries since humans had settled into the keep, that the traction grooves and ridges carved into the ramp remained.

Unfortunately it was coated with slime.

By the time she stopped sliding she was thoroughly coated in slime and had no idea how far she had gone. Wherever she was there was no light, not even from Augustine's holy symbol. She tried to stand and slipped. She then tried crawling about to find a dry area on the floor, but the slime seemed to be everywhere, and she did her best not to dwell on where the slime had come a hungry monster accustomed to the darkness. After several minutes she was finally able to right herself, and after several more was able to get a torch in her hands.

Now she just had to light the damned thing.

Mouse had been running as quietly as possible for some time when he came to a corner. He slowed his pace and peered around its edge just in time to see several cloaked figures fleeing up a stone ramp across from him. Unsure who they were, what they were up to, or where Augustine and Jaya were he followed them, keeping his distance so as to avoid them noticing his torchlight.

Augustine peeked out from the stall to see Mouse darting across the hall and up the ramp. He turned to tell Jaya, which was when he realized that she was not with him. Since he had not seen her run by he feared that something had happened, and began backtracking his steps. Unfortunately the light from his holy symbol was not especially bright, he was in unfamiliar territory, and he could not call out for her for fear of alerting who knows what was lurking about.

He checked the stalls, found nothing, and then crawled through a low opening into a small bed chamber with some moldering cots, one of which mostly concealed a strange, metal key. He pocketed it and continued to search, and after a few minutes came across a stone ramp that looked to be covered in a thick carpet of dust.

Had she been struck by an arrow? Had she slipped and fallen? Had someone (or something) in the confusion of the fight abducted her? As he stepped on the ramp the "dust" transformed into slime, but as he slipped managed to catch himself on a stone rail. Assuming that she had in fact slipped down the ramp, he used the rail to gradually descend to the bottom, where he discovered Jaya busily trying to light a torch. He started to ask her what had happened when one of the sparks landed on a patch of slime near his feet, which is when they discovered how flammable the stuff was.

It was really, really flammable.

By the time Mouse had caught up to the trio of cloaked figures they were overlooking a balcony, silhouetting by the bright, flickering light of fire. He put out his torch and tossed it aside, pressed up against a wall, and slid towards them. As he drew close he could hear them snickering loudly, and Jaya's voice profusely echoing apologies while Augustine roared in pain.

As one began to draw a bow Mouse slipped behind him, leaped upon his back, and drove his sword through the neck. The blade erupted from his mouth, and as he withdrew it the other two stood there in shock, mouths agape. He gave the body a shove as it began to fall. It collided with one of them and both tumbled to the ground. The other drew a sword and shouted for Mouse to keep back, doing his best to sound threatening, and as his partner regained his feet and drew his sword Mouse obliged by scurrying back into the shadows.

They exchanged nervous looks, unsure what to do next, when Mouse's throwing blade whizzed out of the darkness and struck one of them in the skull. He crumpled lifelessly to the ground, and the blade pulled itself free and flew back into the darkness, whipping blood about as it spun away. The remaining survivor dropped his sword, fell to his knees, and begged for mercy.

It was about this time that Jaya had extinguished Augustine. Mouse told them that he had actually managed to capture a prisoner for once, in case they wanted to question him, but if not he would be more than happy to "leave no witnesses". At the man's frantic pleading Jaya tossed up a rope and hook so that he could descend, far away from Mouse, to talk with her and Augustine.

Jaya and Augustine interrogated him while Mouse busied himself rummaging through the bodies. They learned that his name was Henry, counting Mark and Shorna there were still nine others left, and that the prisoners were being held on a ship floating on a kind of water arena that had been built inside the mountain by the previous dwarven ruler. They also learned that Shorna was very knowledgeable about potions and poisons, knew magic that could bind fey creatures, and was in general a "master of black magic who would definitely avenge his death if something were to happen to him".

Since there were now two, well, unused cloaks Jaya suggested trying to sneak in with Henry's help, stating that if he cooperated and survived that he would be free to go. Even ignoring the fact that Mark was his uncle, it was still a pretty raw deal. Jaya tried a different approach, explaining that unless the prisoners returned a fey army would attack the city, and that Hell's Arch stood no chance of surviving: Mouse pointed out that if he, a lone gnome managed to get in and slaughter them without taking a scratch, that there was no way the city could survive an army of them.

This gave Henry cause to rethink his position, but to sweeten the deal Mouse also mentioned that if Hell's Arch was still standing that Fionna was going to knight them: if he helped out they could put in a good word for him, and Augustine even swore to protect him from Mouse. At the prospect of having both decent odds of actually surviving and coming out ahead he agreed to help, and they started to formulate a plan on how to get into the barge.

Behind the Scenes
Dan ended up retconning what we felt was not a terribly major detail (the Autumn Monarch captured the messengers instead of killing them): I am sure there are those that would decry this as some kind of heretical act, but...meh. Meh I say.

Not sure how much is left in this particular campaign, but once we are done it sounds like I am going to be running another proper Sundered World campaign. I mentioned that when I first ran it in 4th Edition it played out I guess how you would normally do it in Dungeon World (despite having not played Dungeon World at the time), so it will be interesting to see how it works out with something that is not just a playbook playtest.

Melissa ended up recording this session so as to make the play report more accurate, but I am curious whether anyone would be interested in having access to podcasts of our game? Here are some choice quotes:

"So, is the feather token linked to a specific bird or can it be any bird?" —David/Mouse
"It summons the nearest bird and forces it to deliver a message." —Dan/GM
"Sweet: we have infinite food, now." —David/Mouse

"Oh, I started the fire. I have not started a fire until now." —Melissa/Jaya
"You popped your fire-cherry." —Everyone else at once

"Hard bargain: you either light yourself or Augustine on fire." —Dan/GM
"He's got more hit points." —David/Mouse
talking to Augustine "I'm...going to light you on fire..." —Melissa/Jaya
"Sweet." —David/Mouse

"My "plan" is to throw them over the balcony into the fire, and hope that it works out for you guys." —David/Mouse

"You're asking a guy to not only betray his family, but actively fight them, and if he survives...we'll let him go? When Mouse is being the moral compass, well..." —David/Mouse

"I'm a fey thing, too, and if I got in and killed you guys imagine an army of gnomes, coming out of the walls. It's game over." —David/Mouse
"They've got gnomes?" —Dan/GM
"Oh, so many gnomes." —David/Mouse
June 26, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Free RPG Day: Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes

Short update: as part of Free RPG Day I am making Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes free for the day Pay What You Want forever, as well as marking everything else down by 50%.

DOUBLE EDIT: Apparently I assumed I had it set to Pay What You Want, but if you set PWYW on a product with a print version it just ignores it and keeps it at a set price. So, I removed the pdf from the original product and created a new page for the pdf-only, PWYW version.

EDIT: I finally figured out how to set it to "Pay What You Want".

This was my first real product and I figure that now, about a year later, I should just leave it at that as a way for others to get a sample of my content, to try before you buy. If you like what I do, then you can always throw a couple bucks my way, or purchase something else.

One Man's Treasure Is Another Man's Garbage

5d4 kobolds were one day
away from retirement.
I have been meaning to write this for awhile now, and I figure what with 5th Edition more or less actually out, what better time?

One of the big—some might say biggest—default motivations in Dungeons & Dragons is treasure. In older editions I guess it inexplicably accounted for the majority of your XP gains. Like, you did not go into a dungeon to fight monsters, but to take their shit, which somehow translated into making you better at fighting, sneaking, or casting spells.

Confusing, but not necessarily the most confusing aspect of the game.

This bizarre practice thankfully ended in 3rd Edition, where you instead amassed heaps of it in order to buy readily available magic items—namely so you could get better numbers to keep up with the monster's numbers—and continued on into 4th Edition. In addition to this unnecessary number-based arms race, I have some other issues with how treasure is handled in the game:

  • It is stupid easy to get: just walk into any dungeon—if you even need to go that far—and you are bound to run into critters packing obscene amounts of wealth.
  • Objects and gems have seemingly random sale values: in the 5th Edition playtest a gold ring with a ruby is worth 700 gp (the same price as a jeweled gold crown), but a star ruby by itself is only worth 100 gp?
  • Magic items are almost always incredibly underwhelming, as if each room were a disorganized, absent-minded wizard's breakfast nook.
  • Sometimes the treasure is also a monster.

Welcome to Dungeons & Dragons, the game where your coins (and treasure chests, pillows, sheets,
cloaks, walls, floors, ceilings, sword, beholders, etc) can actually be disguised monsters.

Before I get into money and magic items, I want to briefly touch on the other two issues.

I'm not exactly sure how to deal with art objects and gems. Generally speaking that shit is useless to adventurers, so I have no idea why anyone would shell out hundreds of gold pieces for a gold ring, whether or not it has a ruby. If anything I would expect the characters to get ridiculously short-changed, unless it has some sort of significance to the buyer, and probably not even then, because what are the adventurers going to do with it?

I think the next time I run a D&D game I'm going to try having merchants offer so little for a gem-studded crown (either in raw coins or trade), that one of the players will just fucking wear the damn thing.

As for monsters pretending to be other things, the only one that gets a pass from me is the mimic, and that's because you can do a lot of fun shit with it. The most memorable use I can recall was from an adventure that I think was called The Tainted Spiral: at one point you walk into a room with a mimic disguised as an alter that has a magic hammer on it. When you try to get the hammer, the mimic gobbles it up, and you get to beat the hammer out of it (I think that when you bloodied it, it barfs up the hammer).

Fortunately the best solution for the others is also the easiest: don't use them. There are less contrived ways to challenge and hinder your players.

Moving on!

Too Much Money And Magic
Let's take a look at The Temple of Elemental Evil, specifically just the surface level of the moathouse: there is a frog with a 100 gp gem in its stomach, a snake's nest has a dagger worth 850 gp, and the group of ten or so bandits squatting there have something like 750 gp of assorted cash and art objects if you assume some conservative rolls for the randomized coins and gems. Mind you this is just the stuff that you turn around and cash in when you get back to town; there are also some magic arrows and a shield, too.

In the 3rd Edition adventure The Whispering Cairn you start out exploring the tomb of an extraplanar being that died in a war against demons (oh, spoilers). Extraplanar beings? Demons? That sounds pretty fucking awsome; who knows what you will find down there!

Try some glass shards worth 20 gp, a gold bracelet worth 75-100 gp, a ruby worth 50 gp, three statuettes worth 200 gp each, a red pedastal worth 300 gp, a masterwork quarterstaff (150 gp), a silver ring worth 75 gp, another ring worth 200 gp, 2 pp, 73 gp, and 70 sp. All told this nets the characters at least 1,570 gp, and this is not counting the magical armor, wands, potions, ring, and other assorted trinkets that they probably will not sell.

On one hand there is no dagger that somehow accounts for almost half of the cash goods, but on the other this stuff is just the leftovers of the leftovers from a previous party of unscrupulous explorers that got there before you did. You do not run into any extraplaner goodies until the very end, and even then it just ends up being a pair of demon horns notable for their sale value and nothing else, a Wisdom booster, and some tongs that you can use in the last adventure if you keep them around until then.

That is not all, though: back in town there is a good chance that you will end up picking a fight with a gang of NPCs that are packing a bunch of potions, and a magical axe, cloak, suit of armor, and wand. Granted these guys are near the top of the food chain, but they work for one of the worst people in an already pretty dismal, poverty-stricken town, so...where did they get it all?

Did their employer just give them thousands of gold pieces worth of magical loot on good faith? Did they somehow scrape together the cash over several decades, maybe centuries? Perhaps they are still making payments to one of several NPCs that are just selling magic items that have miraculously not been stolen?

Nah, they probably went into another cairn and robbed some dead explorers, there.

The Dungeons & Dragons circle of life.
From what I can recall the game started making assumptions as to how much cash you should have in 3rd Edition, with 2nd-level characters Scrooge McDuck-ing at around 900 gp each. Going off of the silver-piece-per-day assumptionthis means that the typical 2nd-level character could live very comfortably at a gold piece per day for almost two and a half years. If the character wants to scrape by like the common man? She should be fine for around twenty-five.

4th Edition is a little less guilty in it only assumes about 140-ish gp per character by 2nd-level (grand total of 720 gp's worth for the entire party), along with almost enough magic items and healing potions to go around (even if you sell a magic item you only get a fifth of it's value, meaning that you can expect to get anywhere from an extra 72-200 gp out of it). Nowhere near as much as 3rd Edition, but still a pretty hefty sum for characters with just a few kobolds and a quest or two under their belts.

5th Edition claims to have no wealth-by-level assumptions, which is good, but in the tediously titled Lost Mine of Phandelver you can get (assuming all quests completed) about 5,500 gp at the adventure's conclusion—not counting magic items—or about 1100-1375 each, which is an average of 275-340ish per level (assuming you get to 5th-level and depending on how peeps many are in the party). In the equally unimaginative Vault of the Dracolich, I counted somewhere around a staggering 35,000 gp.

Setting a Better Standard
I use a "silver standard" in my Dungeons & Dragons games, by which I mean players start out with whatever gear they need to do what it is they are supposed to do, and some silver pieces instead of gold. I also adjusted prices to levels where, say, a farmer could feasibly afford tools, animals, possibly even a crossbow and ammunition.

My group is not particularly motivated by money, but I think that rather than start out with a fortune and rack up much, much more over the course of a semi-taxing weekend, it would be more rewarding and logical to start out largely dealing in copper and silver, before gradually transitioning to gold and ultimately platinum.

I also tend to avoid putting small bits of loot on monsters, particularly when it comes to "trash fights". My players not only rarely remember to loot the monsters, but often seem confused as to why they should. Carving open frogs on the off chance they were unable to pass a gem? Forget it; none of them are going to even consider it, and why would they? What rational person shuffles through the innards of an animal like it is some kind of meat-pinata? The only reason they would do that is because on some meta-level they are aware that their efforts might spawn an arbitrary priced piece of quantum loot.

No, I keep most of that shit in the monster's lair if it even makes sense to have it at all. One thing that I like about 4th Edition is that you do not need magical healing to survive (kind of like all of the fiction that Dungeons & Dragons claims to derive inspiration from), which also means that you do not need to spend money on healing items (which, despite requiring magic to make are apparently in ready supply).

Enchantment Enchmantment
In my longest running 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, one character just kept hoarding his cash so that when they finally got to Sharn he could dump it on an artificer to whip him up a cloak of Charisma +4. On a purely mechanical level the cloak was magical, but as far as the player was concerned it was just a potent math bonus that disappeared into his sheet once he put it on.

This is not the only offender, just one of the more expensive ones. The game is rife with weapons, armor, rings, and more that do nothing except increase a number on your character sheet. They are at the same time the most boring, convenient, and arguably necessary items in the game because you just factor-and-forget a bunch of numbers that do little except help you keep up in a numbers-based arms race.

Something else that I actually liked about 5th Edition was that, last time I checked, as with 4th Edition you could assume no magic items at all. Unfortunately, but as expected, they pretty much leave everything to be desired: getting back to (yawn) Lost Mine of Phandelver, the magic items include a ring that gives you +1 to Armor Class and saving throws, a staff that lets you deal +1d6 poison damage and spend charges to cast spider climb or web, and yet another staff that gives you +1 to Armor Class and lets you spend charges to cast mage armor or shield.

The gauntlets of ogre strength are particularly laughable. True to their word, you become as strong as I guess the average adult ogre...which is also as strong as the typical 9th-level character that put a 16 in Strength and increased it each time (or as strong as a 5th-level character that started with a 17 and did it once)? If you already have a Strength of 19? They do absolutely nothing. Kind of like the boots of striding and springing, which give you the awesome power to...make you as fast as most of the standard races. I guess they also let you jump really far, but...meh?

Another default assumption for 5th Edition was also that characters would not be able to freely purchase whatever they wanted. It is because of this that I, perhaps naively, expected to see magic items that felt, well, magical. Like magical gauntlets that let you knock people around, easily smash through doors or walls, and hurl massive objects. The only magic item that I can recall from the playtest packet that did something interesting was the efreeti armor, as it let you walk on lava as if it were solid ground (though given it only provides fire resistance you will still die pretty quickly from heat exposure).

Making Magic Items Magical
When I was writing magic items for Seekers of the Sand I not only tried to give them some mechanical punch, but also at least one interesting thing to do. For example, the landshark gauntlets boost your unarmed damage, give you an encounter-long burrowing speed once per day (even though I do so dislike per-day limitations), and can also let you strike a surface and instantly create a tunnel. I felt that the latter ability was particularly neat, fairly unique, and could be employed in a variety of creative ways.

One of the things I love about writing supplements for Dungeon World is that things need not be so meticulously balanced, and despite essentially being Dungeons & Dragons viewed through the lens of Apocalypse World it actually discourages +x items. It was refreshing when I was writing 10+ Treasures to be able to turn off the "balance switch", and think of items in a purely fictional sense before writing mechanics that conveyed it, instead of squaring off limitations before, during, and after the fact.

In Dungeons & Dragons this could be fixed by focusing more on what the characters can do, and having the occasional magic item just pull out all the stops (and maybe have some kind of drawback). Like, the boots should make you move much faster than the average person, or maybe you have to move in leaps and bounds. Since they are based on live boots from The Dying Earth, maybe you have to feed them and/or they get tired, and if you push them too hard they die.

In addition to the stuff I already mentioned for the gauntlets of ogre strength, you could add side effects to make them a double-edged sword: on a natural 1 (maybe even a normal miss) that you swing widely or misjudge a throw with disastrous results. They could also make you stupider or cruder.

Dungeon World: The Pirate

The pirate is now up for sale. This one, like the mummy, is Melissa's baby. She started working on it in secret a few weeks back, and after a couple of days revealed what she had been doing in the wee hours of the morning when she got almost all of it hashed out.

Also like the mummy, she did an insane amount of research in an effort to make this class evocative and come alive, and I am both proud of her and impressed by the results: in the end I really only had to reword and tighten up some of the moves, and write some magic items to supplement what she had already created.

As with the ghoul and (again) the mummy it comes with two pdf files:

  • One is a letter-sized character sheet that you would expect to get in your average Dungeon World playbook, along with some custom graphics to make it more pirate-y.
  • The other is a 19-page, digest-sized pdf that lays out the class Dungeon World-style, explains some of the fiction and thoughts behind various moves, and includes new equipment, the aforementioned magic items, and even a couple of compendium classes: the dread pirate and sea-shackled.

All in all it is a pretty sizable haul for a mere $2.50.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark Review

Oh hey a board game that, unlike Mansions of Madness, I am only two years behind the times with. Well, that and my group still enjoys it after extensive play.

The elevator pitch for Descent: Journey into the Dark is that it is a board game dungeon crawler. Similar to games like Super Dungeon Explore and the various Dungeons & Dragons board games, one or more players creates a party of heroes, then goes on a quest in hopes of thwarting the the bad guy before they do...something.

It sounds pretty basic, and the concept has been done before, but this game simply does it better: the heroes are very flexible, there are about 20 quests to choose from, and if you play the campaign mode what the Overlord can do can change with each quest, and your victories and failures matter beyond the scope of just the one quest (or even part of one).

I am going to get into the nitty-gritty in a bit, but in a nutshell this is currently my favorite board game. I have been a huge fan of Super Dungeon Explore for awhile (and I still am), but this blows it and everything else I have played out of the water. If you like fantasy games, even fantasy role-playing games like Dungeon World, I would give this a shot. At $70 the price for entry is kind of steep, but without even delving into the expansions the sheer number of choices gives it a huge degree of replayability.

With that out of the way let us start with the contents.

Production Quality
Everything about this game is amazingly well done: the art style and quality, miniatures, tiles, cards, character sheets, everything.

So of course I have a few complaints.

The first is that the Overlord's lieutenants (ie, named NPCs) are, by default, represented by tokens. You can get Overlord Lieutenant packs if you want to get them in miniature format (as well as optional rules for including them in other encounters), but I do not think think that including them would have ramped up the price by that much, and certainly not nearly as much as buying them individually at around $7+ a pop.

My other criticism is that some of the monsters and heroes are sculpted in a way as to make painting them, well, difficult to say the least. The flesh moulders and Elder Mok immediately spring to mind (especially the goddamn flesh moulders), but there are others. I get that having them preassembled allows you to get right into the game, but it would have been nice to have easier access to certain parts without having to mash my brushes around.

The Heroes
The core game comes with eight heroes and class decks, with expansions adding more, up to a total of (currently) thirty-six. Each hero has their own character sheet which lets you know their stats: how fast they can move, how many wounds they can take, what they can do, etc. They are also assigned an archetype, which is where the customization starts.

There are four archetypes in the game: Warrior, Healer, Mage, and Scout. Each class is linked to an archetype: for example Knight and Berserker belongs to the Warrior archetype, while Necromancer and Hexer belongs to the Mage archetype. Heroes can choose from any class that shares their archetype, meaning that if you have a favorite hero and want to try something new, you might be able to get away with just snagging another class deck instead of having to also choose an entirely new hero.

In addition if you play in Advanced, Epic, or Campaign mode you get XP that you can use to buy new skills, which adds both a layer of customization and decision making: do you spend it right away, or save it for a quest or two to pick up something more potent?

The Overlord
The Overlord tries to stop the heroes from completing quest objectives, using both monsters and cards to trigger traps and beef up their minions. If you play Advanced, Epic, or Campaign, then like the heroes you also get XP to stock your deck with more cards. Some are tailored to a kind of Overlord "class", like Saboteur or Warlord, allowing you to theme your particular brand of douche-baggery.

On that note some quests lock in your monster choices, while others have "open groups" that you can fill in with a monster of your choice (adding yet more to the replayability factor). The monsters scale by Act and the number of players, so there is really no "best" monster to run with (though I submit that beastmen are pretty damn brutal).

For example if you use goblin archers in a 2-player game, then you get a "master" version and two minions, in a 3-player game you get a third minion, and with 4 players you get four minions. If you go with barhgests then you get a master and minion in a 2-player game, which each player adding another minion to the pack. If you want to throw shadow dragons at them? Then you get a single minion, master, and minion and master respectively.

Playing the Game
The actual mechanics of the game are pretty simple once you get a few quests under your belt. The heroes go first, and each gets two actions to do stuff like move, search, open doors, attack, trigger certain skills, etc. The Overlord draws cards, activates groups of monsters (who also get two actions), and plays cards whenever she feels like it.

Combat is pretty straightforward: the heroes and monsters beat each other up by rolling various colored dice, comparing the number of wounds against a defense roll, and any excess wounds are carried over. Sometimes you will roll surges, which let you activate special features or skills, such as bonus damage, ignoring defense, or adding status effects like poison or stunned.

Yeah, there are some pretty important rules we initially overlooked (like monsters normally only make one attack), as well as some more fiddly ones (like when you rest you do not remove fatigue until your turn ends), but even so it has been an insane amount of fun.

There are two ways to play the game: either a single session or as a series of quests, where the points matter and the victories and failures of the heroes can impact them down the road. Personally if you plan on playing the game more than once I have no idea why you would play anything but campaign, but for the sake of being comprehensive I will talk about both modes.

I am not sure what you would call the default mode of play, but you pick one of the quests and a kind of difficulty level: basic, advanced, or epic. In basic all of the players get their default cards and you play through the quest. In Advanced and Epic everyone gets some XP, and the heroes get some gold to spend. The main difference between Advanced and Epic--aside from the amount of XP and gold--is that the characters shop for Act II items and the Overlord uses the Act II versions of monsters and lieutenants.

Campaign mode is really just the best: everyone starts out with their defaults, but after each quest both the heroes and Overlord gain XP to buy additional skills, and the winner usually gets something extra, like bonus gold or relics (awesome magic items that the Overlord can also use to equip her lieutenants with). Additionally the players get a chance to spend their gold in order to buy better gear, which helps improve their odds (especially in Act II where you really want those extra dice).

What I also like about this is that the winner or loser is not determined by a single quest: you play through three Act I quests, one of two interlude quests (depends on who won the most Act I quests), three Act II quests, and then one of two finales (again, determined by whoever won the most Act II quests). The setup of the finale references various Act II quests which, when combined with potential Overlord rewards means that unlike Mass Effect 3, what you did actually matters.

So, yeah, this game is awesome. You can go through the default campaign at least a couple times without using everything, and there are plenty of expansions that add more heroes, classes, gear, monsters, campaigns, and other rules like secret passages. If you are curious you can read the rules for free, check out a Watch It Played video series, or even jump in our weekly Hangout game.

A Sundered World: Reworking the Wizard

No Dungeon World play reports this week since both our GM and Melissa were too sick to run and play respectively. There also has not been anything noteworthy on the 5th Edition front, so nothing to say there (which some of you probably appreciate).

I have started a community on Google Plus for A Sundered World, but since not everyone is on Google Plus I figured that I could post some content here to try and get some additional feedback, starting with a class that Dungeons & Dragons has never gotten right: the wizard.

Despite Dungeon World's wizard being based on whatever bits of lore Dungeons & Dragons arbitrarily decided to adhere to, its magic system actually makes more sense: only one of the 7-9 options is that you "forget" the spell, and though spells have levels you do not have separate pools of leveled slots (whatever the hell those are even supposed to represent).

Instead you have a total number of slots equal to your level + 1, and you can prepare any combination of spells with levels up to that total. As an added bonus, since you do not always forget a spell after using it, it makes handling adventure pacing a lot easier (no 15-minute workday).

In the end it is better, but still not exactly what I am looking for. I am a fan of The Dresden Files (both the books and role-playing game) and The Kingkiller Chronicle, and wanted a similar kind of flexible magic system that exhausted the spellcaster with repeated use. Since people have reacted favorably to various "countdown" mechanics I have used before, this lead to the following move replacing Cast a Spell:

When you cast a spell you gain fatigue, and when your fatigue is equal to your current hit points, you fall unconscious. You can recover fatigue through rest: when you rest for a few minutes, reduce your fatigue by 1, and when you make camp reduce your fatigue to 0.

When you unleash a blast of arcane power against a nearby target, choose an element, gain 1d4 fatigue, and roll+INT. *On a 10, deal 1d8 damage and choose one:
  • The attack gains the Forceful tag.
  • The attack gains Piercing 1.
  • Deal 1d4 damage to a something near the original target.

On a 7-9, deal 1d6 damage and choose one:
  • You draw unwanted attention or put yourself in a spot, the GM will tell you how.
  • Your magic impedes or harms someone or something you do not want it to, the GM will tell you how.
  • Gain an additional 1d4 fatigue.

When you spend a few moments gathering magic energy, gain 1d4 fatigue and roll+INT. *On a 10+, hold 3 magic. *On a 7-9, hold 1 magic. Spend 1 magic to do one the following:
  • Create a minor magical effect or object—light fires, create a small block of stone, repair minor damage to an object, etc.
  • Give you or an ally +1 forward—describe how it helps them.
  • Conjure a temporary barrier or magical effect that reduces an attack’s damage by 1d4.
  • Impede someone—describe how it hinders them.

Flexible, makes sense, a bit unpredictable and risky, and keeps the wizard on one page (like most of the other classes). For A Sundered World I also replaced your choice of race with magical languages (though you can choose from a list of race moves when you level up), which serve as the foundation for your magic. The three (current) languages are:

Tongue of the Dragons
You can exhale words like a dragon breathes fire. When you unleash a blast of arcane power, you can choose to deal your damage to every nearby creature.

Currents of the Maelstrom
The energies of the Maelstrom echo throughout the Sundered World. Choose an element like air, earth, fire, or water. When dealing with that element, take +1 forward.

Song of Creation
The language of gods and angelic beings allows you to give life as well as take it. When you cast a spell, instead of dealing damage you can heal a nearby creature.

Here are some of the advanced moves:

Arcane Wards
When you hold magic, gain armor equal to that amount.

Dragon's Breath
Requires: Tongue of the Dragons
When you use your magic to deal damage to every nearby creature, deal +1d4 damage.

Great Barrier
When you use your magic to create a barrier, it reduces damage from an attack by 1d8.

I'm in my Element
Requires: Currents of the Maelstrom
When you are in or near an elemental vortex, take +1 forward to cast a spell.

Intense Evocation
When you unleash a blast of elemental energy and roll a 10+, choose two options.

Second Language
Choose an additional language and gain the corresponding move.

Requires: Song of Creation
When you unleash a spell against a living creature or devil, it gains the ignore armor tag. If you heal a creature, they regain an additional 1d4 hit points.

So what do you think? Based on the material presented would you use this wizard in place of the default one? Why or why not?
June 13, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: We Didn't Start the Fire

  • Augustine (4th-level human paladin)
  • Jaya (5th-level human bard)
  • Mouse (5th-level gnome thief)

After spending about a half hour of surveying the sawmill, as best they could tell there were only a pair of elves situated inside, which meant that there were likely a lot more in hiding. Jacob's armor-laden cart was far too large and noisy to sneak by, and even if they backtracked and gave the sawmill a wide birth, the only bridge spanning the nearby river was a stone's throw away from it.

That left them with the task of defeating a force with unknown numbers, unknown positions, and in a defensible location.

Their best chance would be to attack from multiple directions at once, preferably with the element of surprise. The sawmill had several entrances, as well as several unconventional ones. The "plan" was for Mouse to climb through a window, while Jaya and Augustine take one of the doors since they were larger, louder, and not at all accustomed to sneaking. This was probably why, as soon as they made it halfway across the bridge, they heard a voice calling out and demanding them to stop.

As they stood there a pair of elves emerged, one from each end, bows readied and aimed at them. The one that called out asked what their business was. Jaya got about halfway through explaining that they were merely travelers passing through when an elf fell out of a tree behind them. Inquisition-Elf shouted to his fallen comrade, asking if he was okay, but when he did not move he motioned for the other to go and help. As Other-Elf approached the fallen elf jerkily sat up and feebly waved an arm. He obviously seemed disoriented and injured, and when Other-Elf got within arm's reach realized too late why.

Mouse leaped over the corpse, screaming, and slammed feet first into Other-Elf's chest, driving his short sword into his skull and killing him instantly. As they both fell to the ground numerous shapes suddenly appeared in the windows of the sawmill's second floor, and Mouse scurried underneath Other-Elf's corpse just in time to avoid getting riddled by a volley of arrows.

Augustine used the opportunity to step behind Inquisition-Elf's and slip his shadowsteel knife between his ribs. He died, but apparently the elves had only been willing to overlook them for the moment in the face of crazed, murdering, inexplicably shrieking gnome, and unfortunately for him there were more in the nearby trees. They took shots at Augustine and Jaya, driving them out of sight underneath the bridge.

A pair of elves exited the sawmill and ran towards Mouse. Apparently they were none too happy with him using the corpse of a beloved comrade as a shield, but when they tried to tear it away he lashed out with his sword. It sliced the back of one of the elves' legs, and as he fell to the ground Mouse emerged from cover to finish the job. The other elf let go of the corpse, but by the time he got an arrow knocked Mouse had already killed the other elf and was now using him as a shield.

With all of the elves focused on Mouse, Jaya was able to focus her magic into a bolt of sound that knocked a nearby elf out of his tree, giving her and Augustine a—hopefully—clear shot at one of the sawmill's doors. Unfortunately for them as soon as Augustine emerged from the shelter of the bridge a few diverted their fire, and he used his considerably more heavily-armored body to shield Jaya from the arrows while they both went for the door.

Augustine tried the door, which of course was locked, and proceeded to kick it in. Inside the sawmill Augustine and Jaya could see that there were a pair of tracks, each leading to a moving sawblade, behind which were several stacks of wood. More importantly, a group of four elves were crouched behind the nearest track and aiming bows at them.

Mouse had taken care of the other elf and scaled the wall up to the second-story window. He peered inside and saw a pair of elves looking over a railing and knocking arrows. He slipped inside, crept up behind one, and drove a dagger into his spine. To his surprise he did not die. In fact, he did not even seem to bleed. It was not until both elves were upon him, sword in each hand, that he saw they were wearing fine suits of deceptively quiet mail.

Jaya screamed out a note, causing one of the elves to shoot another, and using the confusion both her and Augustine were able to rush forward and hide on the other side of the track. Up close and personal Augustine had no problem hacking them apart, and for all their speed and grace he was still covered in metal. They quickly fled through the front entrance, lighting a few stacks of drying wood on fire and sealing the doors as they went. Augustine tried to follow, but they had barred the doors from the other side, meaning they would have to go out the way they came in.

The pair of elves chased Mouse about the balcony, and after suffering several severe wounds he finally managed to find a weak point in their armor: their faces. The surviving elf leaped out the window, and Mouse, realizing that the sawmill was quickly being engulfed in flames, followed. Well, not right away: there were several elf corpses laden with rare, high-quality chainmail. He lifted their pouches, rolled their bodies out the window, then evacuated.

With the fire inching closer Jaya tried leaping into the water to avoid both it and the arrows. Unfortunately it was too late to avoid the former, and as she tried to put out her cloak she fell back into the waterwheel. It extinguished the fire, but when she tried to get off of the wheel heard several loud twangs, followed by arrows thudding into the wood near her. Though the arrows had missed her, her relief was short-lived when she realized that they had pinned her clothes to the wheel.

Which was slowly pulling her towards the water.

Augustine tried to free her, but was pinned down by a steady stream of arrows. Furious and out of options, he picked up a bow and shot back...and to his astonishment managed to kill one of the elves in a single shot. He gave it another shot, and again one fell. There was just one left, but as he prepared to fire again Jaya surfaced. She was still stuck to the wheel, coughing up water and gasping for breath. He leaped onto the wheel, heedless of the danger, and began yanking arrows and cutting clothes where necessary.

Once she was freed he helped her up. He had expected the elf to put an arrow through his skull, or maybe try to pin him to the wheel, but when he looked to where he had last seen it the elf was crumpled at the base of the tree. He glanced about and saw Mouse in another tree some distance away. He was sitting high up on a branch, resting against the trunk with his eyes closed. His clothes were badly torn and deeply stained with blood. Augustine wondered if he was still alive, but when he went to try and heal him he produced a healing potion and began calmly sipping it.

The last three days of the journey were uneventful: no elves, no burning buildings, and—possibly the most comforting of the three—no screaming gnome. When they arrived at the Hargrave's keep they were...surprised. They assumed it would be at least a sizable castle with walls and towers, something that ensured that Hargrave could safely rock the proverbial boat with the denizens of the Great Forest and safely endure any retribution. What they saw was no mere castle.

A stone ramp gradually wound back and forth from the ground up the side of a cliff, occasionally disappearing behind a majestic waterfall. At the top of the plateau were numerous buildings, as if the city was cut directly from the cliff itself. Overlooking the city and cliff were not one but two fortresses, built on either side of a wide river, over which spanned a great arch: Hell's Arch, a dwarf city ancient even by their standards.

Along with countless other people displaced by war, they made the long trek up the ramp and into the city. Once they were inside it took a few hours before they were able to find and meet with Fiona. She thanked them for their help and explained that the Autumn Monarch was preparing to attack. She was more than willing to pay them for their services--she owed them that much for the return of her child and helping keep Jarl safe from the Baron and his men--but if the Monarch's forces took the city then, well, she would have nothing to give.

Basically she was indirectly saying that they did not have to help, but if they chose not to then the odds of them getting anything out of this lengthy venture of theirs would be all the slimmer. As an added incentive, she offered land and titles if they would stay to help, or even just more money. Before they could decide a man entered the room. He was clad in scale armor, and was mostly covered by a green cloak. He carried a sword at his side, the hilt of which was capped with what looked like white antler, specifically the antlers given to Fiona by Jarl.

He walked over to her and whispered something in her ear. She stood, eyes widened with apprehension, and bid everyone to come with her. They followed her through the keep, and outside towards the ramparts. At the base of the cliff were a myriad of fey creatures: elves, centaurs, dryads, griffons, ents, and more. They were all standing in formations a good distance away from a single figure mounted on a white stag, clothed in red, yellow, and brown.

The Autumn Monarch.

As they stood there a gust of wind picked up, blowing past them. Within the wind they could hear words: the Monarch was using it to carry his message to her. He told her that she had three days to deliver the prisoners they were keeping to him, or else. She said that she understood, and the wind blew again, this time away from them. Likely it was bringing her words back. After a few minutes the creatures departed, though the Monarch lingered for a bit before turning to leave.

Augustine turned to her and levelly asked what prisoners he was speaking of. Fiona exasperatingly replied that Hargrave, with the help of a witch named Shona, had made it a hobby of capturing fey creatures to experiment on and torture. She had intended to free them, but Hargrave's nephew, a petulant man named Mark, refused to acknowledge her claim to the throne. He, along with a number of loyal men and Shona, were now holed up in the Deeps, which meant that they had just three days to infiltrate a fortress to break out some prisoners.

Behind the Scenes
I came pretty close to dying this session: when Mouse jumped out of the second story window, he kicked an elf out of the tree in the process. The elf died, but he managed to shoot Mouse down to one hit point, and I kept waiting to fall, get shot, or hit by something. If I die, which I fully expect to, what should I play next? Think Dan would let me come back as a gnome skeleton?

Something I just now realized that at no point did any of us try to discern realities (no, not even while staking out the sawmill). Maybe if we had done that we might have realized that they were all wearing elven chain mail. Speaking of elven chainmail, here is a quick writeup:

Elven Chainmail 2 armor, worn, 500 coins, 2 weight

Also, wolf belts for all!

Wolf-Spirit Belt worn, 0 weight
When you don a wolf-spirit belt, you transform into a wolf until the next sunrise and roll+WIS. *On a 10+, you manage to retain control of your mind and actions. *On a 7-9, the spirit of the wolf constantly urges you to lead, hunt, and kill.

In wolf form you move faster, have heightened senses, and can hack and slash with your bite. On a 10+ you are totally fine, but on a 7-9 the wolf spirit tries to push you to do things or take control when you let your guard down (perfect for 7-9 or miss results on other moves).

The sunrise bit was something I added, as I think of this like something akin to lycanthrope. Dan added a call of the wild hold, which never came up, but I could see adding that in as part of the 7-9 or miss effect to make the character defy danger to avoid putting the belt back on (representing a kind of addiction).

10+ Treasures is now a Best Copper Seller, which means that it has sold more copies than something that is not a Best [Element] Seller so, thanks to everyone that bought it to support me. I am considering making another book of magic items: is that something that you guys would want to see? If so, let me know if you have a theme in mind (I was going to go with pirates and the ocean to support Melissa's upcoming pirate playbook).

Something else I am interested in is what people think of the content I have posted on my G+ Sundered World community. If you want to take a look click here or on the nifty graphic I slapped on the sidebar. In hindsight I should have not made it private (and G+ will not let you change after the fact), but just ask to join, I'll add you, and you can let me know what you like, hate, or want to see.
June 09, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Pirate's Life in a Sundered World: Episode 102

  • Amy "Albatross" Bolkey (1st-level female human pirate)
  • Tibbs (male human first mate corpse)
  • Celeste (female human helmsman)
  • Crucible (kytheran engineer)
  • Gol (kobold deckhand)
  • Kolod (dwarf cook)

The Black Devil arrived at the line coordinates that Lipless had provided. They shut down the collider, silently and slowly drifting about, using the silvery clouds to conceal themselves while they kept an eye out for their target. Unfortunately their target had taken similar precautions, and by the time Celeste spotted it, it was quite a ways away.

The ship was black, possibly wood or metal, likely both. The sails were also black, and pulsed with faint red patterns as they caught astral winds. Beyond that they could not make out any more details—namely how many people and cannons were on deck—and since at its distance a surprise attack was virtually impossible Amy opted for the next best thing: an overwhelmingly aggressive offense.

She went to the bombard and had Crucible gun the engine. As they rocketed towards the ship she fired off a few rounds. Both shots struck port-side, and as the ship slowly spun and tilted off course she could see that the impact had the added benefit of dislodging some of the crew. Assuming they survived they would be able to orient themselves and drift back, but by then Amy had hoped to take out the rest and even the odds.

As the Black Devil pulled alongside Amy and Tibbs leaped over, leaving Celeste in charge of the bombard and Gol at the wheel. They were met by a trio of cambions—heads crested with horns and hands wreathed in flame—who hurled searing missiles of fire at them as they soared through the air. One of them managed to graze Amy who, with a quick, fierce thought managed to shift her trajectory and collide with her attacker. They both went down, but Amy managed to roll with the impact and come up with her blunderbuss blazing.

Thankfully literally fighting fire with fire seemed to work just fine on them.

While Tibbs and Amy fought Celeste periodically pummeled the cambion ship with their bombard, obliterating reinforcements and "disabling" weapons with each shot.

This...turned out to be a double-edged sword.

On one hand it prevented them from getting overwhelmed by the enemy. On the other hand neither Amy nor Tibbs were immune to the ship's abrupt and violent convulsions: at one point Amy lost her sword and blunderbuss while trying to stop one of the conjurers, so she tried ramming her with one of the cannons, and when a loose cannon proved too unwieldy she resorted to grenades.

The grenades ultimately did the trick, but unfortunately Tibbs was part of the, uh, collateral damage.

Hopefully whatever was still intact on the ship would be worth it.

Behind the Scenes
Looks like Melissa will get to take the Recruit move for a spin! Well, assuming she makes it back to Driftwood: there was a lot of misses on her part (which is why I kind of summarize the action: it was really chaotic and we both forgot most of the fine details). I tried to soften the impact by having her lose weapons and choose between helping Tibbs or getting hurt, but in the end he still ended up getting killed (I let her choose between him or her taking the damage) and she limped away from the confrontation with all of one hit point.

At least on the plus side she gets to level up, right?

We finally got to see some more of the pirate in action, namely the starting move Fight Like a Pirate, which lets her survey her surroundings and potentially use them to her advantage (hence why she used the cannon as a weapon). Since Sundered World is filled with islands I am sure she will get a lot of mileage out of Treasure Map.

As mentioned in the previous session report Melissa and I were trying to find a simple, effective way of handling ships blasting the crap out of each other. For this episode we tried using the "Dungeon Planet plus one" approach for ships, by which I mean statting them out as if they were monsters, and things went pretty smooth (though we will probably lump ammo and fuel into a universal "supply").

I am going to include a section on building your own ship, similar to making your own monsters. Engines will be handled with tags (like Unstable Engine for the collider), and as with my playbooks I am also going to provide some elaboration for dealing with vehicles, ideas for miss results, custom moves, and the rest so you have a "fictional foundation" to work off of, instead of just having to puzzle it out yourself.

Join the Sundered World Community!
As I mentioned before, we have a Sundered World community up and running. Go, join, check out the content, and let me know what you like and hate: I want this thing to be as best as it can before I try charging money for it!

Dungeon World: Servants of the Cinder Queen

Like many I am sure, I have had a somewhat...rough history with Kickstarter.

Maybe a product comes out later than expected—sometimes much, much later, which I guess is better than it just never coming out at all (which has happened to plenty). maybe it fails to live up to the hype (like Numenera), or maybe it is just not at all what I expected (again, Numenera).

This is why I am giving a shout out to Servants of the Cinder Queen. I provided some feedback and suggestions for this adventure back in April, and while I dug the layout, presentation, and overall plot of the adventure, that is only part of the reason why I am talking about it now.

The other reason is that all of those problems I mentioned above? They do not exist, because the entire adventure is already done, and you can check it out by right now even pretending to pitch in just three dollars. If you like it and want a physical copy? That will run you all of six bucks, which includes the cost of shipping it (in the United States, anyway).

So, not only is it very likely to meet its delivery date (not that it matters since you already get the pdf-sans-art right now), but you can also check it out and see if it lives up to your expectations. If not you can just back out, making it also entirely risk free. Hell, there is enough time to take it for a spin to see if you really like it, and I might do just that.
June 04, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

An Inverse Opinion

NOTE: If you want to hear what I have to say about the FAE version, go here.

Being a backer and all I finally got a coupon code for Inverse World a few months ago (only six months after the original delivery date). I initially flipped through it, wondered what took so long, and forgot about it. Since then I have heard some positive buzz, including a review from a blog, so I figured I should give it a proper read through and talk about it myself.

This is going, to put it nicely, be a dissenting opinion.

First, just what is Inverse World all about? In the author's own pitch, it is an attempt to "make fantasy fantastic" again, and to "play to Dungeon World's strengths and minimize its weaknesses". The author criticizes Dungeon World for not reaching its potential, because it brings a lot of standard fantasy assumptions to the table (which makes sense given that it was deliberately written to evoke older editions of Dungeons & Dragons). He claims that in a "true fantasy setting, there should be all kinds of crazy creatures running around".

Does he succeed? Well, that depends: have you ever—for starters—heard of Hollow World, Journey to the Center of the Earth, owned any Magic: the Gathering cards/read novels from the Mirrodin expansion, read novels from authors like China Meiville, played Dungeons & Dragons or JRPGs like Final Fantasy, played WarCraft or World of WarCraft, or dealt with who knows how many fish/bird people in games like Dungeons & Dragons or Gamma World?

If you answered no to most, if not all of those things, then you very well might view this as both fresh and fantastic.

Basically the author puts a world-within-a-world, fills it with a trapped sun god (probably the most interesting thing about the setting), flying sea creatures, and floating islands, because I have never seen any of that before. I mean, he states that "true fantasy" should have all sorts of crazy creatures, and the best he can come up with is flying jellyfish and turtles? Has he even read Dungeons & Dragons? What about RiftsGamma World, or the crap you can run into when you venture off world in Mage: the Ascension?

There are also only three races: the cloud-, earth-, and rain-blessed, aka bird-people, goblins, and fish-people. None of them have any mechanical benefits because, to him, whether you are a pirate captain or merchant captain is arbitrarily more important than whether you are a goblin captain or merfolk captain. I can kind of see where he is coming from, but I do not think that your background is intrinsically more interesting or important than your race (especially if you are something like a robot or energy-based entity).

It would have been better if he included both background and race moves for you to choose from. Or, better yet, race moves for you to also choose from, and let the players determine which matters more.

A blogger over at Gamer XP claimed that the races "show little resemblance to anything one might expect to find when they sit down for a tabletop game". I suppose they would, so long as you have never encountered merfolk, sahuagin, locathah, aquatic elves, goblins from all of those WarCraft games and Magic: the Gathering, and who knows what other countless goblin/fish/bird-person variants do in fact exist in tabletop, card, and video games. They try to point out how different the goblins are because they are not green, but then I would like to point out that Dungeons & Dragons goblins have skin colors ranging from yellow to orange to red.

Otherwise, yeah, they are essentially goblins from WarCraft and Magic: the Gathering.

In addition to axing races he also swaps out alignments for drives, because adventuring To Save the Day or for Inner Peace is, again, arbitrarily more interesting than because you are Lawful. Except that, as with background being more important that race, this is not necessarily true and a bit of a narrow interpretation of alignment. For example Inner Peace gives you XP if you settle a confrontation without committing an act of violence. That sounds precisely like a viable tagline for a Lawful character (or, I dunno, a bard with the Neutral alignment).

So, he does not really minimize any of Dungeon World's weaknesses; how does he play to its strengths? By including a lot of rumors. Rumors abound in Inverse World...except that not all the rumors are rumors: some are declarations of fact, like that there is a city dedicated to spiders (and flies, and that they are not friends). Others are pretty cliche, like no one goes to this place, and no one will tell you why. Really? Nobody goes there, but nobody will tell you why.

On the crunch front there are eight playbooks. I do not want to go into detail on each, but they are more or less alright. Some are better than others, but aside from the lantern I did not find anything particularly noteworthy. Well...positively noteworthy, at any rate, as some have...confusing moves and capabilities to say the least:
  • Airships are supposed to be rare and expensive, but the captain can get a new one by spending 2 trade. What the hell is trade? I do not know exactly, but you can apparently get it automatically in a populated area, and sell it for 3d6 x 10 coins each. So, I guess on average an airship is only 220 coins? You might recognize this as about the same price for a cart, donkey, and horse in Dungeon World.
  • The Road Less Traveled makes it so that when you return through a difficult route "the route remembers you". What the hell does that mean? Also, natural hazards or threats will not bother you or those who travel with you. Why?
  • One of the collector's starting moves lets you dig through your collection for something useful, but the GM can impose one to four restrictions on it, one of which "you get something close to what you want, but not quite". So...what does that mean, exactly? How does that differ much from the other restriction "it was not intended to be used for this"?
  • The golem has a move that makes it so that you will "never lose your grip on someone unless you choose to". Never. No matter what. This is only part of what the move does, so I see no reason to include a fictional absolute.
  • The mechanic's suit has a move in which you deal +1d6 damage to something that is "really pissing you off". This might sound evocative, except that the fighter has a move that allows her to deal +1d4 damage all the damned time: I see no reason to shut down bonus damage entirely until the player decides that they are mad enough. I would have found this move more interesting if it allowed you to consume ammo, or have the chance to harm your allies or cause undue destruction since you are "firing everything".
  • Dead Man Walking basically makes a survivor unkillable for a fight, and depending on if you have healing items and/or capabilities, about twice as hard as normal. Yeah, they can die after the fight is over, but otherwise they can take an infinite amount of damage. 
  • Protector lets you take all of the consequences of a move or decision you have made, you can take them all in their place. There is no range or limitation to this, which can make no sense, and it would have been nice to see some kind of benefit tacked on (even if it is just them taking +1 forward as they are inspired by your sacrifice).
  • I have no idea why you would use You're Already Dead: you attack someone, deal no damage, but later one can decided to spend hold to just deal damage to them automatically. This is really something that should have been rolled into hack and slash.
  • The walker's move Spider's Grip has another one of those fictional absolutes: you can never lose your grip on a surface you are Wall Walking on, and when you fall or are sent flying you always catch yourself on a ceiling or wall. Same thing with Talk the Talk.

Just some of the questions I wondered about while reading this book were, what if a captain/mechanic/sky dancer dies? Can anyone take her ship/suit/flying thingy? If not, why not? If yes, then how do I use it? Can I just get my own robot suit? I know I can get ships (well, I think...I could not find costs for vehicles, but strangely I could find the cost for vehicle-mounted weaponry), but I for some reason don't get to use the trade mechanic.

That is why a lot of these sound like they would have made better compendium classes: when you get your own ship, you can take captain moves; when you find your own flying contraption and get really good at it, you can become a sky dancer; when you find your own robot suit and become a highly skilled pilot, you can get moves that let you tune it up and stuff; when you survive a terrible calamity, you can take moves from survivor.

To make a long review not as long, Inverse World is only fantastical if you have only ever been exposed to Tolkien. It is not necessarily a bad supplement, but it's not amazing or even particularly original. In terms of content it barely scratches the surface from what I would expect from a setting book.

I get that part of Dungeon World is to ask questions, use answers, and play to find out what happens, but this just feels rushed and shallow: example locations lack tags and NPCs, classes could have been better refined, mechanics like trade could have been explained (and others like vehicles and mounts seem wholly unnecessary), paragraphs sometimes bleed over onto another page, it would have been nice to see prices for vehicles, more than two magic items, and monsters besides flying [aquatic animal], spiders, and...a, a devil?

Anyway, the pdf is $15. Fifteen dollars. Yeah, it weighs in at just over 350 pages, but some are completely blank, 30 are dedicated to fiction, and its pdf dimensions are only 4.5 x 6 inches (how?), which means it is as tall as Dungeon World is wide. Speaking of Dungeon World, that book is over 400 pages at the proper dimensions, and is only $10. Hell, compare it to Numenera, which is $20, also over 400 pages (letter-sized at that), in color, and actually came out on time despite having less time between the funding and release dates and being an entirely new system.

Inverse World does not "make fantasy fantastical again". It does not play to Dungeon World's strengths and minimize its weaknesses. There are not "all kinds of crazy creatures running around". What there is, is enough of a foundation to work with and flesh out (the random island generator was a nice touch), but it lacks depth and at that price I would frankly just save your money. Maybe wait for it to go on sale or snag it as part of a bundle; there are better, more complete things to be had for less.
June 03, 2014
Posted by David Guyll


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