Saturday, March 28, 2009

Introducing the Ghost...Faced...Killer

Now, the Ghost-Faced Killer is a prestige class that I can get into. Unlike a lot of prestige classes it actually makes sense and does what you want it to. It just takes a simple character idea, a stealthy yet still powerful in melee character, and progresses it by throwing in a couple of neat tricks. The requirements work nicely with the flavor and all of the abilities work well together. And it is named after a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

The requirements are Base Attack of +5, evil, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, 6 ranks Hide, 4 ranks concentration, 8 ranks Intimidate, and 6 ranks Move Silently. Really, concentration is the only loser here. And it’s actually a pretty good build, we’ve had many characters in our campaigns who would qualify for it just in the natural progression of the character. Except for the concentration. The best way seems to be Rogue 2/Fighter 2/Ranger 2. At least that’s what I would go with. As a class it gets d8 Hit Die, 4 skill points, full Base Attack, and one good save (Fort, which I think is a little odd). All in all I would say it’s vitals are average, maybe a little better.

The abilities are cool and for a character that wants to be sneaking around and killing things they offer some options that would otherwise not be available. The signature ability is Ghost Step, which allows the G-FK to turn invisible for one round as a swift action. Being invisible works well with the Sudden Strike they get and whatever Sneak Attack they may have, but its duration really only makes it useful for combat. 6 seconds of invisibility doesn’t have a ton of utility uses. Frightful Attack is cool, but not much better than the Assassin’s Death Attack, and has the added advantage of panicking onlookers unfortunate enough to see the Killer in action. The fact that it is Charisma based seriously weakens it though, I don’t see many characters with this build having a high Charisma. Being able to see ethereal and invisible creatures at will is very nice, even if it does take 7 levels to get Ghost Sight.

The Ghost-Faced Killer is by no means an uber-powerful class, but it does what I think a prestige class should. It’s power level is on par with the base classes, but it allows a more narrow field of specialization at the cost of some of the more general class abilities. It also makes for a pretty fearsome villain for the PC’s to run into.

Hey Travelers, call me. We should hang.

Originally introduced as a random encounter in Starfarers of Catan, the enigmatic intergalactic race known as the Travelers took on a more prominent role with the release of the Starfarers 5-6 player expansion. In this expansion the Travelers are given their own trading post on the furthest reaches of the board. Due to this we get to know them a bit better and I’ve decided that I would like to be boys with them. Hang out, talk shit on the Green Folk, generally have a good time together. They seem like a fun bunch.

In a game sense a visit to the Travelers is well worth the trek to the other side of the galaxy. Some of the powers granted by their trading cards are the best in the game. You can demand a black ball every turn, demand resources from other players, work out arrangements for fame rings, and some other pretty good stuff. The vibe I’m picking up is that if the Travelers are on your side people are afraid to say no to you and will pretty much turn over the goods. Interestingly enough, some of their abilities don’t work if you are the lead player, perhaps the Travelers are socialists.

I also like the look that they gave going on. Kind of these long, droopy faces perfectly framed by a long red cowl. They also seem to have a halo of triumphant blue light radiating from behind them. Oh yeah, and they don't have mouths. But who needs a mouth when you have telepathy? And all of their names start with Tro, such as Tro-Taphon and Tro-Towar. I'm not sure if Tro is the Travelers way of saying Mr. or if it just a very popular name amongst the race but I like it. Tro-Fran, I can see it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Point Buy?

Tonight one of the players in our game is, most likely, going to retire their character and roll up a new one, which got me thinking about one of my favorite topics. Character creation.

I think that there are a lot of good methods to roll up a character, but the key word there is roll. I can't get into a point buy system. No rolling? No thanks. For the unenlightened a point buy is basically a method of character creation in which all the attributes start at a set point and using a pool of points the attributes are raised. The end result is usually a character with two real high scores and a low charisma. Not always charisma, but I think you get the point. There are a couple of reasons why I do not like the point buy, which seems to be the favored method of many power gamers out there.

One, it means that all the characters in the world are essentially of the same power level. For me there is something unrealistic about that, not everyone is created equal. Even in the heroic world of medieval fantasy some characters should be better than others and some should be weaker. It makes it fun to have a crappy character every once in a while, all players should try it.

Two, you always wind up with the exact character that you want. Everyone has that 18 that they need for their main attribute. I actually really like the idea of rolling for stats in order and making the character based around them. Sort of like real life. Plus, when you do actually get that 17 or 18 it really means a lot.

And three, rolling for stats is extremely fun and I am not sure why anyone would want to deny themselves the opportunity. Some players have their lucky dice or a special way they throw them down in an attempt to coax something strong from them. And without rolling all aspects of character creation are completely in the hands of the player. Sometimes it's fun to work with what you get.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Game Day!

Today is National Dungeons and Dragons game day, so go find yourself a dingy basement or a poorly lit garage and have an adventure! My regular D&D night is Tuesday so I will not be playing tonight. However, I do plan on playing Dungeon! TSR's 1981 board game of dungeon exploration and gold hoarding. Should be fun.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Last Night on Earth- Hero vs Hero

Now that the zombies have been fended off and the dust has settled it is time for the survivors to fight for supplies and supremacy. A friend and I modified the rules of Last Night on Earth and made it into a battle of hero vs hero, the goal being pretty staightforward- kill the other team. We set it up sort of like capture the flag with teams of three. Each team had a counter that served as a flag, the other team had to get to the "flag" and bring it back to the building they had designated as their fort. Easy enough.

For the board we used four of the L-shaped pieces to form a narrow rectangle, which seemed a little constraining so we also added the large square piece off to the side to give a little more space to move in. The move and search rules were unmodified from the original game and for combat we just went with the higher roll causes a wound, tie goes to the attacker. We used just the Hero deck for cards and there were more than a couple we had to ignore because they specifically mention zombies and couldn't be altered all that easy, but not a problem at all. We randomly drew our
heroes and proceeded to kill one another. We also gave each character a random hero card to start.

One thing became obvious right away, this was going to be all about firepower. Guns ruled the day (makes sense) and I was in serious trouble from the get go. I had Father Joseph (can't use guns), Sally (can only use the revolver), and Billy (a fast runner!). Mike was packing an arsenal with the gun toting Sheriff Anderson and Rachelle plus Becky to run around and scavenge.

I tried to capitalize on Billy's speed and make a dash for the flag. He wound up getting pinned down in the gas station and shot to death by his father. The rest of the battle sort of went the same and I lost pretty convincingly.

I think that the game went pretty well and was definitely fun. It was fast (about 15 minutes) and has a lot of potential if we fleshed out the rules some more and came up with more story driven missions. I would play again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This Spell Makes Me Angry!!

There are a lot of dumb prestige classes, but I usually can at least imagine some use for them in a campaign world or see why someone would want to play one. And then there is the Rage Mage from the Complete Warrior. Really, what is the use of this and how does it make any sense? Let’s take a look.

The requirements are sort of all over the place; must be able to rage, cast 2nd level arcane spells, have Combat Casting, and a Base Attack Bonus of +4. So a character must be a barbarian and most likely a sorcerer (I am going to rule out a wizard, it just makes no sense to have a wizard that rages, I think they would tear apart their spellbook). Generally a character that rages is up front charging and cleaving, while the spellcaster hangs back. So this is an unnatural marriage to begin with. To get into the class it takes a Sorcerer 4/Barbarian 2 (that seems to be the quickest route) that has used one it’s three feats on Combat Casting. That in itself is a pretty weak class, but it gets worse with the prestige class.

The basics of the class are d8 Hit Die, 2+ skill points, 1 good save, and BAB as a rogue. Overall that is pretty weak, so I expect the class features to make up for it. Not the case. Spells advance every other level (starting at level 2! I assume to prevent people dipping in for 1 level to get the powerful Spell Rage) so it is a weak caster. It’s main ability is the Spell Rage, which allows the character to cast a spell while raging using their full character level (this ability is limited to 5 schools of magic). As they advance they get a small ability to overcome spell failure for using armor (10%, so they can safely wear leather!) and an increased DC of 2 for some spells. The latter is the awesomely named Angry Spell. At 10th level they can cast Tenser’s Transformation as a free action. Remember this is at least a 16th level character. A wizard could cast that at 11th level.

As a DM I like the image of a spell caster rolling with a band of barbarians, killing and looting with reckless abandon. In fact, I have even used this type of NPC. It’s called a Neutral or Chaotic Evil sorcerer. I don’t need a prestige class for that. Instead of a rage he can just get drunk or crazy and not involve a game mechanic at all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Your mother is a spaceship

“Roll your mother!” The very underrated Starfarers of Catan has what is probably the single greatest game component I have ever seen, the mothership. Part dice, part game counter, and more than a little bit phallic; the mothership adds a great element to the game. I won’t go so far as to say it is like flying a real spaceship, but it’s pretty awesome.

First off, everyone that I know loves equipment and accessories and this has plenty. About 6 inches in height and topped with a colored ring (different for each player) it is loaded with boosters, cannons, freight rings, and fame rings over the course of the game. Cool, and very practical in the sense that it is easy to see everything that a rival starfarer has going for them. The bottom of the ship has a small plastic tube that contains four different colored balls, each of which has a numerical value (0-3) and essentially serves the same function as die. When the black ball comes up first it signals an encounter in the far reaches of space (Pirates? A spaceship hurtling into a sun?), otherwise you total up the value for the two displayed balls and move. A great and clever substitute for a d6.

Hats off to Klaus Teuber and company for another great product.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Immoveable Rod

I’ll admit, I underestimated the Immoveable Rod. About a half dozen adventures ago the PC’s came across a small treasure hoard after defeating a wyvern in some foothills. As a throw in I included the rod so that everyone in the party would get something magical (I was being generous). It wound up in the hands of the party barbarian, a strong dexterous fellow by the name of Mongor of Mongoria, of the Broadbelt clan.

Mongor has used the rod as part of a pulley system, as a vault for various gymnastics, as a “salmon ladder” (if you’ve seen Ninja Warrior), and most successfully as a way to prevent falling to the bottom of a spiked pit. It is actually a very capable item in the hands of such a skilled acrobat. Mongor’s most legendary feat with the Rod involved using it as a step after jumping up, propelling himself into a leap attack against a flying manticore. One of the other PC’s now wears the manticore’s wing as a cape.

According to the Dungeon Master’s Guide it is worth 5,000 gp, valuing it at less than a Vest of Escape and a Sustaining Spoon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DnD Cake

Last year for my birthday one of the players in our campaign made me an incredible dungeons and dragons themed cake featuring me as a DM. It depicted me in my true form; a twisted, big nosed monster delighting in the misery of adventurers. It’s the greatest cake of all time.

The cake also has small marzipan versions of the party at the time. From left to right: Adrian Lavercoon, gnome bard; Torga Ungart, dwarf barbarian; Philly the gnome ranger/rogue/assassin; and Diesa Dorga, dwarf monk.

You can see more of Katie's cakes and art at Tinkerkate.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thoughts on level drain

The Vampire steps forward out of the darkness and slams you…resulting in a loss of two levels! I’ve done a lot of rotten things as a DM, but level drain is the one that I just can’t get into. I’ve killed PCs many times, had them lose magic items, killed henchmen and animal companions, our last campaign ended with a total party kill of a group of level 11 characters. But I’ve never taken a level away. That is just heartless.

Honestly, I’m not even sure how it works. The rules are a little vague, but does the character lose everything that goes with the level? Feats and abilities, skill points and hit points? That really sucks. I think it is more fair to just kill them. Plus the bookkeeping that goes along with it seems very cumbersome. And I’m not really sure what it means. It’s not like “level” is really a term that characters are familiar with, it’s really just a numerical representation of experience and skill. So how does someone take that away? Do the memories and knowledge go along with it? Rest assured, players in my game. I may kill you (quite frequently it turns out) but that fourth level of rogue is all yours.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mertwig's Maze

Mertwig’s Maze was one of my favorite games when I was a kid. I bought it at the local hobby shop and played the shit out of it with my brother and friends. Really, it was awesome. Tons of fun, great sense of humor, didn’t take a ton of time. Unfortunately, like so many other childhood artifacts, it has been lost to the sands of time, misplaced in a series of moves in my late adolescence most likely. Recently I have sought to acquire a copy of it and have been amazed by two things; the cost of it and the condition of it.

Mertwig’s Maze comes up on ebay a couple of times a month and rarely does it go for less than $60. I should mention that the components of the game are very low cost and are all paper, which made me think it would be cheap. I think I paid less than 10 bucks for it originally (granted, this was probably around 1990). But I understand supply and demand and I see that I am not the only person who remembers this game fondly.

The other thing that amazes me is that there seems to be no shortage of mint condition, still in the shrink wrap copies of the game. This thing came out in 1988. Who has been hoarding Tom Wham gamefolios all these years? Former game dealers? Tom Wham himself? King Mertwig? I find this very strange.

My DM screen

The DM screen that I have been using for the last two years or so is actually two parts of the board to Wizard’s Quest, an old Avalon Hill game. I have them on their sides and touching each other, it’s a good size and does the job well.

The D20 system makes most charts irrelevant (opposed to 1st or 2nd edition where everything was bizarre charts that had nothing to do with one another) so I chose to customize mine with the info I felt I would use the most. I have two pieces of paper cut down to fit the screen and the ends are folded over so I can hook them over the top. One has conditions and the corresponding modifiers to AC and Attack. Someone is entangled, I need to know how that it effects their attack bonus? Got it. What is your AC now that you are sickened? Right there. I think it’s a great resource. It also has the diplomacy DC chart from the PHB, which I find useful and frequently extend to other types of checks. If there were more undead in this campaign I would also include the cleric turning rules, which are very unlike other rules and I have to look up every time we use them.

The other sheet I use has all the NPC’s in the world with a brief (3-5 word) description of what they do and where they live. I find this very helpful when the PC’s ask questions and it is great for helping to establish NPC’s since I never forget who they are. I also take notes about their relationships with the PC’s, which is even more important for developing good times.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Age of Mythology Review

Since a young age I have been very into games and very into mythology. I credit Dungeons and Dragons for most of this, or perhaps I am genetically programmed to like these things and it was only natural that I would find myself drawn to them. The point of this is that if there were ever something that I should be into, it would be the Age of Mythology (Eagle Game) board game. Monsters and heroes from several different mythological pantheons battling one another? A chance to wrangle up some frost giants and raze a couple of granaries in the name of Loki? Sign me up. It cost a little bit more than I planned on spending, but I figured I would play it thousands of time and more than make my money back on it. Man, was I wrong.

First off, set aside about a weekend to remove the plastic pieces from the plastic frames that they come attached to. It took me and a friend about an hour to punch out the Greeks and the Norsemen, almost as if they were resisting for our own sake. Or perhaps they wanted to save themselves the embarrassment. The pieces themselves are decent enough, but they are sort of flimsy and the details are hard to make out. However, they do have different shaped bases which at least makes it easy to tell what power level they belong in. Each player is also given a cardboard sheet (about the size of a place mat) that keeps track of their army size, resources, and buildings. The buildings and the gold and the other things that are acquired throughout the game are nothing more than punched out cardboard squares with text on them. And there are about a million of them in the box, so have a good time organizing them. There also cards that each player receives, each participant gets a deck that corresponds to their myth (Greek, Norse, and Egyptian) but there isn’t much difference between them. Just the pictures are different. Which is fine, it at least makes all the pantheons equally powered.

At the start of each turn the players make a hand of cards using the basic cards that allow different types of actions (fight, build, harvest, etc..) and cards that have more powerful versions of the same actions but cost more to use. This is where the real strategy of the game comes into play, when determining what actions will be available to you during the turn. I think. It also seems that if you make a bad decision in this part of the game you just screw yourself and are not able to do much. Some of the actions allow you to gather resources, and others let you spend those resources and raise an army or build some new buildings that give different benefits. I was saving up my money for a medusa.

After struggling with the early part of the game my friend and I were eager for some fighting. Based on the prominence of the plastic figures and the emphasis on war in the descriptions of the game, we had assumed that this is where the game would really shine. Which is true, if by shine I meant get bogged down in even more unfun tedious gameplay. The battles are nothing more than a series of opposed rolls, which often result in ties, which results in more opposed rolls. Really, it seems to just keep going. And then the monster that you spent three turns trying to buy is killed and it did nothing for you. Like my medusa. And it even seems that the fighting is unimportant in the grand scheme of the game. I think that you could probably win without having much of an army. In fact, that is what happened in our first game.

After playing it the first time we were not eager to play it again. It sat in the game cabinet for a couple of weeks before we tried it a second time. We understood the rules better the second time around, but unfortunately it was just as unsuccessful. There isn’t anything about it that really gets the players invested, so it winds up as an exercise of going through the rules.

I’ve never played the video game that it is based on, but I assume that the makers of this game tried to emulate some aspects of that. That’s a problem. I understand trying to capitalize on the success of one platform and bringing it to another, but when it comes at the sake of the games playability it just is not worth it. Who knows, maybe the video game is not very fun either.

One other thing about the game that really annoyed me was the art on the box cover. It shows an army of Egyptians going to war against a legion of Greeks. The weird part is that there are two Norsemen mixed in with the Egyptians. What is that about? Was there no better way of conveying that there were three different myths to choose from?

If you have a couple of hours to spend, some friends to hang out with, about fifty bucks to kill, and an interest in mythology I recommend going to the bar and talking about Clash of the Titans. Have one for me. Please.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Interesting end to last night's game of Munchkin. I have long considered the bard the weakest of the classes in the game, which is a shame because I think that they are very cool and in Dnd one of my favorites. But the fact is that it's powers don't hold up compared to the others. However last night Enthralled won me the game.

Normally I would think that sacrificing three cards just for a chance to have someone help you out for free isn't that good, and it's not. It is an expensive, less reliable version of the Kneepads of Allure. I was at level 9 and about to be beaten by the Tongue Demon (who was with Bagpipes for an extra +10!) when I used enthralled on another player who was bringing a huge bonus (+25 or something) to the table. It worked and I won.

Last Night on Earth Review

I’m not one of those obsessed zombie fan boys who feels the need to engross themselves in all things brainless, but I had seen Last Night on Earth (Flying Frog Productions) staring out at me from the wall of my local comic store for several weeks so I decided to buy it. Besides I had picked it up and read over the box so many times that the folks in the store were probably starting to think that I was going to steal it. The packaging is excellent and the box wasn’t so big that I couldn’t fit it in my backpack. So I bought it, rode home on my bike, and introduced it later that night to my regular gaming group.

First off, the components of the game are of exceptional quality. It has two decks of cards (hero cards and zombie cards) and both are glossy and have high quality cinema style pictures on all of them. They have been shuffled a bunch of times and seemingly show no wear so far. The heroes and zombies are all represented with nice plastic miniatures; you can actually tell who the heroes are from the pieces and there are a couple of different zombie poses (I personally like the groping zombie the best, but I’m sure that not all feel that way). The game board consists of a central square piece and then six additional L-shaped ones that wrap around the central piece to form a big square. Each contains different buildings that one would find in a typical small town. The game never uses all of them in any scenario creating a somewhat random playing environment (woe to the heroes denied access to the gun shop and the police station). Set up is very easy; some shuffling, set up the board, pick up a scenario, and you are on your way.

The game pits the players against one another. It is zombies vs. heroes. I think that the ideal game is five players (four controlling one hero each and the fifth being the brains of the zombies) though a one on one game is surprisingly good (one player controlling all four heroes). Once you get the hang of it a game should take about 1 ½ to two hours, though this could be considerably less is the players know what they are doing.

In most scenarios the objective is for the heroes to accomplish a certain goal before the sun comes up; at which point the zombies overrun the small town and presumably humanity is doomed. No pressure. Some examples are to destroy the spawning pits from which the zombies emerge, prevent the zombies for overtaking the manor house, or to find some keys and gas up the truck in the center of town and get away. The game does a good job of recreating the climatic ending of a zombie movie. The urgency is certainly there as the sun tracker counts down and the constantly spawning zombies allows no rest for the weary heroes.

Each game turn consists of the zombie turn followed by the hero turn. The zombie turn appears to be the more complicated of the two. Not necessarily in strategy, but in the sense that the zombie(s) player has more options available to him (Her? Them? It?) Each turn they draw a number of cards from the zombie deck, all of which succeed in making life miserable for the players in a variety of ways. Locked doors, shambling zombies of superhuman speed, and the dreaded Undead Hate the Living card (which allows the zombies to fight better). The zombie are very limited in their movement, but they do have the advantage of being able to eat their way through walls and other obstacles. They are also very hard to kill. After moving the zombies fight any heroes they share a space with. At the end of each turn there is also a chance that more zombies may be spawned into play, which is why the heroes should concentrate on the goal of the scenario, rather than just playing the role of zombie slayer. Trust me, they will just keep coming.

In most scenarios the burden lies squarely on the shoulders of the heroes. Based on who the players wind up with this could consist of a bunch of high school kids overmatched by an army of the living dead or the town sheriff and priest carefully slaying zombies while the local drifter loots for supplies. For the hero turn the player decides if they want to move or search the building that they are in for supplies. They can fire a ranged weapon and then fight whatever zombies are in the same space. On turns when no zombies are in the area the hero turn can go by very fast, so make the most of it. Working as a team also goes a long way. Zombies also have no choice but to go after a hero that is closed to them, so they can also be used as bait to lure zombies away from crucial areas.

The first handful of times that we played the zombies had the clear advantage, easily whupping up on the heroes with relative ease. The more we played though, the winning strategy became more apparent. Heroes can not allow themselves to be pinned down and surrounded, they need to try to get themselves some ranged weapons, and they need to keep the scenario goal in mind at all times. There is nothing wrong with getting a hero killed if he is able to accomplish something in death. There is even something heroic about it, and really, isn’t that what being a hero is all about? Besides, under a lot of circumstances a new hero will come into play. Now, after playing a bunch, I would say that the games are pretty balanced between the two groups. And it was very exciting the first time that the heroes won, even if it took about a dozen games to get there.

The characters are not at all equal to one another. There are clear winners (the gun toting Sheriff Anderson) and losers (Billy, the useless son of the sheriff. He’s a slightly faster runner than the others. Wow. Apparently the apple has fallen very far from the tree in this case.). I have no problem with that, some people would be better at surviving a zombie apocalypse then others and this reflects that. I would recommend picking the heroes that you want to use for the first couple of times because it is hard to learn the rules when you are getting killed quickly. After everyone has the hang of it I recommend the random draw for characters because it is a lot of fun to see who you get stuck with. Billy, Jenny, and Johnny seem to be at the weak end of the spectrum, with Sheriff Anderson being the ass kicker of the group. The others all have their uses and if someone plays them to their strengths they should be just fine.

My main complaint with the game is that some of the rules are open to interpretation and a bit vague at times. Clearly I am not the only one who feels this way since Flying Frog has put a very lengthy FAQ on their website to address the numerous discrepancies in the rules. Many of the issues stem from the use of the word “turn” and what exactly it refers to. Many of the cards in the game have effects that last for a turn, but it is not made clear if this is just the players turn or the entire turn (i.e. all of the zombie players on a given round).

The game is also very open ended and ripe with possibilities for custom scenarios, which the game makers clearly support. There are a couple of new free scenarios on the Flying Frog website, plus the game comes with a lot of extra pieces to use in creating your own scenarios. I’ve only tried to make my own a couple of times, and I have struggled a little bit in getting the balance right. So far they have all been pretty one sided, but I see no reason why they can’t improve given some more time to play around with it.

This game is a winner, even for non fans of the zombie genre. We’ve played it about 25 times so far and I would happily play it 25 more. The changing scenarios really keep it interesting as do the wide range of characters available and the randomness of the board. And I know this sounds ridiculous for a game about zombies, but it seems grounded in reality. A person should not be able to kill a zombie without some difficulty and if zombies were overrunning a small town I’m not sure that anyone would be able to stop them. And this game is cool with that.

All in all a very good game. It’s a bit pricey at $40+, but seeing the quality of all the components you certainly see what you are paying for.