Saturday, October 1, 2016

Zatannurday: Doctor Strange

Oh Zatannurday!
I can't quit you.

The fall season is upon us!  That means more DC on TV. Which I am super-excited for.  But what I am REALLY looking forward to is the new Doctor Strange movie.

Really looking forward to this!

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Witch (2015)

Here we are.  The October Horror Movie Challenge.  I want to start this with a movie that has been sitting on my "to watch" list since it came out earlier this year.  I bought the Blu-Ray when it came out so really it is the only choice for my first movie.

It was worth the wait.

Set in New England in 1630 the Witch is a tale of fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of child death, fear of the woods, fear of God (big one), fear of sexual awaking, and yes the fear of Witches.

The movie is beautiful.  This is why we have Blu-Rays.  It looks like a nature special. It is also thick with atmosphere, the woods are an ever-present threat.

There is so much to love about this movie really.  The dialog comes from authentic accounts and trial documents. The legends of the witches are right out of the 17th (and prior) centuries.  If you know anything about the witch hunts and myths there are a lot of little things here to really make you happy.

I know. I am going all "fan boy" on what is supposed to be a scary movie.  It had it's scary moments.  But it is more of a slow boil rather than full on pot boiler.

Personally, I can't wait to check out all the special features on the Blu-Ray.

2016 Movie tally
Watched: 1
New: 1

Friday, September 30, 2016

Kickstart Your SCARY Weekend!

Here we are folks.  Another Kickstart Your weekend, start of Halloween edition.

First up is a beautiful Swedish RPG, Trudvang Chronicles, in it's last few hours.

It looks fantastic really.

Also tonight at Midnight the October Horror Movie Challenge is set to begin.

+Justin Isaac over at Halls of the Nephilim will be joining me in this.

+Mark Craddock of Crossplanes.  He will be doing his "31 Nights of Halloween" again.
Go to his blog every day next month (starting tomorrow!) for 31 Horrific Adversaries for your games.
Last year was a blast and I expect the same this year.

You all ready to start?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Review: The Haunted Highlands for Castles & Crusades

There is a chill in the air, leaves are turning colors and my thoughts turn to a land that is older and colder.  Thankfully for me, Troll Lords has just the thing for me.  Continuing my dive into Castles & Crusades I want to spend some time with The Haunted Highlands campaign setting.

 The Haunted Highlands goes way back in Castles & Crusades publication lore. It is a "mini" campaign setting really since it now sits inside the larger World of Aihrde.  This is not a weakness as far as I am concerned since I already have a nicely established world and I can drop this in my world (or any world) with no issues really.

The Haunted Highlands consist of two main products; The Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands and Castle Keepers Guide to the Haunted Highlands.

Review disclaimer: I paid for these on my own and was not asked to do a review.  Links are affiliate links to allow me to buy more games for more reviews.

The Players Guide to the Haunted Highlands
This book is everything the player needs to play in the HH. It is 114 pages and includes some very basic C&C rules, but you are going to want to have the full C&C Players book to really play.
The book begins with a bit of an introduction to the HH; both real world and in-world.   The in-world material is compelling and well thought out.  I certainly feel that this is a world with some history (again real world and in-world).  In the overview a number of locales and some groups are covered, all from the point of view of what the characters would know.  This covers the first couple dozen pages or so.  This flows right into the gods, demi-gods and fiends of the lands; about 10 pages.
Chapter 1 covers Character creation. This is largely a condensed version of the C&C rules.
Chapter 2 covers the Races of Karbosk. This chapter discusses the variations from the fantasy norm for the various races.   Your C&C "Value Add" here are rules to play Orcs, Goblins, and Hobgoblins.  New races, the Zvarguth (Dark Dwarves) and Meshkuri (pale humans), are also covered.
Chapter 3 details Character Classes. The traditional classes are mentioned and detailed.  More value adds are new and revised classes.  The assassin gets a remake as a cult to the goddess Shambere.  The Conjurer is a new spell casting class that has access to both cleric and wizard spells, but at a cost.  The Necromancer with spells from the Black Libram of Naratus.  There is also a witch that is very much of the "old hag" archetype and followers of the Hag Queen.  There is a monk class known as the Pammakoni, which is an interesting addition.
Chapter 4 continues the class idea with Dual Classing.   Some of this is detailed elsewhere in other C&C books. Also covered here is magic and new spells.  Witches gain the new arcane spells and select divine spells.
I will say this book is worth it for the classes and spells alone, but obviously it shines more with the Castle Keeper's Guide.

Castle Keepers Guide to the Haunted Highlands
Now this is a huge book. 400 pages and priced accordingly.
Like the Players Guide, we get an overview, real-world and in-world, of the Haunted Highlands.  This section contains a number of additions above and beyond the Players Guide.  This includes a calendar of months and days.  Along with that are some details on various astronomical features.  Now the big issue that *might* cause some concerns for adding to other worlds are this calendar and the two moons.  This can be adapted easy enough.  For my games I have three moons in my world, so one of the moons is just not detailed here.  A recap on the gods from the PG and we have the first two dozen or so pages covered.
For the next 90 or so pages we get a reprint of the modules DB1: Haunted Highland, DB2: Crater of Umeshti, and DB3: Deeper Darkness.  Now if you don't have these modules this is a nice value add, but I have them is dead-tree (and for DB1, PDF).  I didn't notice too many changes but I did not compare them side by side.  Having them in one place is nice, but I didn't really need them.  Though there is good reason for them to be there.  There are new modules/source guides, DB4: Dro Mandras, DB5: The Conquered East, DB6: Dwellers in the Darkness, DB7: The Duchy of Karbosk, DB8: Mists of Mantua, and DB9: Fanderburg.  The adventures are not "leveled" so the CK can adjust them to fit their players.
At this point, we are now 330 pages deep into this book.
This takes us to the Monsters sections.  There is a lot culled from the first three modules, but there are a lot more new ones.  40+ pages to be exact, so enough to keep me happy for a while. This is followed by 25 some odd pages of new fiends, demons and devils.
The last three or so pages are dedicated to new magic items.
This is a campaign world in the very sense of the term.  It is much more akin to Greyhawk than it is to the Forgotten Realms.  You are given some locales and locals, some gods and demons, some monsters, some factions and some background.  You are told how they all interact and then what you make of it all is what YOU make of it.  No NPC is going to overshadow the players here unless of course the CK allows that.  Which they won't.
The books are of course gorgeous in the way that all C&C books are. They really feel like something from the 1980s, only better.

In truth what would be better is a nice boxed set with both the Players book and Castle Keeper's book in softcover. Put the modules in there, all nine. Include a big fold out map and some green dice with bronze/gold color lettering.

Troll Lords is running a bundle sale on these now. Get both books for a reduced price.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Class Struggles: What IS a Class Anyway?

For this week's Class Struggles I wanted to look into the idea of what a class is.

One of the things I remember the most about the gaming scene back in the mid 80s was the rallying against class/level based systems.  I can remember a fairly notorious article/editorial complaining about how classes don't represent real life.  The author as I recall lambasted the class system by asking people to describe what his "class" was.  He blaked at the idea of being called a "Bard".  Though to me it was obvious, he was only a 0-level human.  His "class" was human.

Dragon magazine would go on to produce 100s of classes. The OSR has followed in this same glorious tradition.  Even here I have dissected classes to point out that some with the same name are different (various Warlocks) and others with different names are largely the same.  If that is the case then it begs the question, "What is a Class?"

Broadly defined a class is a set of skills, powers and behaviors that a character will engage in or with.  I say "behaviors" since we expect a cleric to be different than a wizard or a fighter even though the cleric can have similar skills and powers.  But for the most part, we are talking skills.

In AD&D we later got a Proficiency system that was great and new for D&D but still behind games like Call of Cthulhu, Chill and GURPS. The evolution of this system appeared in AD&D2 and then later more robust skill system in D&D3.  In 3e, more so than any other edition before or since, the amount of skills and what skills you can or should take were central.  In fact one could say that "class" was only shorthand for the skill "Recipe".
This is the case with many point buy systems.  If in let's say Ghosts of Albion I want to play a "Wizard" I take levels in "Magic" and "Occult Library".   If I want to be a "witch" or a "runic caster" then I add the appropriate "Magical Tradition".

With the advent of 3e some games took this to the extreme.  True20 reduced the classes to three basic classes, Warrior, Expert and Adept, and gave them the ability to take different skills and powers each level.  Mutants & Masterminds took this one step further to have no-classes, only point-buy powers and skills per level.   At another extreme BESM d20 (Big Eyes, Small Mouth) reduced all the SRD classes down to their point-buy totals.  By the way, if you can get your hands on BESM d20 and are interested in how classes are made it is a good buy.   Course 3e also gave us some of the most flexible multiclassing rules ever in D&D; one of the places that 4e really took many steps backwards on.

Are classes a collection of skills or a collection of means to get the skills?  With skills, I am including things like "Turning Undead" or "Spells" or "Move Silently".

Going back to my Ghosts of Albion example.  I love Victorian Era games. I have played most of them and read the ones I have not played.  Give me a character from the Victorian era and I can replicate him or her in Ghosts fairly easily.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel, lots of Engineering and science, not a lot of social interaction. What is he in d20 Masque of the Red Death? Intellectual likely.  What about the 2nd Edition AD&D version?  Well, the only thing that really works is Tradesman.  A little unsatisfactory really.  Do we create an "Engineer" class?  Bring over the Gadgeteer from Amazing Adventures?  I think we begin to see the origins of the multitude of classes now.

Purists, and the central philosophy of games like S&W White Box and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, keep the classes limited.  I have discussed that here at length really; no need for a Witch, Warlock, Necromancer or whatever since those are all Magic-Users with different hats.

In general, the choice of classes needs to reflect the world the game is trying to emulate. Do I need to give Brunel a class? No, not if he is not going to be a PC.  If he is then I need to find a place for him in the game. That is to say what is it he will do.

So does a game need 3 or 4 classes or 100?

I think I am going to give this a try in my Second Campaign and open everything up. If there is a class in a book somewhere then it can be used in the game.  Knowing my group though I'll end up with a Slayer, a Bounty Hunter, a Thief and an Assassin.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

October Horror Movie Challenge 2016

Once again I am going to participate in the October Horror Movie Challenge.
31 days, 31 movies.  20 have to be new to me.

I am going to try to relate this to gaming as much as possible. Even if it is a weak, "yeah I am going to do this".  I see a lot of this happening for my War of the Witch Queens campaign idea.

The challenge was started (near as I know) by Krell Labs.  It has moved over to Facebook now.

Go there. Sign-up and watch some scary movies. Or not so scary ones as the case might be.

This year my youngest son will join me for some of these movies. I'll post what he thinks along with my own opinions.

+Justin Isaac over at Halls of the Nephilim will be joinig me in this.  It should be a blast!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monstrous Mondays: Giants in the Mist

or fog as the case may be...

Since I am going to combine some Cloud Giant adventures and have a floating castle, I figure I should have at least one encounter with their land-dwelling cousins.  Fog giants first appeared (well for me anyway) in the 1st Edition Fiend Folio.

These creatures can be added to any giant-themed adventure.

D&D 5th Edition

Castles & Crusades

NO. ENCOUNTERED: 1-6, 1-10*
SIZE: Large (16'-18')
HD: 14 (d12)
MOVE: 40 ft.,
AC: 24
ATTACKS: Weapons; Greatclub (5d6) or rock (3d8)
SPECIAL: Spell–Like Abilities,  Mist (Twilight) Vision, Scent
INT: Average
ALIGNMENT: Neutral Good (50%) or Neutral Evil (50%)
TYPE: Giant
XP: 4750 + 12

*Any group of 10 Fog Giants will include a Cloud Giant noble.

From the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium.

Cousins to the cloud giants, these large rock-hurlers are more intelligent and stealthy than portrayed in story or song. Fog giants are huge and husky, with tree-trunk sized legs, and over-developed arms muscled by constant throwing games and exercises. They have milk-white skin which aids their natural ability to blend into fog (80% chance). Their hair is silvery white and flowing, with ample hair on the arms, legs, and chest. They grow no facial hair whatsoever. They prefer to wear no armor, counting on their high natural Armor Class.  They love massive, ornate clubs made from bleached and polished wood or bone.

Fog giants are proud of their strength and fighting skills, often playing games when on hunting forays in an attempt to best one another. Their favorite such game is called “copsi” and consists of the giants pairing off to toss larger and larger boulders to their partners until one of the pairs misses its throw.

The fog giant families live in caves, canyons, or thickets, in the most inaccessible areas of marsh, swamp, forest, or coast. The men usually hunt in groups, ranging up to a dozen miles from their homes. The groups generally are formed of giants of similar alignment.

By tradition, a young giant may not mate until he has obtained at least one large ornament of silver. Usually, the young giant joins with several others in a quest to find one (or acquire enough treasure to buy one).

Fog giants do not often mix well with other creatures or races, although they can often be persuaded to perform services for a fee, or barter goods with groups of similar alignment. Fog giants will happily barter goods and services for refined silver.

Territorial disputes sometimes flare up between groups, especially in times of bad hunting. Friendly disputes can sometimes be resolved by a game of copsi or an arm-wrestling match. Fog giants fighting amongst themselves will generally throw rocks and fist-fight, rather than use swords.

Fog giants are fond of all sorts of cooked meats, particularly hoofed creatures such as horses, cows, deer, elk, and centaur. They often cook meat by building a large fire, then impaling chunks of meat on their swords and holding them over the open flame. Fog giants prefer fruits and sweets for dessert, and will also down large quantities of spirits if available to them. They do not distill their own spirits or liquors.

They also sometimes smoke fresh milkweed pods in wooden pipes, though the taste is too bitter for humans and demihumans to enjoy.
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