Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: A Red & Pleasant Land

Notice: I am not taking down this post because I feel it is more important to leave it up, but also update everyone on what is happeing now as February 11, 2019. Please see this newer post first.

I picked up a copy of +Zak Smith's "A Red & Pleasant Land" on PDF recently.  I like enough to also pick it up in dead tree version as a post-Christmas present for myself (35.75€ or about $45).

I want to say off the bat that when I heard Zak was doing an Alice in Wonderland-ish sort of adventure my expectations were high, but guarded.  I have seen Alice done a number of bad ways; mostly ones that relied on a one to one translation between story to game.  That is all well and good, but ends up robbing the story of what makes it good and ends up short-changing the player's experience in the game.  To be blunt, it's not a D&D adventure.  I had reasonable assurances that this would not happen here, I didn't know what sort of thing we would end up with.

Also, and I have admitted this many times, I am not a fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  But I can say that LotFP and James Raggi do have an amazing art vision and the budget to match and it seems (to me any way) that James leaves people the hell alone and lets them create.  You saw that in Zak's last work Vornheim, you can see it Rafel Chandler's "No Salvation for Witches", and you can see it this book as well.  While the LotFP rules are in mind when this was made, you can either run it with all the free rules that James gives away for free (another credit to him) or use whatever rules you want.  This is important to me and I will talk about it more later on.

So what *is* A Red & Pleasant Land?
Overtly it is an adventure, in the broadest sense.  It can also be a campaign guide to a strange new land (or world).  Breaking it down to it's atomic elements it is Vampiric court intrigue with the cast of Dracula, Elizabeth Bathory and Alice.  But that is like saying that putting salt on your meal is the same as putting Sodium and Chloride on your steak and trying to eat it.

Let me instead start on the outside and work my way in.  This book is gorgeous. It really is.  If you have Vornheim or spent anytime on Zak's blog then you have an idea of what you will be looking at, but that is not quite it either.  The art comes just this side of reality short of being phantasmagorical. Just slightly out of sync with what you should be seeing.  This is intentional since that is also the feeling of the adventure/text itself.  (I am going to keep calling this an adventure since that is the easiest translation).  Honestly, get this bound in red with gold trim and it would be a book better suited for a coffee table rather than a gaming table.  I don't mean that derisively, I mean that in open honesty.
If the art is fantastic then the maps are amazing. I love all sorts of old-school maps and I love a lot of different styles. But these again are very evocative of the setting.

 The other thing is this adventure is big.  While the form factor is small, the book has 197 pages.  There is a lot here.  Zak  suggests that you can use parts of this book or the whole. I will add that if you opt for the parts alternative then there is absolutely something in this book you can use.

Working in, the adventure and background are all woven together in such a way that it is all familiar and yet new at the same time.  It's like returning to a place you have been years and years later. Except when you were at the place back then you were on LSD the entire time. You memories of it have not faded per se but are warped.  This is like that but now your memories are perfect and the reality is warped.

This actually touches on the first issue I have with running this adventure. Now by "I" I mean just that. Me. Not extrapolating it to anywhere else.  I don't think I could run this as a D&D adventure for my group.  To be blunt about it my kids (which is my group) don't yet know enough about Dracula, Alice or any of the other elements in this to make it worthwhile.   This is an adventure for older, wiser and maybe even a little bit jaded players.  This adventure needs to be played by people that have tried to play Dungeonland and found it lacking.

You are going to need the right group for this adventure. The book it totally worth getting just to look at, read or steal ideas from, but if you are going to run it then you need to take stock of your own group and make sure it works for them.  If your group is more of the "kick in the door, kill the monster, get the gold, move to next door" type then this will only have some utility for you.  That is fine there are plenty of fun adventures for those groups.   I suppose that if you have read "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and thought to yourself that it would make a great adventure of intrigue then this one might work for you.   As point of reference, duels are covered as being something that can be deadly. And so are Banquets.  Again some people will scratch their heads on this but I can think of at least three players off the top of my head right now that would totally run with this idea.
It is a prime example of Zak making things he wants to play and if you like it you can come along too.

Back on track.  The Alice.  This is a neat idea, but for me one of the weaker links. I totally get what Zak is doing here and maybe even a little of why. But Alice comes off as an ersatz, but weaker, Slayer, ala Buffy or maybe even the Schmuck quality from Army of Darkness. Though to be 100% this quote from the book is very awesome:
"Alices forever find themselves falling into cursed rabbit holes, accidentally killing witches, having their halfbrothers stolen by goblin kings, being willed magic rings, finding demons inserted in their chests or having armored knights ride through their homes at bedtime. Obscure gods, however, sympathize with them (they are often born to powerful families), and an Alice is a boon to any adventuring party. Some Alices wear striped stockings, some Alistairs wear pointed shoes."  - AR&PL, p. 30.
I love that image. In my games I have called these types of characters Dorothies.  The Exasperation Table really makes this character shine and makes it something unique.

The land itself, Voivodja, is in the truest sense of the word a nightmarescape.  It's not that it is just horrific, there is more. The best nightmares lull you into a false sense of hope or familiarity. You think you know what this is all about, but you don't.  The land is big, densely packed and old. Very old.  The main feature (well, to me anyway) is the intrigue between the Vampire Courts and the potential of what you can do with those.  Think about it really. Ancient, decedent vampire royalty fighting protracted war.  Sure. We did all that in the 90s with Vampire the Masquerade; but this is yet another new take on that.

The monster/NPC section is great. So many ideas.  If you are going to smorgasbord this book then start here.  There are unique vampire nobles and strange animals, so really enough to keep characters of any level busy. That's misleading...I personally think the vampire nobles in this book work better as non-combatants.  Their job is not to be sullied with the likes of mere adventurers.  But engaging them in courtly battles. That's where they shine.  Really, this is one of the first adventures where a battle of wits to the death (!) is not only likely, but likely to happen before breakfast.

We end this book with more random tables that you could (or should maybe) ever use.  30 pages worth.

So there are a lot of reasons to buy this book.  The only one that matters though is do you have the right kind of group for it? If any of these ideas appeal to you then get it. If you are unsure, well I am sure there is something here to make it worth your time and money.

Personally I want to give it a go under Ghosts of Albion.

In any case I think it is a solid hit.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Owl & Weasel Wednesday #22 January 1977

There is no page 13
1977 was a big year. It started out really cold but it also gave us two of the biggest genre movies and two of the biggest directors to ever be tangentially associated with RPG and D&D in particular.  Steven Spielberg with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and George Lucas with Star Wars.

Owl & Weasel though starts off 1977 with what must have been the two favorite topics of conversation around the GW editorial room; topless women and baseball.  Now to be fair it was the late 70s. Look at other magazine covers at the time and this is hardly risque.

This issue though is solidly a "D&D" issue.

The editorial mentions this new focus. There are fewer total articles, but the ones they do have are long.

Don Turnbull is up first.  A name that will be very associated with White Dwarf soon presents the first version of what will become the Monstermark rating system of D&D monsters.
The math is very interesting and very representative of what was popular at the time; lots of calculations to arrive at an esoteric number.  Granted, this is not much different than how we use CR today.  In fact CR is pretty much the spiritual successor to the "Monster Level" as presented here. Though I do suppose that the Monster Level/Monstermark tells you how many 1st level fighters a monster can kill before being killed himself.  Other metrics can be used, but this one was one of the first and it deserves attention for that alone.  Heck this article was one of the reason I sought out Owl & Weasel in the first place after hearing about it in the early pages of White Dwarf.
The article gets a respectable 3 pages of print.

On page 6 there is some coverage of Computer Games.  While these are basic in nature (and maybe even BASIC in coding) they are a few of the classics from the time. Moon Landing (spent hours on this one myself), Wumpus ("I smell a wumpus!") and Hammurabi.  Also, interestingly enough, I was introduced to all of these games by people I was playing D&D with at the time.  Only one page for these.

Page seven covers a review of North Sea Oil, an oil baron simulation game played in 8 turns. Professionally I remember putting together something similar for a macro-economics course some years back. It was fun and I why games like this are popular.

The D&D Society gets two and half pages of text. The other half is dedicated to overflow articles.
The D&D Society is still less "organized play" and more "hey I am a DM, come join my game!".  But it is growing and growing to the point where soon it will be too big for Ian and Steve to handle on their own.

The highlight of this issue is the introduction of the Monstermark/Monster Level system.  It would be worthy to look into this deeper and develop something that would have more present day utility, but we have that now in CR.  Anything outside of that would be a purely academic exercise. While I am happy to do that, it isn't quite enough to make want to take that extra half-step to do it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Adventures that Never Were

Found an old(er) post yesterday on the blog Save Vs. Dragon. "Classic" modules based on some classic rock songs.

Frankly these look so awesome that I would LOVE to build a campaign around them.
Here are a few of my favorites,

I mean seriously how cool would this be?  This hits all my buttons, classic rock, classic AD&D, weird concept albums...In fact I already have an adventure called "Children of the Sun" and have named many of my Cine Unisystem/Buffy adventures after songs; so this is perfect for me.

Now just need to come up with adventures for these!  Might have to listen to a lot of Yes.

DC Cancels Batwoman

DC is pulling the plug on the Batwoman comic with issue #40 being the last.

It is sad but not really a surprise.  Sales, and frankly the creativity, of the series has been lagging since J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman left title in an editorial scuffle over Kate and Maggie's relationship.

Batwoman was one of the best looking comics around, great art and style from J. H. Williams III who had a very clear vision of who and what Kate Kane/Batwoman was.

As I have mentioned in the past, Batwoman was more than a distaff Batman.  She had her own mission, her own goals and especially her own demons to deal with.

I, like many, stopped buying the comic after Williams and Blackman left.  It is disappointing, but not a surprise.  Though I guess Greg Rucka is coming back to DC, so there is some hope for her future.

Well. I guess that is what RPGs are for really. To continue telling the stories of the characters we like.

More information:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Skylla: D&D 5th Edition

Time to revist one of D&D's iconic witches, Skylla.  Since I began this series I have had a few people email with interesting little tidbits of information. Such as how she was supposed to have a larger figure produced (like the likes of Warduke and Kelek).  Most interesting though was how she was supposed to appear in the D&D cartoon.

She appears as an old hag but that is only an illusion to cover her true features; that of a beautiful woman.  Interesting switch there, but she certainly sounds like a witch to me.
It seems even more fitting that I try her out under the latest version of the D&D rules.

I always knew I wanted to try her out under the 5th edition rules and I wanted to wait till I had a better grasp of those rules.

Well now I do; give or take, and I wanted to see how she stacks up.  But 5th edition gives me an interesting choice.  Do I stat her up as a Wizard or as a Warlock?  Both have their advantages.

The Wizard of course is closer to the source stats of Skylla.  The Warlock is really closer to the concept.  I suppose in truth she would have started out as a wizard and her desire for more power lead her on a path towards becoming a warlock.   I investigated both and it was educational.

In both cases I started with her same base stats and made her level 7.  In each case her primary stat was 16 (Int vs. Cha) and reversed for the 11 (Cha vs. Int). Though I mix up Wisdom a bit in there as well.

Skylla's Background

For her Background I chose "Sage" since that deals with finding knowledge. For Skylla knowledge is power.  She was a former Wizard's Apprentice (Ringlerun) now turned to chaos and evil.
Personality Traits: "I am convinced that people are trying to steal my secrets."
Ideals: "Power. Knowledge is the path to power and domination."
Bounds: "I sold my soul for Knowledge."   (seems perfect)
Flaws: "Unlocking an ancient mystery is worth the price of a civilization."

7th Level Wizard, Female, Chaotic Evil

Strength: 9 (-1) [-1]
Dexterity: 11 (0) [0]
Constitution: 10 (0) [0]
Intelligence: 16 (+3) [+6]
Wisdom: 12 (+1) [+4]
Charisma: 11 (0) [0]

Proficiency Bonus: 3
AC: 12 (Cloak of Protection, +2)
Hit Points: 34 (d6)

Acrobatics 0, Animal Handling +1, *Arcana +6, Athletics -1, Deception 0, *History +6, *Insight +4, Intimidation 0, *Investigation +6, Medicine +1, Nature +3, Perception +1, Performance 0, Persuasion 0, Religion +3, Slight of Hand 0, Stealth 0, Survival +1
Common, Elven, Draconic, Abyssal

School of Enchantment

Cantrips: Light, Mage Hand, Poison Spray, Ray of Frost
1st: Charm Person, Detect Magic, Magic Missile, Tenser's Floating Disk
2nd: Knock, Invisible, Levitate
3rd: Hold Person (2nd level spell), Fear, Lightning Bolt
4th: Dimension Door

7th Level Warlock, Female, Chaotic Evil

Strength: 9 (-1) [-1]
Dexterity: 11 (0) [0]
Constitution: 10 (0) [0]
Intelligence: 12 (+1) [+1]
Wisdom: 11 (0) [+3]
Charisma: 16 (+3) [+6]

Proficiency Bonus: 3
AC: 12 (Cloak of Protection, +2)
Hit Points: 38 (d8)

Acrobatics 0, Animal Handling 0, *Arcana +4, Athletics -1, Deception +3, *History +4, Insight 0, *Intimidation +6, *Investigation +4, Medicine 0, Nature +1, Perception 0, Performance +3, Persuasion +3, Religion +1, Slight of Hand 0, Stealth 0, Survival 0
Common, Elven, Draconic, Abyssal

Pact of the Tome
Patron: The Fiend

Book of Ancient Secrets
Armor of Shadows
Agonizing Blast
Mask of Many Faces

Pact Powers
Dark One's Own Blessing
Dark One's Own Luck

Cantrips: Chill Touch, Mage Hand, Eldritch Blast, +Light, +Poison Spray, +Ray of Frost
1st: Burning Hands, Command, Comprehend Languages (Ritual), Detect Magic (Ritual)
2nd: Blindness/Deafness, Scorching Ray
3rd: Fireball, Stinking Cloud
4th: Fire Shield, Wall of Fire

So, I like how the Warlock version plays out in terms various powers and role-playing elements.  In particular I really like her pact.  The wizard though has spells closer to the base version of Skylla.  Also since the wizard's primary stat is Int, her skills are better overall as a wizard.
The Pact of the Tome sorta fixes some of this, she can take some wizard spells as a ritual.

I want to try out a few more warlocks with different pacts to see how they play.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Comment Moderation?

It seems that Google wants me to turn on comment moderation.  I have tried to turn it off since I am not a fan of moderation.

Still figuring it out.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pulling Games

So unless you have not caught up on your reading yet this week (I haven't really myself) then you might not know that OneBookShelf, the owners of DriveThruRPG and RPGNow have opted to pull a title by +James Desborough from their virtual shelves.

Here are the links of what people are saying today.
And James' first post on this:

TL;DR. OBS pulled James "Grim" Desborough's latest game, a card game based on "Gamer Gate".

You can see OBS' comments here:

I don't want to spend a lot of time on this. But here it goes.

1. I support OBS' stand on their right to pull any game they choose.  It's their store. They can choose what they want to sell or not.

2. I support Grim in making and selling any game he wants.  I do not agree with his stance on Gamer Gate, but I also feel the guy is often accused to saying and doing things he actually never said.  He says on his own blog, posts and everywhere else that if we have a question just ask him.  Turns out that works great.  I do think it sucks that his game was tossed out pretty much sight-unseen.

So my issue is not really with OBS or James.

My issue is with the publisher that forced OBS to make a decision.  They used their own market power as a bullying tactic to get a game they, or rather one person in particular, did not like.   It was a dick move.

This is not the first time this particular publisher has pulled some rather dickish stunts.  In fact it is the third I have heard of in the last year.

I am not getting into details. I have no desire to challenge this publisher and no power whatsoever to have them address their own bad behavior.   All I can do is not play or promote their games here.

If you want to buy the Gamer Gate card game, then please head over to Postmortem Studios   I have no interest in it myself, but maybe I'll buy something to show support.   Machinations of the Space Princess is a good choice.