Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dungeons of Dredmor (and Dragons), Part 2

After talking a lot about the Dungeoneer with his Pet Mimic, I could not imagine what other sorts of ridiculous characters would come out of this relationship.  It did not take long until my good friend Dominic came up with even more ridiculous ideas.  I suspect the next character he provided was inspired, in part, by the ever popular sequence from UHF: Conan the Librarian.

When we really began talking about it, I had spent a significant amount of time reading about the Berserker character class featured in Heroes of the Feywild.  The idea of the calm, collected librarian who eventually loses his cool and rages against errant teenagers and book graffiti artists was too entertaining and ridiculous an idea to pass up.  With a little talk and a little inspiration from Phil Foglio, Grom of the Reference Desk, Lord of Circulation and Shelving was born.

Grom, from a long line of noble librarians
Be wary of the Shush of the Five Tribes
When Dominic gave me Grom's character sheet, I was surprised to see how similar to my previous Berserker, Anakin Skywalker, Grom was.  Other than a few power and feat selections, the biggest difference was that Grom was also a Scholar (character theme), which gave him a slightly different set of abilities.  Comically, one of Grom's abilities has an ability based of his Intelligence modifier, which Grom is sadly lacking in.
Despite being very similar to Anakin, there is something very different about Grom.  A new player who chooses to play Anakin versus a new player who chooses to play Grom are undoubtedly going to have a very different experience.  Honestly, making the same mechanical character in two very different presentations does emphasize the point I tried to make when I first set out making these novelty character cards.  Although the rules provide a framework, it's what you bring to the table in the role-playing department that makes the game the fun that it is.  My biggest concern has been that, as a Dungeons & Dragons: Encounters DM, I rarely get an opportunity to play these characters myself.

Which is too bad...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dungeons of Dredmor (and Dragons)

A friend of mine recently began talking to me about making strange Dungeons & Dragons characters in the style of the popular Rogue-like, Dungeons of Dredmor. Having never played the game, I did not have a whole lot to say about it, but I was happy to oblige his interest. Apparently, this interest was ... absolutely ridiculous characters. His first idea was an iconic dungeon explorer who had acquired a sort of "pet" in his travels: a mimic. As the story goes, after years of exploring the deep dungeons, this erstwhile adventurer found a very strange creature began following him around. From that idea came the most peculiar D&D character I've been party to...

My friend assures me that this makes perfect sense in the world of Dredmor. I suppose, as a fan of Torchlight, I understand how a Mimic might end up hopping alongside an adventurer, although it still felt a bit weird. Nonetheless, the idea of a brave dungeon explorer being followed around by a Pet Mimic has now been done in the world of Dungeons & Dragons.
Danger is, in fact, his middle name...
Dungeon Adventurer, Born and Bred
When I was first approached by this, the real question centered on how to make a character that had a "pet" that acted enough like a Mimic. There were options, including some interesting character themes from Heroes of the Feywild, but the Sentinel Druid ended up being the one that made the most sense. If nothing else, granting combat advantage to everybody around it seemed like a viable feature for the Mimic. Who wouldn't be weirded out by a hopping chest trying to eat you?

Normally, all of my pre-generated D&D characters are "street legal."  This is the first time I changed text to better suit the needs of the character.  I suppose this partially motivated by the fact that I did not create this character; I just generated the character card. The daily power "No Dirty Fighting Here..." has been modified to be more expansive than its original form. The original ability, Shillelagh, only applied to hammers, maces, and staves. I felt that was far too limiting for "Danger" McCallahan, so I expanded it to be any weapon. It's a small deviation that I hope will not anger too many people that follow the blog.

Friday, July 20, 2012

This Thing I Won't Help You With (PWA 4.1)

Phantasy Warrior Advance: This Thing I Won'T Help You With (PWA 4.1)
This comes up in so many games, yet it also comes up quite a bit in the grim reality of life.  "Let me tell you about this thing that would totally help you in your current situation!  I could help you with it, but I won't.  I'll just tell you about it."  It is a surprising thing to me how often people do this in games and, to a certain extent, how much we let them get away with it.

There is something entertaining to me about bureaucracy in a fantasy realm.  Generally, most fantasy settings (in games and such) have a lot more in common with the modern world than any sort of medieval society, but I rarely see enough modern red tape.  Go to the weapon shop and buy a magical, automatic crossbow?  No waiting period.  Buy a boat?  No licensing or insurance requirements.  Of course, it would be a super-not-fun game if you had to go through that kind of stuff.  The very idea that you have to go to "hero school" or go through a "heroic apprentice program" to be a hero is absurd, but when you consider how much certification and sanctioning we do in the modern age, it only makes sense that being an adventurer or a hero would have the same level of bureaucratic nonsense.

Some people may be wondering what "Rule 6" is.  No, this is not a subtle reference to some sort of strange Internet meme or some pornographic oddity.  But, as the joke continues into the next comic, I'll wait a bit before revealing that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Board Game Review: For The Win

Kickstarter has become a website for all sorts of things.  One thing that has become quite popular on Kickstarter is for people without a lot of investment capital to advertise board and card games and get them funded.  In fact, more and more game companies seem to be turning to Kickstarter to get their projects funded.  It is through Kickstarter that I found out about a little game called For The Win.

Make sense?  No?
For The Win is a tile placement game designed by Michael Eskue and published by Tasty Minstrel Games.  For all intents and purposes, it is an abstract game that has popular internet memes pasted onto it.  As one player described it, it's got the feel of a game like Chess or Go except that the pieces are zombies, pirates, aliens, ninjas, and monkeys.  In that respect, it is a bit strange.  But the important question to ask is: Is it fun?

The Box and What's Inside

For The Win!
For The Win comes in a modestly sized box.  It is the kind of game you tuck into the side pocket of your bag or, for those sporting cargo pants, into a cargo pocket.  I will admit that the ease of portability was an instant draw. In an era where games are often put in boxes that far exceed the volume needed, it is nice to know that TMG went compact with this game.  That kind of compactness practically assures that I bring this game to whatever game event I go to.

At this point, I will make the comment that people who Kickstarted the game get a number of bonus items: two extra sets of game pieces (in different colors) and a bag to keep all of it in.  Although I suspect alternate colored tiles will become available at some point in the future, the bag is probably a "collector's item" that will be unavailable to future purchasers.

There is not a whole lot inside the box, but it is enough for two players to play the game.  The contents of the For The Win game box include: a rulebook, two player aid/action tracker cards, two action tracker stones, two sets of ten game tiles (two of each type of tile), and a starting player token.

All the contents of the box, laid out.
Action card.
The tiles themselves are made from compressed urea plastic.  The character symbol is embossed and painted.  The reverse side of the tiles are painted red and feature the character symbol inside of a "X" symbol, letting you know that the tile is no longer active.  They have a nice feel to them and presented no problem in play.  The illustrations are clear and very representative.  At no point did anybody look at a tile and not immediately know what it represented.  The action cards are brightly colored, easy to read, and printed on thick card stock.  Overall, the components feel very high quality.

The only exceptions to the component quality are the action tracking stones and the starting player token.  In a world of fancy wood bits, glass beads, and such, the starting player token feels like it was stolen from your childhood copy of Sorry!  Furthermore, the action tracking stones feel like a much cheaper plastic than the rest of the game components.  However, as they are not iconic game pieces, this did not bother me much at all.  I suppose at some point in the future I may get my own starting player token to replace the misplaced Sorry warrior, but it suffices for what it is needed to do.

How Monkeys and Zombies Play Together

As for the game itself, it is very much an abstract game.  To start, each player places a Monkey tile in play orthogonally adjacent to one another.  The rules provide for a sort of "advanced" setup where the Monkeys are placed in some sort of odd diagonal arrangement, but the general principle is you start with two Monkeys touching. [Note: After writing that phrase, I wonder if perhaps it was an intentional joke by the designer that every game begins with two Monkeys touching.]

Two Monkeys touching.
The players determine a starting player (perhaps, by completing a game of Sorry!) and she takes the starting player token.  Players then take turns spending actions.  On a turn, a player can spend one or two actions.  Actions include (1) placing a tile in play not adjacent to any of your other tiles, (2) shoving one of your active tiles, (3) moving an active tile, (4) using a tile's special ability, or (5) flipping a used tile to its active side.  Each player gets five actions per round, so if a player uses up her five actions quickly, the other player will still get to use her five actions prior to the completion of the round.  At the end of the round, the starting player token passes to the other player and a new round begins.  In this regard, gameplay is relatively simple.

After a few actions have been taken.
The point of the game is to get a series of your tiles adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to one another that contains one of each of the five tiles that are all face up (active).  Relatively simple idea, but the restriction on tile placement means you will have to work at it.  Luckily, the tiles all have unique abilities that help make this process easier and more interesting.

Without going into great detail about what the different tiles do (as this is covered more generally on TMG's Kickstarter page), the majority of tile abilities involve repositioning a tile in play.  The Monkey and Zombie are somewhat different in that they alter the state of other tiles (the Monkey flips all tiles adjacent to it while the Zombie replaces an adjacent tile with a Zombie tile).  Working within this framework, For The Win presents a number of intriguing strategic options while still managing to maintain relatively quick gameplay.

Black Wins!  Fatality!
So, as I suggested earlier, it has some of the feel of a classic abstract game like Chess or Go but with the ridiculous Internet Meme overlay.  You have ten pieces divided into five distinct classes or types and you have to use a few basic maneuvers to outwit your opponent and line your ridiculous memes into arrangement.  For those who are not looking for a very involved theme or story, it provides some quick strategy that is involved but not too stressful.

Generally, games take about 10-15 minutes.  To that end, For The Win is the kind of game you pull out for a quick "between games" game when somebody has to run out to buy beer or you have to have a player spend 30 minutes setting up the next big board game.  It is quick, engaging, and has a lot of opportunity for really ridiculous situations (including "Two Monkeys Touching").

But How Many Players?

It is worth noting that For The Win comes with enough tiles for two players to play the game.  It works great as a two player game as that was its design.  People who Kickstarted the game have enough tiles for four players, which prompts the obvious question:  Does it work with more than two players?

Extra tiles, player cards, action tokens, and bag for Kickstarters.
Of course it does!  The rules do not address it, but my play group has found that three and four players games are actually more involved (and more engaging) than the basic two player game.  It is one thing when you are trying to asses the potential actions of another player but it is a whole different thing when you have to account for two or three other players.  Now, this does have the effect of pushing the play time upward, but that is expected.


There are a lot of things done right with this game.  It is small.  It is affordable.  It has sturdy pieces.  It can be played in a brief amount of time.  For The Win is one of those games, like Zombie Dice or Mr. Jack Pocket that should always find its way to a game night.  It can be packed away in a small pocket and it takes so little time to play that I almost feel like it would be ridiculous not to bring it to every game night I am part of.  Although it is light on theme, it does have enough silly aspects and charm such that it's more fun to talk about playing than a purely abstract game like Go, Othello (Reversi), or Chess.

I like the game and everybody I have played with seemed interested enough in it to justify my bringing along on all my board game adventures.  As it goes, I recommend it for people that like this sort of quick, interesting, abstract game with a little character.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Borrowing Role-Playing Ideas: Dark Sun and Doctor Who

Warning: This post discusses the Doctor Who two-part story, The End of Time.  For those who have not seen it but "will get to it soon," you may want to avoid reading this post.  You have been warned.

People sometimes ask me where I get the ideas for character and campaigns that I play.  Like most people, I tend to borrow them from existing fiction, whether it be a television show, a video game, a book, or some other piece of fiction. I thought this would be a good time for me to talk about one experience I had borrowing heavily from some other fiction in creating a D&D campaign arc.

When the Dark Sun Campaign Setting was first released for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, a number of my friends were interested in playing a game in that setting.  I agreed to DM it as it seemed a worthwhile thing to attempt.  I always saw Dark Sun as a sort of post-apocalyptic D&D setting where magic, instead of "the bomb," shattered the world.  It also had the weird historical quirk that there were no gods, and thus, no divine power.  In 4E, this came from the backstory that the old war between the Primordials and the Gods had gone differently than most settings.  The Gods lost.  Psionic power was the primary power source for this world until a strange new energy, arcane power, appeared.  Potentially powerful yet corrupting, arcane power is what lead to the eventual change of Athas into the desert world we know.

If the sun is so dark, why is it so primoridal-damned hot?
For some reason, the old "Gods and Primordials" battle, which lead to the eventual death of the Gods, sounded familiar.  As a D&D player, you know that the gods can be difficult but they are generally a good thing within the fantasy framework.  I started to consider what it would mean, in the context of the Dark Sun setting, if I turned that expectation upside down.  I began to look at it sort of like the Doctor Who two-part story, The End of Time.  Here, the conceit was similar.  The Time Lords, a people who we know to be a fair, just, and worthwhile race of people, were destroyed in a terrible war with a force we already know to be evil, the Daleks.

The Lord-Presdient of Gallifrey. He has the Evil gene.
Of course, the big reveal in The End of Time was that, at the time that the Doctor destroyed everything and ended the "Time War," the Time Lords of Gallifrey had become just as corrupt, just as evil, just as terrible, as their mortal enemy.  As Wilf gets excited about the return of this wonderful race of people, the Doctor tells him the grim truth.  The Time Lords are as bad, if not worse, than the Daleks.  This seemed like a terribly good conceit for a D&D Dark Sun campaign.  This story was not intended for the characters, per se, as the characters would not know what gods were.  It was more for the players.

The course of the campaign would have characters following series of mysterious artifacts, all leading back to Kalak, the fallen Sorcerer-King of Tyr.  In investigating these artifacts, the characters would begin to find strange relics from long ago: references to the old gods-war, still preserved in the darkest corners of Athas.  Rventually, they would find a living creature, a Herald of the Gods, left behind to ensure the eventual return of the Gods.  While combatting Kalak's minions and the other Sorcerer-Kings, all hoping to use the power of the artifacts for themselves, the party would piece together an age-old mystery leading to the return of the Gods to Athas.

The Death of Kalak
I actually borrowed even more heavily in my story outline.  I wanted Kalak to be something more than just a guy that got killed.  I wanted him to be the focal point.  It wasn't that a few mortals could topple a Sorcerer-King; it's that the other Sorcerer-Kings wanted him dead.  Perhaps Kalak found something beneath the desert sands, a source of divine power, that convinced the other Sorcerer-Kings to work together to stop him (for what may be the second time in recorded history).  As I saw it, Kalak started to occupy the place of the Master in The End of Time.  He would be the one that would bring about the final steps of the Gods' return, all the while not realizing that he would be potentially dooming Athas in the process.

I presumed that Kalak thought he had discovered a way to ascend to godhood that was more effective, more powerful, and all around more convenient than the means utilized by the Sorcerer-Kings.  Kalak had no intention of becoming another Dragon of Athas.  He would use this ancient technology to become the very power, force, and essence of Athas.  I figured that, from his perspective, Kalak would have rebuilt some sort of vast mechanism for ascending to godhood, only to realize it was a great focusing lens for pulling the Gods out of their war with the Primordials and into the living world (or, for the Doctor Who fans, the "waking world").

Gallifrey Rises!
When Lord-President Rassilon appears on Earth, his plan seems abundantly clear.  He, along with the rest of the Time Lords, intend to tear reality asunder and ascend as beings of pure consciousness.  I figured that the return of the Gods need not be that dramatic.  Merely destroying Athas and building a world anew would be sufficient.  Either way, that was the eventual plot-line.  The characters would now have an epic conclusion to a Dark Sun campaign, having to destroy the Gods themselves and realizing that their very actions set the whole world of Dark Sun in motion.

Of course, like any good D&D game, we never made it past 4th level.  As it ends up, the party was about to meet the Herald in the upcoming adventure, but we never made it, which is too bad.  I was not proficient enough as a Dungeon Master to keep up with the needs of the group.  But, either way, it presents a situation where I, as a Dungeon Master, unabashedly ripped a story arc from popular media and made it into something I could use for a D&D game.  Even something as ridiculous and whimsical as Doctor Who can provide inspiration for any time of D&D game you may want to play.

Monday, July 16, 2012

D&D: The Clone Wars (Part 10)

For the longest time, I had a real problem with respect to two things in the whole D&D/Star Wars crossover.  First of all, I had really wanted to do a dual-lightsaber character but did not want to use villainous characters (such as Assajj Ventress).  Secondly, I had spent a great deal of time not knowing what to do with Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker's apprentice.  Both of these things bothered me and I would never have guessed that the two issues would one day come together.

But they did.  When I was watching season 3 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I noticed that Ahsoka Tano had two things hanging from her belt.  I assumed that one was a ... scanner?  Honestly, I had no idea what it was, but the one thing I knew it couldn't be was another lightsaber.  That is, until the Mortis trilogy, where she busted out dual lightsaber action!  It's like the writers had heard my thoughts, unduly upset about not being able to properly work a two-weapon character into my D&D re-skin.

The color is just because it matched the picture....
Dual lightsaber wielding action!
I found it somewhat difficult picking all of the appropriate class features for Ahsoka.  I wanted to make sure that anybody who picked her up (and knew waaaaay too much about Star Wars) would feel like she had been done right.  Ahsoka is an interesting character because she was put into the story to be a sort of reflection of Anakin Skywalker and his slow progression throughout the series.  This is somebody who learned the important parts of being a Jedi from somebody who is slowly being corrupted to darkness.

For those curious, this variant of Ahsoka is an Elf Ranger (Scout).  I felt that the higher Elf speed matched Ahsoka's agile style while the ability to re-roll an attack seemed to fit Ahsoka and her ability to do the most ridiculous stuff as a Padawan.  It seemed to work out well.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dungeon Command: COMMANDED!

Two boxes of awesome.
On July 21-22, Wizards of the Coast will be presenting D&D Game Day, where they will be featuring their new miniatures skirmish game Dungeon Command.  As a servitor within the Wizards Play Network, I have been given the opportunity to host such a game event at my friendly, local, neighborhood game store.  To that end, I was given a demo set of Dungeon Command, which included both the Heart of Cormyr and the Sting of Lolth war bands.  As directed by the included instructions, I set forth to play a few games with some friends so I could understand how it worked prior to actual game day.  Here, I present that story.

Initial Impressions

Dungeon Command comes in two separate boxes.  Each box corresponds to one of two pre-assembled war bands: the Heart of Cormyr and the Sting of Lolth.  The sets are marketed as being enough for one player to play the game; although a limited two player game can be run out of the same box, the expectation is that each person that wants to play will bring their own box to the table.  This makes sense in consideration of all of the other tabletop miniature games out there, which often expect you to invest well into the triple digits before you have everything you need to really play a game.
The Sting of Lolth box interior.
Each war band box has twelve miniatures (ten unique figures with two repeats).  In addition, it has a set of cards (including "Creature" cards and "Order" cards) and tokens necessary to play the game.  Two large map pieces and two small map pieces round out the components necessary to play Dungeon Command.  In looking over the contents, it is immediately apparent that, with exception to the punchboard tokens, all of the components from the two sets are different.  Different miniatures, different cards, and different map pieces.
The Heart of Cormyr box interior.
From an initial overview, the contents of the boxes seem worth the investment.  With the exception of the punchboard tokens, each box adds new content.  As I continued to explore the contents of the box, I determined that the board pieces and cards had been designed with the faction in mind.  The Cormyr board pieces contained "magic circles" that interacted with Order cards in that respective war band deck.  Order cards in each set have abilities that only work with units included in that respective set.  This distinctiveness makes each set feel like something I would want to buy (and, as future sets come out, continue buying).

The Rules and Set Up

The rules did not seem too difficult to read through the first time, although I found that I instinctively skipped sections of the rules.  This was foolishly based on my estimated understanding of Dungeons & Dragons and this game's use of similar terms.  However, basic game concepts are relatively simple: players go back and forth taking turns, with each turn being composed of the same steps.  The bulk of a player's turn involved activating creatures on the map to do stuff.  This was the basic game.  Other than setting up and understanding the game end condition, there was not a lot more to it.  Satisfied with my understanding, I set up the play area.
Look, Ma!  I built a dungeon!
Setup was surprisingly simple.  Each faction has two leaders available that have slightly different abilities; players choose one to lead their war band into battle.  Both players draw their starting hands of Order and Creature cards.  Each player then uses the board pieces in her kit and builds half of a dungeon.  Once that is done, the two are connected.  Each player has to leave two un-walled regions facing their opponent to facilitate this connection.  It's a simple process that can lead to some really peculiar layout opportunities (as we discovered in our second game when one player tried to be creative).  Each "half" of the board has three spaces marked as treasure spots where one of six random treasure chests will be placed.

After building the dungeon setup, players establish their initial starting forces.  This is a simple process.  From their starting hand of creature cards, each player (starting with a player randomly chosen to start) plays Creature cards and places them in the starting area.  As it is throughout the game, a player can never deploy creatures such that the levels of creatures on the board would exceed the leader's current Leadership skill.  Although relatively low at first, the Leadership skill will increase every turn, allowing more creatures on the map at once.  Once both players have their figures on the map, the game begins.

Gameplay and Killing Things

First game, after the second turn.
Players take turns playing the game.  On a turn, each player does some beginning-of-turn maintenance, activates each unit on the map, and then does end-of-turn actions, including potentially playing new units onto the board.  The basic structure of the turn is relatively simple.  What tends to keep the game interesting and engaging is the way that Order cards interact in the game.

Cormyr war band HQ. Beer not included.
When a creature activates on your turn, you have the option to (1) move the creature up to its speed, (2) use any actions on the creature card, including attacks, (3) utilize Order cards, and (4) do any other special actions (such as opening a treasure chest).  Thus, creature turns are relatively simple.  Most significant actions require tapping the creature (WHOOOO!), so a creature only gets one during its turn.  One peculiar thing about the game is that (a) creatures can tap during the turn of an ally to aid them in using an Order card and (b) creatures are untapped at the end of the turn, allowing them to tap for defensive purposes during your opponent's turn.  It was a bit strange getting used to, but it did allow for great gameplay opportunities when specific Order cards made their way into the game.

There are some slightly fussy rules regarding attacking, movement, and otherwise doing things while adjacent to an enemy.  Moving to a space adjacent an enemy normally ends your creature's movement.  Starting adjacent to an enemy makes your speed 1, meaning you do not move a whole lot.  Ranged attacks cannot be made while adjacent to an enemy, so a player has to think about all of these interactions when positioning their creatures.  One feature that was well received, though, was that all attacks do fixed damage (measured in 10s of hit points).  There was no rolling or random determination of damage and all attacks not interrupted by Order cards automatically hit (except in a few circumstances).
Leave it to Lolth to bring a Drider to a Dragon fight.
Order cards can be either a standard action (which requires tapping), a minor action (which does not), or a cards intended to be played in response to other actions (which usually requires tapping the creature, but on your opponent's turn).  From my brief experiences, Order cards where what made the game interesting.  Order cards include things like "leveling up" weaker creatures, having spiders shoot web at enemies, parrying and counter-attacking, and all sorts of other beneficial effects.  So, considering that most other actions were deterministic, the Order cards tended to be where the game found it's random element.

But When Does It End?

Dungeon Command has two end game states.  One happens at the end of a player's turn.  If a player ends her turn with no creatures on the battlefield, she loses.  This means that every single creature in the player's war band has been defeated on the field, as otherwise a creature could be played from that player's hand of creatures.  In the two games that we played, this never happened, although I will not suggest that it could never happen.  It seems more a measure to prevent a game from going on with no end, since a side is bound to run out of creatures some day or another.
It also has wilderness maps on the back!
The other end state happens when a player's morale drops to 0.  Morale starts at a modest level and can be increased by collecting treasure on the battlefield.  However, a player's morale drops every time that player loses a creature.  Furthermore, a player can choose to have a creature "cower" instead of take damage; the damage dealt is done to morale instead.  It becomes a good mechanic because we found it shifted the emphasize of game play.  In our second game, I lost despite having superior forces on the battlefield because my morale had dropped so low in previous turns (due in combination to having troops cower and losing troops of modest morale value).

Wait, Umber Hulk?  Did somebody say Umber Hulk?
So, I found that Morale is a good game mechanic in Dungeon Command.  To a certain extent, it is like your leader's life points, dropped only when creatures under your control die or you choose to have a creature ignore damage (cower).  Yet, it also has the feel of a resource, allowing you to forgo taking damage and instead bring yourself slightly closer to defeat.  Although I suspect that WotC was not the first game designer to come up with such an idea, it feels surprisingly new and interesting in the context of Dungeon Command.


So, it is worth it?  Is Dungeon Command something you should invest in?  After two games, I feel like it is a good game.  Order cards make the game fun in a way that I would not expect in a miniature skirmish game and I suspect that WotC will use this to their best advantage (randomly distributed collectible Orders?  SURE THING!).

But do I want what's inside?
I liked the game and the rest of the test group also seemed to like it.  There are some interesting possibilities that this game could pursue.  For example, war bands can be customized with both different creatures and order cards.  So, a Cormyr player can take the Drow Mage from the Lolth set and at it to his war band.  The Drow Mage will work just as well as he did in the Lolth set.  I suspect as more sets, cards, and figures come out, there will be more combinations to explore.

Most importantly, if you are interested, I recommend finding a local game store running the D&D Game Day event and give the game a try.  If nothing else, you may get yourself a novelty promotional item...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Always Check the Notice Board (PWA 3)

Phantasy Warrior Advance: Always Check the Notice Board

So, I have already mentioned several times that I was a big fan of the Quest for Glory series (formerly Hero's Quest) back in the 1990s.  Lori Ann and Corey Cole did an interesting thing bringing the concepts of a role-playing game to the classic "3D animated adventure game" format that Sierra On-Line had become so famous for.  There were puzzles to solve, monsters to fight, and skills to improve by using them.  Granted, the game did end up promoting some absurd results (such as spending the better part of an in-game day climbing trees or throwing rocks) but it was fun nonetheless.  A lot of my comic work (both this comic and its predecessor, the original Phantasy Warrior) has strong Quest for Glory influence.

In every Quest for Glory game, there would be an Adventurer's Guild (or equivalent) with a notice board posting quests, tasks, and general nonsense.  It was a weird idea in the realm of fantasy role-playing.  Classically, everything started out "in a tavern" or some similar nonsense.  Lori Ann and Corey decided to take a more modern approach.  If I really wanted somebody to go find my Cheetaur claws, why not post it on the local Adventurer's Guild notice board?  Looking for somebody to stop the Brigand King?  Post it!

Of course, even then they tended to make jokes about it, with the occasional absurd posting appearing as a joke.  It only makes sense.  For every serious quest giver posting on the notice board, there's bound to be some joker posting some sort of nonsense.  Here, I even put the business card of a local bard because that just seemed like the kind of thing you would expect to see.

For those wondering, this notice board intentionally has a lot of strange references and subtle in-jokes in it.  That is what happens when I stay up late building comic panels.  Hopefully, you can find something you find entertaining.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars

As I put the finishing touches on my eleventh or twelfth Star Wars themed Dungeons & Dragons character, I thought I would take time to say a few things about how Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) and Star Wars intersect.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a television show currently (as of this writing) entering its fifth season.  It fills the gap between Episode II and Episode III.  As I see it, it is the Star Wars content that everybody thought they were going to see with the prequel movies.  It revolves around the Clone Wars, it displays a galaxy at war, and shows us the slow degradation of our alleged protagonist, Anakin Skywalker.

However, as it is an ongoing television series, it is much more than that little piece of story about the man who would be Darth Vader.  It is about the entire war, not just the few characters who's names we remember from the movies.  The creators of the show might be some of the world's biggest Star Wars fans as they often go out of their way to fill the show with bits and pieces of Expanded Universe trivia while crafting out a galaxy we thought we knew so well.  Quite frankly, I consider it the best Star Wars I have ever seen.

But what does this have to do with Dungeons & Dragons?  When I started making pre-generated characters for Dungeon & Dragons: Encounters, it was because there had been a definitive drought of characters provided by Wizards of the Coast.  Although I understand their intent in doing so, I felt like many players liked the ability to try out new character classes and features via the Encounters program yet did not have the time to make their own characters.

As I found interesting, iconic characters to convert to D&D format, I started to realize that I had made a significant number of Star Wars characters.  Star Wars characters seemed like an easy thing.  People would walk into Encounters, never having played Dungeons & Dragons, but could immediately get a sense of what their character would do because they knew the character.  Anakin Skywalker?  Whine a little bit and then start killing things with reckless abandon.  Obi-Wan Kenobi?  Talk a lot and belittle Anakin.  C-3PO?  Complain a lot.  I considered these iconic character a resounding success.

But why are we fighting Drow and Spiders, Master Plo Koon?

After having made five or six of these Star Wars D&D characters, a good friend asked me why I did not consider writing my own Lair Assault or One-Shot Adventure using Clone Wars material.  Wasn't going after Mordai Vell in his underground Dawn Forge just as reasonable as breaking into the Separatist facility to rescue R2-D2?  It made sense.  Choose a group of six characters and go after General Grievous aboard his flagship, the Malevolence.  Or, battle the Sith Assassin Assajj Ventress during the Battle of Christophsis.  This seemed a great plan.

I am more powerful than any Dragon, my dear Obi-Wan...
Although still hard at work on this, my first attempt has been to recreate the fifth episode of the first season, entitled "Rookies."  The episode begins on the Rishi moon, where a group of newly commissioned clone troopers have been stationed to monitor for Separatist incursion.  Their job?  Maintain the "All Clear" signal unless invasion by the Separatists is imminent, thus warning the rest of the Republic of the attack.

Alright, brothers.  We have to save the Republic from the clankers.
By the middle of the episode, it has become an adventure of five characters as they attempt to retake the Rishi station from Commando Droids who are masking a Separatist fleet's invasion into Republic space.  Captain Rex, Commander Cody, Echo, Fives, and Hevy must fight off a Rishi eel, get back into the station, defeat the Commando Droids, and deactivate the "All Clear" signal.  Of course, trials and tribulations face them as droid reinforcements arrive to secure the outpost.  Soon, they are forced to do the unthinkable and one of them makes a great sacrifice for the Republic.

That sounds like a perfect one-shot D&D adventure!  So, what started as an attempt to liven up my Wednesday D&D Encounters game has turned into a project building Star Wars themed adventures and encounters.  Although not for everybody, it demonstrates that with the right homebrew mindset, the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons can do quite a bit and make it fun.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons: Ace Attorney (Part 3)

Not every character in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series is an attorney.  In fact, there are any number of absurd characters worth memorializing as Dungeons & Dragons characters that are anything but attorneys.  As I put the final touches on Apollo Justice, I realized that there was another character from that Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney that I wanted to make into a character to go along with Polly.  It only made sense to build his "assistant" and Phoenix Wright's adoptive daughter, Trucy, as a D&D character.
Notable illusionist, Trucy Wright!
She controls her enemies.
I decided I would experiment with Illusion magic and see how an Illusionist Mage would turn out.  The class feature "Illusion Apprentice" makes all targets hit by arcane illusion spells to suffer a -2 penalty to hit the caster un of Trucy's next turn.  An illusion feat, Phantom Echoes, causes all targets hit by an arcane illusion spell to grant combat advantage to Trucy until the end of her next turn.  Both of those effects seemed best described as a trait, so I wrote it onto the front of the card.  Enemies hit by Trucy's illusions will be highly motivated to stay away from her as they not only get a penalty but she gets a bonus to hit them.

The Phantom Echoes power had another peculiar feature that I spent some time mulling over.  If the attack had an effect which imposes a condition that a save can end, the granting of combat advantage is tied to that save roll.  This was only applicable in one case, with Trucy's daily attack power.  Instead of writing an exceedingly cumbersome traits box that separated that fact, I instead decided to implement it directly into the attack power.  So, her feat is actually split across a general trait describing every power and a subtle change to the single attack power that behaves recently.

It was fun putting together a few PW:AA characters and I hope to continue to get that chance moving forward.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

D&D: The Clone Wars (Part 9)

After a while, making Jedi and Clone Troopers gets a little boring.  Occasionally, I feel as if I need to create something a bit different.  C-3PO and R2-D2 seemed like good choices for characters as they appear in quite a lot of Clone Wars episodes and they are iconic.  Unfortunately, making a protocol droid and an astromech droid using a ruleset that focuses on combat seemed difficult.

C-3PO was surprisingly simple once a friend helped me realize that he is simply the laziest of lazy warlords.  R2-D2 was tough, on the other hand.  Everybody had their own idea how he would be.  Some people thought he was a thief or rogue.  A wizard.  A bard.  Honestly, he is something of a generalist insomuch that he has a gadget for everything, so it was difficult finding something that captured him well.

I wanted to capture a few things with R2-D2.  He is something of a jack-of-all-trades in the Star Wars universe, although he's best known for cracking locks.  Most of his abilities are a result of some gadget or another hidden inside his casing.  From memory, I could think of a buzz saw, an electric zapper, a welding torch, and his booster jets.  So, whatever I chose would have to somehow capture as large a cross-section of those abilities as possible.

The Star Wars character who knows *everything*.
R2-D2, the jack-of-all-trades.
I had originally conceived of making him a Pixie to capture the booster jets, but I did not feel comfortable torquing the Pixie.  Besides, R2-D2 normally only uses his booster jets for brief periods and only rarely.  So, an encounter power would be reasonable enough.  I came across a rather peculiar racial power for Goblins that fit the bill: Leg Up lets a Goblin character adjacent to another creature jump his speed horizontally or 10 feet vertically.  This seemed a perfect match for R2-D2's booster jets.

Thief and wizard were high on my list of classes to use.  However, neither of them quite fit R2-D2 how I thought he should be.  When I started flipping through different classes, I found the Sorcerer to have an array of powers that might fit.  Furthermore, the Storm Sorcerer had a flight ability (on natural 20 attack roll) that also looked good.  So, from that, the Goblin Storm Sorcerer named R2-D2 was born.

I will honestly say that even after I had settled on a Goblin Storm Sorcerer, I still had what was potentially the most difficult challenge yet remaining: an iconic quote.  I spent at least twenty to thirty minutes scouring different websites, trying to find out how his bleeps and bloops are best written.  Unfortunately, I did not find anything that was particularly impressive.  Thus, I stuck with the relatively uninteresting <beep> <beep>. Perhaps I'll touch it up in the future.

People who have read my C-3PO post should already know why it is that R2-D2 is a vampire.  I wanted droids to be modeled after undead.  Radiant damage is ion blast and necrotic damage is more like radioactive damage.  Thus, the natural resistances and vulnerabilities of vampires worked very well.

At some point, I will likely try an alternative R2-D2 build, perhaps using a Pixie with a more wizardly class.  But, for now, R2-D2 is now available to join the rest of the Clone Wars team.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

D&D: The Clone Wars (Part 8)

One thing that I have found in building all of these different Dungeons & Dragons characters is there are a lot of different ways to achieve certain character results. When I wanted to make a Clone Trooper, I wanted a ranged weapon character.  I started with the Ranger (Hunter) as the obvious choice and ended up with Hevy and Jek.  The Archer Warlord was another obvious choice, resulting in Commander Cody.  As I continued to research, I found some classes that seemed less obvious at first but fit well for a character like Captain Rex.  Sometimes, though, it takes me a while to find even the most obvious permutation.
Echo, Defender of Kamino and Rishi Station.
Pretty simple power set.
When I did Hevy, the only "Domino Squad" episode I had seen was the first season episode, Rookies.  I never would have guessed that these clones would appear in later episodes.  When I finally got to season three, I was quite pleased that not only did these clones get a back story (in the episode Clone Cadets), but also a sequel to the original episode where the survivors of Rishi Station return to Kamino. Excepting Cody and Rex, these were the first clones that really stuck out as characters.  It only seemed appropriate that I feature as many of them as I can as Dungeons & Dragons characters.

I made Echo at roughly the same time I did Charon, so the similarities between the two is easy to see.  Like Charon, Echo is a slayer fighter focused on Dexterity and ranged combat.  As a human, Echo got an additional feat.  This allowed the selection of the Greatbow proficiency, giving him enormous range and a higher damage range.  Dealing 1d12 + 10 damage on every hit, Echo is no slouch in the damage dealing department.  I felt like the Poised Assault stance seemed more appropriate for Echo than the Unfettered Fury stance that Charon had as Echo served as a sniper when he helped defend Kamino.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Board Game Review: Le Havre

Uwe Rosenberg is something of a divisive name in tabletop gaming. Although his first big success was a bean planting game called Bohnanza, he is perhaps best know for his 2007 release, Agricola, the game that quickly shot to the top of the BoardGameGeek list and, if only for a while, dethroned the classic Puerto Rico.  [Note: Eventually, GMT's Twilight Struggle would usurp this position, almost as if part of some sinister Soviet conspiracy.]  Rosenberg's games would eventually become well-known in the board game community.  From medieval farmers to medieval monks to Chinese farmers to French dock workers, his games all simulated work and challenged the player to optimize the workflow better than all others.  Despite sounding a lot like the worst job you have ever had, these games have sizable groups of fans, each excited to tell you how Rosenberg's games are great games.  They are also well thought out, well designed games.

His second big-box work game was based on the French port of Le Havre, aptly named Le Havre.  [Note: I call them "big box" because they come in the same sized box that generally retails at approximately $70.]  In Le Havre, each player is a business person trying to make the most money working the port.  The game is divided into a specific number of rounds (based on the number of players), with each round consisting of seven turns.  Players take turns in order.  On a turn, a player does two things: move a wooden ship to the next space on the ship track (which places two new goods on the docks of Le Havre) and take an action, which can either be claiming a dock full of goods or using a building.  At the end of each round, players have to pay a cost in food (or Francs) to support their workforce.  This process continues until the end of the final round.

Gameplay in progress.
Le Havre is interesting because what sounds like a pretty basic game mechanic (place new resources, take a single action) can be both surprisingly frustrating and surprisingly fun.  The first few times I played, I quickly discovered that feeding my workers at the end of the round was harder than I thought.  There are only so many fish that appear on the docks and a lot of people want them.  The cost to feed slowly rises from round to round, so whatever strategy worked in the first round would not be as effective later.  Yet, as the game proceeds, new buildings appear that allow for a larger range of actions.  Pretty soon, you develop the ability to bake countless loaves of bread or slaughter a herd of cattle sufficient to feed your workers.  Eventually, you hope to find a "groove" that you can fit into where you can spend your last few turns turning out a sizable profit by "turning the crank" on your economic engine.  It does not always work, of course, which makes the game interesting.

Yak shaving.
As a tabletop board game, Le Havre can become quickly frustrating because of the setup (having to prepare a specific deck indicating what occurs at the end of each round), the enormous number of little bits that need to be pushed around the board, and the surprising amount of seemingly repetitive process necessary to get places in the game.  Some players find that it can feel a bit like yak shaving.  I may find that I have to go to the Fishery to get a good catch of Fish, then the Wood Pile to get wood, followed by the Smokehouse to smoke my Fish with a piece of Wood, a trip to the Ironworks to get Iron, and finally a visit to Cannery Row to trade 1 Iron and 4 Smoked Fish for 18 Francs.  Wash, Rinse, Repeat.  It is not for everybody, unfortunately, but it can be very fulfilling when you find a "good combination" that makes you big Francs. The key is finding a good series that you can repeat enough times to make more money than your opponents.

Le Havre for iOS (iPhone and iPad)
This is actually one of those board games that always made me think that it could be quite a bit better if they eliminated the fuss of moving cardboard chits around and arranging the deck in a specific order every time.  What this game needed, I thought, was some automation.  It needed a computerized version.  Lucky for me, somebody thought the same thing.  From that thought comes Le Havre for iOS.  Finally, a version of this game exists where I do not need to think nearly as much about the fussy little bits and instead worry about playing the game.  But how does it measure?  Is it comparable to its venerable tabletop progenitor?  More importantly, is it worth the $4.99?

The layout resembles the original Le Havre pretty well and has full color versions of every card that appears in the game.  For people familiar with the board game, the iOS version puts everything in the same "place" as you would expect it to be on the tabletop.  I considered that a nice feature as it made playing it more intuitive for an old-hat tabletop gamer.  In addition, the game does allow for multiple human players.  It also allows them to be seated on either side of the iPad (you select each player's relative position when starting the game).  That way, I can play on one side and my friend can play on the other and each of us sees it "facing us."  Overall, it feels like it turns a two to three hour tabletop game into a twenty minute iPad game.  That, in itself, is nice.

Setup.  It allows 1-5 players with AI opponents of varying difficulties.
The arrow by the Human Players indicates orientation of the player
around the iPad.  It even allows for the "short game."
The game sets up the round deck, three building piles, and special building pile for you.  No fuss, no muss.  The three most laborious parts of setup have been automated to the point that I forget what it was like to play on a table.  The screen layout gives you a good look at resources, wealth (score), and Francs held by each player.  As buildings are bought or built, they appear beside the owning player's resource area.  It does become somewhat difficult to determine which player has built which building, but I found I got used to scanning over the stack of names whenever I wanted a specific building.  Also, it helps to remember, "The guy to my right has the Cokery."

Second Round of my First Game of iOS Le Havre
After a few games, I feel the urge to say that this game does a good job at capturing the tabletop board game.  I will admit that this game did not take long to show me that I am bad at playing it.  Even with two AI opponents playing on the lowest difficulty, I have a pretty terrible win rate. But, that being said, I had fun doing it.

This is me by Round 13, not winning.
The game looks good, although this opinion may be colored because I normally expect computerized versions of board games to look backwards and "difficult."  Every card I saw was an accurate representation of the original game card (with a few peculiarities in symbology here and there).  The resources look like their original cardboard chit forms, something that is bound to upset a few people that got fancy resource tokens for their game.  The board looked like the board.  Furthermore, it was relatively simple to figure out how to interact with things on the board.  Tap here, tap there.  Green checks and Red Xs represent "Go" and "Back."  Intuitive enough, although the game kept trying to insist I try the tutorial.

Oh, and it has music.  The music is ... French harbor music?  I am not sure that a better name exists.  At least the game has an option to allow create a playlist from your MP3/AAC collection that plays instead of the French harbor music.  So, if you want to convert Wood to Charcoal while listening to Rhapsody of Fire, you can do that.  At least they are considerate of your musical needs.

As of the current version (Version 1.0 on the iTunes Store), there are still occasional bugs.  I played it on an iPad 2 and had the occasional "card freak out," where the card decided to stall in the wrong place.  The game continued and it resolved itself by the time that player's next turn arrived, but it is a bit frustrating to have the peculiar image of a Wooden Ship card stuck in the corner of the screen.

So, is it worth it?  Well, as a person who owns the original board game, I would say it was definitely worth my $4.99.  It is a relatively intense worker placement/labor management game, something that may not appeal to every player, but I think conversion into iOS has definitely removed some of the less pleasant fidget and twitch from the game and made it more about making decisions.  It is an attractive, faithful reproduction of the board game that takes out some of the worst parts of the game (setup).  However, as the Uwe Rosenberg games are notorious for upsetting some players, it probably warrants a play-through prior to purchase to make sure you like this kind of thing.

[Note: For the avid Le Havre players, I do not believe that this version contains the small Special Building expansion, Le Havre: Le Grand Hameau.]

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons: Ace Attorney (Part 1) [Alternate Image]

Alternate Image?  It's something I picked up from local game company Flying Frog Productions.  As it ends up, they are not fond of doing special promo cards at trade shows or for pre-orders.  Instead, they like to do alternative images on normal cards.  It makes them unique but not game-changing.

After I did Apollo Justice and a related upcoming card, I thought it appropriate to redo the art on the Miles Edgeworth character card so it matched the style of the other ones.  Hope people like a "matched set" of characters.

Same text as before, new image (mostly with new background)
Still the same Sorcerer-King Warlock we already saw.