Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In Which The Warlock Celebrates His Centennial!

Well, devoted readers--oh, few of you!--we've reached our first real milestone. This, right here, is my 100th blog entry, and (almost) my 2 year blogging anniversary.

Well, I suppose I can't actually say the latter portion. I held a personal blog during college, which promptly disappeared, as the blog-service that I was using vanished. However, it's nearly the 2 year anniversary of this blog, so it warrants celebration.

To be perfectly honest, I'm somewhat surprised that I've been as on-time and as up-to-date with this blog as I have been. Averaged out, 100 entries over 2 years is almost exactly 1 update per week. Now, you and I both know that's not exactly the case--this past Origins alone had daily posts, which skews the average quite a bit--but still! Success!

I really wasn't sure what to write in this entry, though, to be perfectly honest. But, with it being New Year's Eve...I figured that I might as well go ahead with some New Year's Gaming Resolution:

1. Keep updating on-time! Been doing well so far, but Sunday's the day to shoot for...

2. A stronger focus on writing. Managing game design with Dungeon Slam!, writing up campaigns and WEGS Supers ideas, and doing the whole 'teaching thing' isn't exactly easy, but it's a balance that's gotta be struck. I can't just leave Dungeon Slam! as a summer project! Doesn't work that way...

3. More gaming-based reviews. While the movie reviews this year were a nice change--particularly considering the utterly loaded summer blockbuster season--this is a gaming blog...sort of. Speaking of, I've got some strong opinions on WotC's 4e Manual of the Planes that need to be divulged...to say nothing of some other recent purchases.

4. More insight into design. Some of my favorite entries of the past two years have been the ones based around understanding the principles of game design, as well as observations on the practical application of these. I remember particularly the entry on "how the Warlock changed 3e/4e"...that was glorious.

5. More pictures! Especially with how much the PlatinumChick and I have been painting, it'd be nice to set up a weekly painting progress book!

6. More "tales from the table" With a weekly D&D game once more, and my Watchmen-esque Call of Cthulhu/Heroes Unlimited game coming en route, there'll be plenty of gaming tales to be had. Here's for seeing some of those here!

Cheers, all! Happy New Year! Good gaming to all, and to all...well, something they enjoy, I suppose.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Warlock's Review: "Munchkin Quest" by Steve Jackson Games

When Munchkin Quest was announced formally, just about a year or so ago, I had already known about it--there were whisperings of it at Origins 2007, and there was a little bit of available for demo, on the final day of said convention.

This didn't stop me, mind you, but there was a little bit of a niggling doubt in the back of my head as I began work on Dungeon Slam!, asking me "Why are you going to start on a tile-based, backstabbing, dungeon-crawler boardgame when Steve Jackson--a man much more important than you--is about to do the same thing?"

My mental response was, of course, "huh?"

In this case, ignorance was the correct answer. While Munchkin Quest does a good job of putting forward the base Munchkin card game as a board game, it leaves much to be desired as a real dungeon-crawl.

Munchkin Quest begins just as the card game begins, with the characters at level 1, and they're quickly trying to blast their way through a series of monsters on their way to hitting level 10. While I only played the 2 player version of the game, I felt like the quintessential "backstabbing" of Munchkin was almost completely absent. Lionel and I spend most of our time on opposite ends of the dungeon, only staying together long enough to help each other through the lower levels.

While the Munchkin Quest game was a fun little diversion, it loses much of the simplicity of its card game predecessor. In addition to the expandable board--quite colorfully and boldly done in laminated cardboard, the sheer number of pieces and cards becomes almost mind-boggling. Lionel owns a 6 person dining room suite, and we very nearly took up the whole of it with the various pieces, cards and room tiles. That's a feat that Arkham Horror has a hard time doing, even with the 4 expansions it has!

Coupled with the sheer volume comes the complexity of the game itself. There are something along the lines of 5-7 major phases to each person's turn--again, longer than even an Arkham Horror. One of the more needless phases to me seemed to the monster movement--set to a colored die, the movement of each monster is determined by what color entrances and exits are lableled on the room tile that it is on, as well as whether the hallway pieces are "doors", "locked doors" or "secret doors". And this has to be done for each monster! This was a little much for me...

Similarly, each individual turn seems to last an inordinate amount of time. Despite only having 3 movement points, I (as a 3rd-4th level character) fought 5 monsters in one turn, looted 3 different rooms and bought and sold items. This is to say nothing of the massive amount of "Treasure" and "Deus Ex Munchkin" cards that I had gained through this, and consequently had to read and wrangle.

The raw simplicity of Munchkin was just...gone. Sylish, yes, and definitely capturing the feel of the original game, but there's just too much here. Speaking as someone who loves piece-heavy board games--again, AH is one of my favorites--the sheer volume of items, pieces, and tiles here make Munchkin Quest more tedious than anything else.

If you're a fan of the game, you'll definitely enjoy it. I was, once upon a time, and would have reveled in this game, had it come out 4 years ago. But now...it's a bloated, overly complex inflation of Jackson's storied franchise.

...At least I don't have to worry about Dungeon Slam! being too similar!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bonus Post! In Which The Warlock CrossDresses for his New Game...

I figure that I've been running behind on posts, so here's a bonus one. Our Friday night game has a new DM--Fred, who wanted some tweaks to the 4e system to make it more classless, and more RP-oriented. I had originally come up with two ideas--a flail-wielding elf fighter trying to rectify the situation between his estranged elven homeland and his former mercenary company, who was bent on invading said homeland, or an amoral human warlock raised by a thieves' guild and trying desperately to escape the consequences of her pact.

As such, I ended up rolling neither.... Naturally. :D

Below, is my newest character. It's been a while since I've played a female, so this should provide for something interesting...

Name: Unsere Sehkmet-Sabath
Alignment: Good, with slight Neutral Leanings
Age and Gender: 27, Female

Tomboyish, with a green ponytail and wire-rimmed glasses. Slight of build (5’3”, 120lbs.) Often wearing work-gear (overalls and the like), or grease-smudged traveling pants and comfortable shirts. Always wearing a belt full of pouches and various tools. Carries a bastard sword on her back.

Pop Culture Inspirations:
Lucca from Chrono Trigger.
Pepper Potts (Iron Man film)
New Hawkeye (Young Avengers comic book series)
Huntress (DC Comics)

“Let’s go to work…”
“Science H. Logic!”
“A little magic can solve this…”
“Just like back in Applied Alchemy…”

Born to a family of tieflings outside of Thromstorm, Unsere was very much a city girl. Roaming the streets was commonplace for her, weaving through the foundries of the city, and marveling at the various arcanotechnological devices being wrought around her. Unsere was the only child of Thamuz and his wife Shabriri. When Unsere was 6, her mother—having developed several psychoses that were designated untreatable—was institutionalized. As such, Unsere often was unable to attend school and was treated to ‘on-the-job’ training the in the Calixis forges with her father, who raised her primarily.

Adult Life:
Unsere attended the Great Academy of Thromstorm at 16, where she excelled in their arcanoengineering program. She also excelled as a fencer, preferring a longer bastard-sword to negate her foes’ often-longer reach. Following her graduation, she signed on with the Thar Acquisitions Company, who routinely sought various arcane supplies—mainly mithril ore, adamantine, and deep crystal—from the nearby Underdark mines. Unsere was one of several teams of ‘materials experts’ who were sought not just to procure high quality shipments, but also to defend them against possible incursion. She has made several contacts with the deep dwarves, tieflings, and even drow of the Underdark because of this. As such, she has often come into conflict with rival companies and with human bandits/claimjumpers from Undermine. Because of this, she was asked to take her first life in the line of duty—a human claimjumper.

Following this event, which haunted Unsere dearly, she resigned from Thar Acquisitions, gaining a position as an ArcanoEngineer at Gyrosys Fabrications, which specialized in golem and automaton creation. She was promoted to Lead ArcanoEngineer in her department approximately one year ago. However, Unsere has recently been finding significant errors and re-routed funding within the department she oversees at Gyrosys. These errors, of course, are the result of her supervisor, Kezar Uzarisa, who has been overseeing the creation of a new project—the merging of a stolen soul into a golem-shell…something known as Project Warforged.

Previously—-Acquisitions Expert and Material Procurer, Thar Acquisitions.
Currently—-Arcanoengineer, Gyrosys Fabrications—Engineering Division.

Follows: “Science!”
Worship: No particular deity, though has been known to curse Gond Clockmaker at times.
At odds: Racial deities tend to rub the wrong way (Moradin, Corellon, etc.)

Father: Thamuz—Elemental forger, Calixis Corp.
Mother: Shabriri—Currently institutionalized at Shal-Dei Asylum.
Siblings: None.

Life Events:
Mother’s Institutionalization at age 6.
Graduation from Great Academy of Thromstorm at age 21.
First actual ‘career’, at age 22 (Thar Acquisitions)
First life taken, at age 22—a human claimjumper, from Undermine.
New job, at age 26—Gyrosys Fabrications, Engineering Division.
Promotion, at age 26—Lead ArcanoEngineer, Gyrosys Fabrications.
Discovery of anomalies in Gyrosys records—3 weeks ago (age 27).
Activation of Sheathan—current!

Friends in Thar Acquisitions (Dwarves/Tieflings, primarily)
Business contacts among mining purveyors around Tornia.
Former professors at Great Academy of Thromstorm
Best friend/fencing partner, Daria Majestrix.

Near entirety of Gyrosys Fabrications.
Thromstorm militia and guard.
Kezar Uzarisa—Head of ArcanoExperimentation, Gyrosys.

--Greater understanding of magics, and they way they work with the world around them.
--Understanding of the fiendish/elemental origins of magic, and the role of the sentient races within that.
--Comprehension of the sentience of Sheathan, as well as Kezar’s role within his creation.
--Discovery of whether Sheathen is, in fact, an actual soul.
--Escape the Thromstorm militia, and the far reach of Gyrosys.
--Find a way to treat Mom.

Social Int.
--Incredibly curious, particularly regarding Arcane magic and Arcanotech.
--Generally optimistic, though growing frustrated with continual lack of fairness.
--Believes in social justice, fairness, generally kind…
--Overly trusting. While nice, she’s not particularly “wise”.
--Easily embarrassed, particularly in risque situations.
--Somewhat tomboyish, and something of a ‘grease-monkey’.

--Can be flustered easily, but very determined once a course of action is chosen.
--Tries to be law abiding, in most things. Will break ‘minor’ laws without thinking.
--Feels for many ‘victims’—hospital victims, orphans (people who have been in her position)
--Absolutely fearful in asylums and the like.

Often gets nervous and stammers, if does not know what to do in a given situation.
Does not like bloodshed, if other sentient beings are involved—believes in right to life.
Enjoys cats and other small animals (would have had a familiar, in 3.5e)
Fascinated by any major arcane or arcanotechnological device—will spend hours enjoying them.

The Warlock's Holiday Schedule Unfurled...

As the holiday season rolls through, everyone finds things more hectic. Same old thing, here. With grades rolling through, and final projects getting turned in, the teaching life takes up more and more of my time...however, there's always time for gaming, but never enough!

My biggest priority right now, gaming-wise, at least, is to pump out a new revision for "Dungeon Slam!". It's been since last WittCon that I've done a full card revision, which means that it's high past due. Many of my cards are getting so marked up, that it's hard to read them!

What's more, the character cards--probably more than anything else--are getting somewhat beaten up. They're a little too small to read comfortably, and they really could use some more room to be functional on. In addition, I'd like to finally implement the "Health/Arcana" track system that I've been talking about doing. Formatting these in Publisher is difficult, but not impossible--finding the time, though...ugh.

Ideally, I'd like to have this revision done before the Christmas/Festivas/Boxing Day/etc. holiday, as many of the errant Witt-Weggers are rolling back into the Miami Valley. We'll see if this actually happens, but it should be an admirable goal, any way that you look at it.

My premiere notes for the WEGS Superz idea have come to somewhat of a halt, but only for a want of feedback. Definitely, I'd love to work up the Blaster and the Mystic/Psychic before break's end...What a New Years' Present that might be!

So, I guess it's time to take a deep breath and take the plunge. The holidays await, citizens!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Which The Warlock Can Finally Breathe!

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday--there's no pretenses about it whatsoever. You get together with your friends and family, eat until you can't move, watch football, then take a nap. Life is good, right?!

Well, this Thanksgiving signals the beginning of a definite slowdown in the Platinum-Life, which is much needed at this rate. With my fall slate of IEP meetings in the bag, and Parent-Teacher conferences completed, I can now get focused on some of the stuff that matters--the gaming!

Under a sort-of challenge from El Willy, I took it upon myself to start work on a new project--a total redux of his WEGS 101 system, moving from medieval swords-and-sorcery, to 4 Color, Silver Age, superheroes! So, I've been throwing down my 2d10 and 2d6, writing up skills and new rules for the pre-existing system, turning it into a 60s-styled beat 'em up! What's strange is the fact that this is actually working. It's almost easy, picturing the old-school Avengers as WEGS Arktypes...

Speaking of WEGS, I got the opportunity to throw down a brand new adventure, courtesy of El Willy, with a Thanksgiving twist: Hobgobble's Eve! Tossing down twice last weekend--once for our usual Friday night gaming group, and once more for the Witt-Weggers--the players found themselves in the midst of a HobGobbo feast, as they fought the leather-clad Gobbo Grandma, and the particularly cranky Grampa Umm-Lumm, in pursuit of the ancient Blunderboomer!

Thanksgiving brings with it the chance to actually head home for a while (and, hopefully, grab some wings at Dino's), but also a chance to actually work on "Dungeon Slam!" for once. With a good deal of Witt-Wegger Alumni coming back into town following the Christmas holiday, I'd love to get another printing done for them to sample. That'll take a fair amount of editing, though...but hopefully I'll be up to the task.

For all though, enjoy your day of feasting! Life is good, fellow gamers! Cheers!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In Which The Warlock Posts About Tasty, Delicious Nom Nom Noms...

Indulge me for a moment, as I wax poetic about something that's near and dear to my heart: good food.

When I was coming out of high school, I always had--somewhere in the back of my head--the desire to be a chef. It's not something I acted on, which I'm somewhat glad of now, as I'm sure I would not have the sheer physical endurance needed for the culinary world, but I still love to cook and can really appreciate well-made cuisine.

I readily admit: I'm a foodie. I watch Food Network incessantly. I've read all but one of Anthony Bourdain's books, cover to cover. I have a collection of cookbooks on top of my refridgerator. Hell, I've even played the "Iron Chef" drinking game...though I don't recommend it, if you have anything important to do in the near future.

It's kind of odd, as my favorite two cuisines are at almost diametric opposites on the spectrum.
Indian food is one of blending--bringing together a series of spices (a garum) into a blend that's standard for a household, which represents a personal flavor. Full of stewed and curried food, Indian cusine brings elements together into a singular meal, brought together by their commonalities.
Italian food, on the other hand, is one of stark flavors. In a well-made bruschetta, one can taste each individual ingredient for its full freshness and flavor, while simultaneously composing a greater whole of a simple antipasti.

It's because of this that I have a tendency to look for smaller, family-owned restaurants. It's no surprise that Jeet India and Giovanni's--both Fairborn institutions--are among my favorite restaurants.

What's most shocking to me, though, is the fact that I find myself recently enamored of a chain restaurant: Texas Roadhouse, of all places!

Starving and needing some dinner, the PlatinumChick and I headed to the newly opened chain-station earlier this evening, and my expectations were somewhat low. I've had steak and ribs at some of the best places on Earth: prime rib at the Jon-Benet Tavern in Butler, PA; ribs at Bob's Bar-be-que of Ada, OK...and I have rather high standards on both.

While I was expecting a pre-packaged, "Applebee's" steak, I instead got a tender cut of ribeye that parted before my steak knife like the red sea. I expected 'blinged-out' waiters with no knowledge of their menus; instead, I got a knowledgeable, friendly young guy who really knew his way around the kitchen.

Needless to say, I was impressed. For once, a chain got it right--the homestyle appeal, the food quality of a 'real' restaurant, and the love of food so common to fine cuisine. My commendations!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

In Which The Warlock Remembers He Has a Blog!

Sorry for the lack of updates recently--the weeks have been hectic recently, as work has had me hopping on IEP and MFE documentation, to say nothing of my normal workload. As such, it's been a touch rough to focus on gaming during all this time.

That said, I have come up with something of an idea for a game...if I can pull it off.

The premise would be something of a coupling of Alan Moore's seminal Watchmen and some of the more recent Ramsey Campbell Cthulhu Mythos work, with a touch of Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth thrown in for good measure.

Players would take the role of low-powered superheroes--think Punisher, Batman, or Moon Knight instead of Green Lantern or Iron Man--as they investigate psychotic supervillains, vile cultists and serial killers, and the conspiracies behind the banning of global "superheroes".

The biggest problem in this centers on the system to use in this. There's no easy answers here...

I'm tempted to use Mutants and Masterminds, as many people are familiar with the d20 system. However, M&M suffers from the rules bloat of 3.5e D&D, and is really numbers heavy. While I'd always have d20 NPC Wiki to fall back on, I hate to do that on a consistent basis. Plus, it seems like most of the orientation in M&M is towards high-powered, Golden Age superheroes, which isn't exactly the time period in question.

I've heard good things about Silver Age Sentinels and Champions, but I own neither, which is...well, more money for only a singular game. And further, I don't know much about the actual nitty-gritty of either system.

As such, I'm left with my old stand-by: Heroes Unlimited. While I love the quirky little Palladium system, it's not exactly the most elegant thing out there, and many players balk at learning a new system just for one game. However, for low-powered supers, there might not be a better system to catch it.

Suggestions? I'm all ears...

Monday, October 20, 2008

In Which The Warlock Loves Steampunk Sword and Sorcery Politics...

Over on rpg.net, a fellow by the appellation of Old Kentucky Shark has been posting an ongoing serial dealing with the election, but in the style of...well, somewhere between a twisted version of Eberron, the Kull or Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, and an Onion satire article.

It's a fantastic, hilarious read, and worth take a look at regardless of your politics.

So, without futher adieu: Obamadammerung!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In Which The Warlock Scares the Crap out of the Witt-Kids...

I'd been itching to run a Halloween one-shot for a while, and when some of the players in Ebbs' Tuesday night game showed some interest in Ravenloft, I couldn't pass up the chance.

The thing is, though, we threw down some game on Saturday with a few twists. First off, we used 4e, rather than 3.5e, as Ravenloft was designed for. I was rather surprised to see that the system didn't really matter for us--the horror remained, even in a system that's a lot more player-friendly in that respect.

We also experimented with some new WotC rules--particularly the Artificer and the Barbarian, which are both available on their site as playtest builds. Nick played a warforged barbarian, while Dan took up the mantle of the artificer. The consensus on both was really positive: the artificer kept the party on its feet with temporary hit points, while using artifice and constructs to set up flanks and attacking enemies. The barbarian seemed a touch strong, as it was built around charging, but felt properly Conan-esque, dealing out massive damage with a greataxe.

Our scenario? A classic horror staple--the haunted asylum. So, as a treat to you, I present the true story of Birchcroft Sanitarium for the Mentally Deranged:

The real Birchcroft Sanitarium for the Mentally Deranged was found on the Prime Material, near the city of Port-a-Lucine. Its original director, Marcus Birchcroft IV, was a nobleman, who saw much of his family fall to the perils of mental illness. Hoping to help them, Birchcroft used his family’s considerable wealth to aid them as they fought off what modern psychologists would call Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and other severe psychotic episodes.

Marcus was lucky, in many ways, as he was spared the horrors of the afflictions that so ravaged the rest of his family. His wealth was able to attract some of the greatest psychoanalytic minds from across the world, including two such doctors: Dr. Gregor Illhousen—a 53 year old doctor of Psychiatric Medicine from Nedragaard, and Dr. Roderick Wellsby, a 40 year old doctor of Neurological Surgery.

Serving as Chief Financial Officer and Chairman of the Board, Marcus’s decision-making was incredibly sound, as he let the doctors create their own administration, with his own board overseeing their actions. The doctoral board was elected by the entire medicinal staff, and often chose Dr. Illhousen as their leader, as he was progressive leader, eager to try new “therapeutic” treatments, coupled with low-doses of psychotropics and sedatives. Under his administration, the Sanitarium propered, as he got along particularly well with Marcus.

Wellsby, however, chafed at this sorely. He viewed himself as the equal of Illhousen, as his treatments were just as effective as Illhousens. However, as Wellsby often received the ‘terminal’ cases, upon whom he was able to experiment. Wellsby’s most infamous experiments dealt with a trephination along the top of the brain stem, and the direct injection of heavily psychotropic drugs into the medulla oblongata. The ‘patients’ of Wellsby’s experimentation typically died, screaming.

This continued until Marcus Birchcroft died peaceably, on his 62nd birthday. Speaking with Illhousen and the senior hospital staff, he left the hospital to Illhousen, whom he viewed as a great friend. While placid on the surface, Wellsby raged. In his new position as Chief Physician, he slowly began to subvert the staff into believing that Illhousen was not a fit leader, and that another should replace him. Illhousen and Wellsby argued constantly over methods, as more and more patients received radically invasive surgical treatments.

In the end, it was Wellsby’s surgeries that proved the Sanitarium’s undoing. Hiring some thugs, he captured Illhousen on his way home, and brought him back to the sanitarium…as a patient. Keeping him awake and screaming the whole while, Wellsby induced treatment after treatment, surgery after surgery…until, at last, Illhousen broke the restraints and ran gibbering throughout the asylum. As he ran, releasing the inmates as he went, he knocked over an oil lamp into a fireplace, catching the entire facility on fire.

Everyone inside died that night, some screaming and bound, in straightjackets and manacles.
Birchcroft Sanitarium is situated on an Island of Terror, floating throughout the mists. It occasionally appears to lure others in, and re-create its mass of terror.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

In Which The Warlock Posts Some Character Info...

Well, now that I'm in not one, but two 4e D&D games, I suppose that you might want to hear about them!

I guess I'll start with the Tuesday night game, over at Wittenberg. I'm not hosting the logs here--they'll be hosted at the Wittenberg Role-Playing Game website, here:

The Logs of Gerald Nimbus

As for now, though, here's the background for Gerald Nimbus!

Name: Gerald Nimbus (real last name: Harmattan)
Age: 48
Race: Human
Location: Rawinsonde, a small human hamlet on the eastern continent.
Parents: Garius and Alanna (long since deceased)
Siblings: Cordran (older brother), Maya (younger sister)
Faith: Believer in the ancient spirits (primordials), whom were defeated by the gods. Reveres Ras Shamra (the Great Eye in the Storm), but fears Ithaqua (the Walker of the Frozen Wastes).
Fav. Food: Caraway and Fennel-crusted loin of lamb, served over risotto. Red wine is a must.
Pastimes: Meteorology, rain-making, storm-chasing, oil painting.
Party Role: Crowd control, multi-target damage, ritual usage.
Strengths: High Intelligence, knowledge skills, ability to inflict status effects.
Weaknesses: Middling Defenses, relatively low HP, lack of social skills (cha-based)

Gerald Harmattan was born in the small town of Rawinsonde, an isolated village that continued to worship the Primordials—beings of great power and might—well after they were defeated by the current pantheon of gods. While several attempts were made by the current churches—most notably the faiths of Corellon and Pelor—the natives drove them out, in favor of their own rites.
Gerald’s arcane abilities came into shape at the hands of Frau Hedda, an ancient crone and hedge witch, who followed the chaotic primordial Ras Shamra, better known as the Great Eye in the Storm. Hedda instilled in Gerald a firm belief that the future could be controlled and manipulated through the pure energy of a natural thunderstorm. As such, she began instructing him in storm magic—how to bring peaceful rain to those who were allied with you, while raining ice, lightning, and blasts of thunder upon those who dared slight you.
After Frau Hedda died, Gerald left Rawinsonde for points unknown. He had attempted to join a mercenary company—the Black Freighter—as a warmage, but his habits of storm-watching and the like earned him the company’s ire, and he left after his first 6 month campaign.
Instead, Gerald teamed up with an adventuring troupe known as the Emerald Eyes of Ekron. They traveled together for nearly 8 years, defeating several menaces, including a hobgoblin horde which Gerald very nearly decimated singlehandedly. However, as the group spent their night and spoils in a roadside inn, a storm brewed up. Gerald immediately went out into it to read the skies. Coming back in minutes later, he announced his retirement from the group, and left without further word. As it turned out, less than 3 days later, the Emerald Eyes were slain to the last man. Gerald then joined up with another group, the Phantom Riders. They too, were slain mysteriously after Gerald left. Again, their deaths came scant days after Gerald retired from the group, following a severe storm.
Gerald has only recently come across this adventuring group, and has been troubled deeply by his joining. Under the advice of one of the Phantom Riders—an elven scout named Caylen, who may be one of the few females Gerald could be said to have loved—he has taken up oil painting. However, the pictures have taken on a disturbing turn—one of great tempests and swirling bodies in the void…as a blizzard-bound behemoth with coal-red eyes looks on. The figure could only be Ithaqua…the long-dead spirit of frost that forever challenges Ras Shamra for the right to the stormy chariot.

Typically, Gerald gets along best with those adventurers who use their brain. Rogues and the like tend to get along with him well, as they use their wits to survive, as do more intelligent fighters and warlords. While not a traditionally “tactical” mind, Gerald’s time in the Black Freighter mercenary company has given him a rudimentary knowledge of squad-level strategy. Concurrently, Gerald typically butts heads with divinely powered warriors—clerics and paladins—believing them to follow false powers into acts of ignorance and zealotry, such as the conversion attempts on Rawinsonde.
As with his prior groups, Gerald has a tendency to freak out his companions with his bizarre behaviors during storms and the like. However, his storm-reveries often lead him towards great insights and prophecies as he “looks into the eye of Ras Shamra for wisdom”. This, coupled with his more-and-more disturbing oil paintings leads many casual observers to believe he’s insane. However, those who actually get to know Gerald—perhaps by sitting down and having a glass of wine with him—will soon learn otherwise.
Gerald often wonders about his former comrades, particularly Caylen. While he knows what the storm-reveries have shown him, he cannot help but hold out hope that she may somewhere be alive.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

In Which The Warlock Gains a New Form of Geekdom...

In all my years of gaming--since about 6th grade, all be told--I've never been that high on using miniatures. Truth be told, I never really had the money for it. Out of all the friends that I played table-top D&D with, my family was the poorest. As such, I couldn't exactly just ask my parents to plop down much needed cash for little plastic or lead-based army men.

So, we improvised. We used our imaginations. We fudged things. Who cared if you were 5 feet away, if it meant laying the smackdown on the big nasty?! The focus was on the drama, the action, the combat.

However, I couldn't help but feel like I was missing something. Minis were the unknown territory for me...and while I suppose I feigned disinterest, I've always been intregued by them, whether ogling the massive battle set-ups at Origins or watching the Warhammer 40k battles at WittCon II. And now with 4e out there? It was time to make a switch in perspective.

So, I finally gave in. The PlatinumChick has always liked minis-painting, and I had even gotten her a quality set of paints for her birthday this past August. As such, when this past Wittenberg Game Day arrived, and there were few takers for most of the games, I decided to give the painting gig a go.

Now, mind you, I'm horrible at art. Completely. My stick figures come out lopsided. But, for whatever reason, I was actually able to put together a few satisfactory efforts.

I started with an elven archer--Jathalain, for those of you that read the Saltmarsh Diaries, and then moved onto a massive skeleton, and then rounded out my evening by working on a blackguard fig I had picked up more recently.

Overall, things didn't turn out too badly. Our brushes weren't always cooperative--particularly the fine detail brush, which was bent to at least a 60 degree angle--and the number of times I had to re-do certain sections was incalculable, but the end results were more than satisfactory.

The level of strain and the like, though, is massive, and it makes me all the more impressed with the wargaming-minis crowd, who put together massive armies in no time at all. I got a headache partway through painting the giant skeleton, and decided to stop and play a quick game of Yetisburg (yes, that's spelled right, and don't try to tell me there weren't Yetis and War Mammoths at Pickett's Charge).

Pics will be forthcoming, once the PlatinumChick fixes my now-broken camera. Grrr...

Monday, September 15, 2008

In Which The Warlock is Late...

...due to the power outages in the Greater Miami Valley over the weekend, I was unable to get together an update. Expect one later this week, once things are more situated!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

In Which The Warlock Doesn't Geek Out For Once...

This weekend, instead of our usual routine of sitting around Lionel's dining room table and playing Arkham Horror, the PlatinumChick and I headed down for a mini-vacation before she finally begins her Masters' degree program at Wright State. As such, I figured I'd share some of the details here...

We began with something of some hectic errand-running before heading down through Cincinnati towards Newport-on-the-Levee, in Kentucky. I had never been in this region before, aside from a brief field trip to the Reds' Stadium two years prior. I was rather impressed at the set-up to be had down there, as the area felt like an outdoor piazza, complete with street vendors and the like, in amongst the upscale bistros and such.

Jules had been wanting to head to Newport Aquarium for quite a while, so I didn't disappoint--it was our first stop. The aquarium itself, though, was something of a disappointment. A few years ago, when we had spent spring break in Gatlinburg, we had spent an afternoon at the impressive Ripley's Aquarium, which was a pleasant treat--I hadn't expected an exhibition by the infamous "Ripley's Believe it or Not!" to be so well constructed and thought out. However, Newport Aquarium was something of a let-down by comparison. Jules' big thrust for seeing Newport again was their new "Frog Bog" exhibit, which was much vaunted. In reality, though, it was a tiny exhibit aimed mainly at children, with no more actual frogs than your average pet store.

After the aquarium, we walked around the plaza for a while before settling on a Brio Tuscan Grille for dinner. We were not disappointed in any sense. Coming just before the dinner rush, we were seated quickly just off of the main dining room. We began the meal with a pitcher of Mango Bellini--a light, margarita type drink made with prosecco--and an order of Bruschetta Caprese, which was everything one could hope from in a bruschetta: fragrent, delicate, and bursting with flavor.

Jules enjoyed a meal of chicken with a butternut squash risotto, which filled her up nearly to bursting, while I indulged my fetish for pesto. My pasta came in a creamy pesto sauce, coupled with roasted chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh buffalo mozzerella. I often joke that when I've had a good meal--usually at Jeet--I waddle out of the place. I was waddling, coming out of Brio. Stuffed with enough garlic to kill a dozen vampires, we headed north of the city and found ourselves a room.

Today, we slept in at the hotel (in a massive king size bed!), before heading out for two places with a uniqueness all their own: Ikea and Jungle Jim's.

Now, I've been to an Ikea before. When one moved into Moon Township, just outside of Pittsburgh International Airport, my parents jumped on it with both feet. I may not have been able to enjoy it then, but now? My how times have changed.

Jules and I had been searching for a hanging wall-organizer for years, with no luck. Now, we have one, which was apparently dubbed "Luns".

An aside...Ikea amuses me to no end. I'm not sure whether it's a cognate thing or not, but many of their lines of furniture have human-esque names. Billy is a type of bookshelf, while Benno is the accompanying CD/DVD tower--apparently they're friends? However, they don't like Jeff the folding chair, and often talk behind his back to Hermann, the dining room chair.

I wish I was kidding. :D

After roaming around Ikea for the better part of 2-3 hours, we headed to Jungle Jim's to pick up some victuals. Jungle Jim's is like no other supermarket on earth. Specializing in organic foods and world cuisine, we go there to pick up kitchen supplies as well as Indian foodstuffs. This time, in addition to our usual foods, Jules picked up some sashimi grade tuna--looks like she'll be eating well for a while!

So, now we're back home with some new furnishings, quite a bit of relaxation, and some readiness for the coming week. Here's for hoping it'll be a quick one!

Monday, September 01, 2008

In Which The Warlock Fails to Deliver a Climax...

So, our much lauded Dark Heresy game has reached its end. And, if I may say so, it was something of a letdown.

I often joke with my players about my record of PK-ing. To say the least, I have a pretty lethal record in my games. To my credit, prior to Friday, I've only had one "true" TPK--one of my Ravenloft games, during college. Sure, my one-shots typically end out with a higher-than-average body count, but in campaign terms, there's generally a pretty high success rate.

As such, my joking was taken in stride as I set up a massive map of a quarantined morgue that the characters were set to investigate. I had anticipated that, if I was in fact going to kill them that night, it would probably be in there, fighting Daemons. Instead, they died in a car crash.

Let me set the stage for you, O Gentle Reader. Fred's Guardsman, Karn (better known as Karnnold, when he's talking like the svelte Austrian), has all of two actual skills to his credit--Drive Land Vehicle and Survival. So, Fred jumps on any opportunity to use these skills with both feet. Figuring that Drive might be useful here, I ask him for a Drive check, thinking that a success would lead them straight to the morgue without incident, while a massive failure might lead them through ganger territory.

Massive failure ensues. The characters start noticing thugs, armed with miniguns and the like, start to surround their ground transport.

Now, Chris, playing the Imperial Psyker Sigismund, works the same way as Fred...only he has psychic powers. He immediately jumps into action by casting Aura of Fear. He succeeds in high style, forcing a Willpower save from everyone around him--including the party, locked in the transport with him.

At this point, I should note that Nick's Cleric (the leader of the group), has a Willpower score of something close to 60.

Massive failure ensues. While Jule's Scum and Karn succeeds, both Will's Psyker and Nick's Cleric fail. They watch as phantasmal insects and snakes stream out Sigismund's mouth and start covering the floor and walls of the transport. Nick, notably freaked out, attempts to shoulder-block open the back hatch...and succeeds with a critical success.

With Nick's cleric now rolling on the ground, and the door flapping open, I immediately ask for a Drive roll from Fred to keep control of the vehicle.

Massive failure ensues, again. The transport ends up clipping a light pole on the passenger side and another Drive roll is asked for.

Yeah, you guessed it. Massive failure and all that jazz. The transport bounces off of the light pole and swings, ass-end first, into a nearby bar, croweded with patrons. The transport catches on fire, and everyone takes (as I roll) 30 damage.

Let me enlighten something right here. Dark Heresy isn't quite like D&D in terms of hit points. In DH, 8 points is a severe wound, and 12-15 wounds will take you right out of the fight and make you a greasy smear. 30 damage? They're cleaning you up with a sponge and a mop.

As such, it's Game Over. As the players found out, Imperial Planet Scintilla is later destroyed by the Tyrant Star, summoned by their mysterious decohedron.

And now? Well, it seems that my campaign world might just be getting some exercise. Jules has volunteered to start up a 6th level 4e game, using my world, and we spent the rest of the session writing up characters. My Dwarven Rogue is ready to jump into action!

Monday, August 25, 2008

In Which The Warlock Screws Up His Updating Schedule...

Sorry about the delay, oh blog-ly few! With the school year beginning, I haven't had much time to even think, much less put down a blog entry!

However, I did set aside some time for a new project. The PlatinumChick, following our Dark Heresy game, has offered to run some 4e, provided that she has the time/ability. In order to make the prep time easy on her (in addition to 4e's general quickness, especially compared to 3e), we've talked about creating an "open source world" where all of our players help world-build, creating various plot points.

As part of this, I've started work on my own little campaign setting. Nothing's in firm yet, but the feel is going to be something of a blend of Diablo's "Sin Wars", the classic SNES RPG Chrono Trigger, and a touch of Eberron. Imagine a world in which the humans are the invaders, disrupting a perfectly-good century-long war between the fiends of the Underworld and the sentient races.

As such, here's a preview!

Tor Branael

Description: An originally eladrin nation that, long ago, had spread to threaten their nearby neighbors, including the Kharalash dwarves of the northern tundra. Tor Branael was annihilated by a combined force of humans and savage elves, but the remains of the eladrin still live on as a nation of sentient undead. Freed from the necessities of survival—food, drink, and the like—they focus on unearthing eldritch secrets of magic and building their massive war machine.

Architecture: Predominantly green glass, in neo-Gothic style. Mainly in ruins.

Trade: No major trade.

Power Players: The Worm that Walks and the Sons of Kyuss. Archcardinal Tanthelas, Praesidus Mordain

Major Races: Eladrin, elves (mainly as slaves), tieflings

Allies: None

Enemies: Kharalash dwarves, Zeal Eladrin, all elves, Sanctuary humans.


Description: The Kharalash tundra is considered to be a wasteland. However, the dwarves that inhabit it have eked out an existence on the snowy plains for centuries. Decendents of the original dwarven inhabitants, they have been amongst the most staunch warriors and arcanists to walk the earth. Specifically, the Kharalash dwarves are made up of loosely confederated clans that typically compete in economic matters, but unite under the single snow-boar banner in times of war. The Thunderous Boar clan has been in ascendance for several decades, though others, such as the Winter Serpent clan, would raise challenge to that claim.

Architecture: Wood lodge style (Pacific Northwest Indian).

Trade: Furs, gold, silver, game, leather goods.

Power Players: Warchief Durgan Thunderous Boar; FrostMourne (White Dragon); Thorgrim Winter Serpent (popular sub-chief)

Major Races: Dwarves, humans, tieflings, dragonborn.

Allies: Sanctuary Humans

Enemies: Zeal Eladrin, Tor Branael Eladrin.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In Which The Warlock Applauds The Voice of Reason!

I've been a fan of Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo franchise since Diablo II came out. Much as I try, I just can't seem to tear myself away from it entirely--I occassionally find that I'll lose an inordinate amount of spare time doing Bloody Foothills runs in Act V, or killing The Countess for her glorious, glorious rune drops.

As such, when Diablo III was announced just before E3, I was stoked! A conclusion to the storyline! Graphics that you can actually without squinting! (which will, undoubtedly, kill my laptop's graphics card...) Goatmen! Everyone loves killing goatmen!

Needless to say, I was kind of shocked that to find out that, nearly 2 days after the announcement, an outcry emerged against the game, saying that the new graphics/art direction was a "violation against prior entries in the series" and "did not fit with the gothic tone of the game".

It's a ridiculous claim, considering that all of 20 minutes of gameplay--in a game that can take up something like 50-60 hours--has been shown to the public. Even Blizzard's senior art director resigned just after the poo hit the fan.

So, as of now, I thank Adam Sessler. Co-host of X-Play, on the G4 network (which I, sadly enough, no longer get....grrr, Time Warner Cable), he provides us with the following dose of sanity:

Sessler's Soapbox--"Diablo III's Flaming Fanboys

For more information on the Diablo III release, including Blizzard's errant art director, I recommend visiting D3.net

Monday, August 11, 2008

In Which The Warlock Experiences a Bit of a Slowdown, but Gives Some Props...

There's not a whole lot on the horizon going on right now, so I figure that I'll catch up on a few other things while I have the chance.

--The new kitty is great, and Tikka is finally getting used to the idea to having a friend is finally starting to appeal to her. We've even caught them cuddling once in a while! Who knew?

--4e is a ton of fun to run, and to play. As one of our regular players for Dark Heresy has been out of town recently, we've been running a 4e one-off in our usual Friday slot. Also, Lionel's begun to run Keep on the Shadowfell, and my Dwarven Warlock Ignatius has barely survived his encounter with Irontooth. We're about halfway to our first level, and our team has finally started to work together as a group. All is well...

--Dungeon Slam! is moving apace, in its 3.5 incarnation. I have a lot to do, particularly in terms of skills and the like, but it's really starting to become a real game. Here's for hoping that I can start contacting companies about all this!

--GenCon's still a possibility at this point, but it's looking rough at this point. That said, it may be worth going if for no other reason than the WEGS specials that El Willy is giving away. An honest-to-goodness Copper Pot alone might tempt me to make the trip!

--As I mentioned previously, Laura gave me some kudos for my work on this blog. I don't really read a lot of blogs, aside from the ones in my blogroll, off to the side, so I guess I'll give some shout-outs to those sites that I spend my time playing around on:

1) Zero Punctionation (at The Escapist). Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw may well be one of the funniest game reviewers on the face of the planet. Delivered in his trademark breathless style, he delivers scathing bile and well-constructed criticism in the same breaths. (Link is in my link-index).

2) Aaron Williams, of Nodwick and Full Frontal Nerdity fame, spends a ton of time not only on his quality geekdom comics, but also blogging on various geeky topics, including Flash games, Nodwick

3) The Table-top Gamers forum, hosted in Cincy, is currently the home of WEGS-goers nationwide on the web. Kain (and his accompanying hottie) are good people, and being able to chat with El Willy, Wt2, and their crew is always a plus. TableTop Gamers--WEGS Forum

4) For a really unique take on a D&D game, check out Sigil Prep. Imagine, if you will, a college for adventuring--full of modern anachronisms and Buffy the Vampire Slayer references--set in Sigil, the weirdest city in D&D-dom. Read through it, and enjoy... Sigil Prep

and, finally:
5) If you love Settlers of Catan, you've got it made here! JSettlers

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Which The PlatinumCat Gets a New Companion!

Introducing...Q! Short for "The Question", she's as curious as Vic Sage and as frisky as Renee Montoya....not in the lipstick-lesbian way, though.

Monday, July 28, 2008

In Which The Warlock Updates Randomly and Catches Up With the GrimDark...

I received a complaint recently from fellow Witt-Wegger Nick that I haven't talked much about our weekly Dark Heresy game on here. He's been really excited about his Cleric, who's become the de-facto party leader, and I've been so wrapped up with Origins and searching for a new job that I really haven't had the time to devote to the GrimDark of the far future.

So, Nick, this one's for you.

When we last blogged of our intrepid adventurers, they had managed to crash-land the ruined hulk of the Emperor's Ship Persephone on the planet Scintilla, capital planet of the Calixis sector. They were arrested almost immediately by the Adeptes Arbites, but were shortly sprung by High Inquisitor Globus Varaak--a mechanized husk of a corpulent man, who ran the library-fortress of the Tyrantine Cabal Inquisition.

Varaak immediately took on the group as his new Acolytes and set them about the task of finding out exactly why the Persephone crashed. This led first to the still-flaming, charred ruins of the ship in order to retrieve the logs of the late Captain Nestor Sammael. Sammael's log did little to build their confidence in their former captain, but it did provide several leads and the names of the bridge staff...the most intreguing being High Enginseer Praxilus, one of the Red Priests of the Machine God.

Having seen a red-robed figure escaping the ship as they were arrested, the Acolytes immediately turned to Hive Tarsus' temple to the Machine Lord to find out information. There, they not only found Praxilus, who was in a massive underground foundary, building new weapons for himself, but also a quest to seek out a missing tech priest--Iacton--who had disappeared into the northern wastes along the route of the walking city of Ambulon. After confronting Praxilus, the Enginseer provided him with his encrypted vox recorder, which included his own ship's log, then left for parts unknown.

Tracking Iacton through the wastes proved difficult, but the Acolytes soon found their way exploring a short cavern complex beneath Iacton's desert manor. Breaking into the manor, they soon found that Iacton was not all he seemed to be--using forbidden texts and heretical knowledge, the tech-priest was building himself an insectoid carapace in devotion to Nurgle, the Chaos-Lord of Flies. Terminating Iacton with extreme prejudice, the investigators found themselves in possession on a strange black gem, which radiated warp energy.

Upon returning to Varaak's fortress, our heroes found the Cabal in chaos. After debriefing, they soon found out that a high-ranking mole in the Adeptus Mechanicus was eliminated. Worrying that Iacton was the aforementioned mole, they reported on their activities, but were shocked to learn that the mole was a completely different tech priest.

After hacking into Praxilus' vox, our heroes did their best to piece together their new leads, and began investigating a new tech priest that had emerged--Praxilus' second-in-command Walpurgis. However, more successful avenues lead them to dig out Incarceratrix Cainye (and her relationship with First Mate Acutus), as well as an Adeptus Arbites Lieutenent who had gone through Academy alongside Comptroller Xephyron. Gaining the favor of two feuding Arbites Lieutenants, the group found themselves in possession of the necessary warrants to investigate the quarantined morgue where the found bodies from the Persephone were being kept. With that, the mystery continues next month...

Oh, and on a random note--Laura (of Life is Not Boring and Reviewing Everything)--nominated me for a blogging award! Thankee, Laura!

Oh, and on one more note--I've stared playing in a 4e game! Lionel has started us off at first level, in the 4e intro adventure "Keep on the Shadowfell". I'm now currently playing Ignatius, a rather anti-social Dwarven Warlock who holds a pact with Dispater, Lord of the Second and Master of the Iron Tower. With luck, our party will make it through the kobold defenders and win the day!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In Which The Warlock Finds Himself Unable to Compare Billionaire Playboys...

So, I've been debating about writing this review since I've seen it. The Dark Knight The newest, biggest, most anticipated summer blockbuster of the year. It's out, and I find myself dumbfounded, trying to figure out how to think about it.

Mainly, I think this is because I enjoyed Iron Man so much. But, as I've thought about the two films more and more, I find myself nearly unable to compare them. However, I'll do my best, here, as I give my review on The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight begins scant months after Batman Begins--the mob families of Gotham are in disarray, and the appearance of The Batman has caused several "copycat vigilantes" to pop up, to say nothing of "the freaks"...including a perennial psychopath called The Joker. However, rising to the occasion is also District Attorney Harvey Dent, played by a grimly determined Aaron Eckhart.

If Iron Man was a film that was driven by Robert Downey Jr.'s performance, The Dark Knight succeeds in spite of Christian Bale's presentation. This is not to say that Christian Bale does badly, but the film itself is not about him--The Batman's already been established, and the screentime focuses more specifically on Dent and the late Heath Ledger's Joker. Batman becomes second fiddle in his own film, growling menacingly at any who come by, as he simply reacts to the Joker's threats as swiftly and mercilessly as possible.

And it is Ledger that absolutely steals the show. Something of a combination of Sid Vicious and "A Clockwork Orange"'s Alex (both of whom were inspirations for Ledger's character), with a touch of Kevin Spacey's "John Doe", The Joker comes across as a man possessed. Licking the corners of his facial scars with frentic abandon, Ledger slinks his way through the part like a predatory cat. The writing for the Joker, particularly, crackles like a loose high-voltage cord. Jeff Bridges' Obediah Stane has nothing on this guy--while Bridges made for a suitable industrial businessman, Ledger brings a genuine insanity to the part that no villain in recent memory can match.

The plot of The Dark Knight moves subtly and (to a degree) slowly, starting first as a bust on mob money launderers, then spiraling further and further out of control as the Joker turns his anarchic vision to judges, Police Commissioner Gordon, and D.A. Dent, as he goads The Batman to dare to stop him, mainly by breaking his "one rule"--no killing. While the film maintains a taut sense of tension throughout, the side-plots and continual layered machinations run just a little long. I actually began to wonder, by about the 2 hour mark, where they were getting any more Gotham policemen or Joker henchmen...

Believe it or not--and trust me, this is going to sound odd--I found myself somewhat bored with The Dark Knight's fight scenes. Oftentimes, they felt unnecessary and rushed, and I felt myself longing for them to end as soon as possible, so we could get back to the high tension. This was a massive departure from most superhero movies, where the actions scenes pile up like one of Michael Bay's wet dreams. Again, Iron Man had a good balance here, but the action drove the plot, rather than vice versa, as in The Dark Knight.

I suppose this is another major point of differentiation. Iron Man and The Dark Knight both shared PG-13 ratings, but for very different representations. Iron Man had the various expected explosions, but was not afraid to kill--I remember particularly when the Armored Avenger punches one of the Gulmira terrorists and he crumples into a wall about 20 feet away. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect. While Batman refuses to kill, this movie is dark. Yes, I know you've heard that already, but let me put this straight...

...early on in the movie, the Joker kills a mob thug. With a pencil. The camera speed is moved up, so that the action happens in a flash, as the Joker literally slams the mobster's head down, impaling his skull on a sharpened pencil.

That's grim. That's dark. That's psychotic. It's ground that superhero movies have never trod before. It's more reminiscent of films like Se7en or Saw than of Fantastic Four, and doesn't let up through the whole film. The irony of this is not lost on me--Iron Man kills people, while Batman does not...yet Batman's film is so much darker, most likely for that fact.

I have no problem with this direction in films, but it shows a grim darkness that is almost unfitting with other superhero movies. That said, I cannot believe whatsoever that parents would let their children under 10 or 11 see this, particularly unsupervised.

The Dark Knight is an absolutely fantastic film. While it runs long, and Bale's Batman gets somewhat lost beneath Ledger's schizophrenic symphony, it deserves every ounce of hype it gets. However, it is not a true superhero/comic-book movie. It's a psychological thriller, complete with sociopathic serial killer, with just enough of a superheroic twist to get kids in the seats and action figures in the aisles.

Long story short?
Iron Man is utterly a superior superhero movie. It centers on Tony Stark as Iron Man and doesn't let up, it follows comic book conventions to a T, and it shows the necessary action in high fashion. Take it for what it is, and you'll never be disappointed in it.

The Dark Knight, to the opposite point, is a superior "film". It's a brillant character study of a psychopathic villain, and two heroes (Batman and Dent) who must walk a thin line when chasing their adversary or risk becoming equally psychopathic. It's an absolutely brilliant piece of celluloid, but it's not a superhero movie--don't treat it as such, and you'll absolutely love it. Try to categorize it with Iron Man and you'll be disapointed.

For the sake of posterity, let me put down one last thought. Coupled right before The Dark Knight was the trailer for Zak Penn's Watchmen, which I've been drooling over for months. I get the feeling, knowing the story of Watchmen, that I'll be saying most of the same comments about it, as I've shared about The Dark Knight. Time shall tell, friends and neighbors!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

In Which The Warlock is Disappointed...

So, as I mentioned in my Summer-Movie-Preview-Extravaganza entry, I've been looking forward to the coming of Hellboy II: The Golden Army for a while. I really enjoyed the prior installment--really, who's going to turn down clockwork ninja zombie Nazis?--so my anticipation for the sequel was pretty high.

My biggest worry, though, was director Guillermo Del Toro's own success. Prior to the original Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, his biggest success was Blade II, and that's not saying much. However, his newer, over-the-top style of visuals, particularly in the aforementioned Pan's Labyrinth really seemed to be out of place for the dark, historio-occult mysteries in Hellboy. My fears, however, were answered.

As a deviation from the prior movie, which revolved around a revived Rasputin attempting to summon the Cthulhian gods of the Ogru Jahad, Hellboy II: The Golden Army deals with Celtic Mythology, as rogue elvish Prince Nuada attempts to summon the titular indestructable Golden Army to wage war on mankind. It's up to our Big Red Hero and his cohorts to keep him from doing so.

The problem with this is the fact that everything that made the original film so great--the covert nature, the creepy occult features, the secrecy and paranoia--are all abandoned. Hellboy himself doesn't seem like a freak to us anymore, when he's wandering around a "Troll Market" with all sorts of beasties. The very thing that made him unique in the first movie is abandoned, leaving us bored in the sequel.

The same thing happens in many of the fight scenes: Hellboy, as a demonic brute, simply smashed through problems with the Right Hand of Doom in the first movie, or blew them away with "The Samaritan". In ...Golden Army, the fights are replaced with absurd wire-fu moves that would be better served for a Jet Li or Jackie Chan movie.

By the same token, the side plots and newer characters add little to the characterization. Joining the force to replace the removed John Myers is ectoplasmic-strategist Johann Krauss. While his costume is visually appealing, he adds nothing to the plot, acting only as a "hard-ass C.O." for 3/4 of the film, before having the customary change of heart. Similarly, BPRD leader Manning, who had established an uneasy truce over cigars with Hellboy at the end of the first movie, now becomes naught but a sycophant to Krauss, losing all of the character development that had occured prior.

However, the biggest disappointment in characterization comes from Liz Sherman, Hellboy's main squeeze. (Minor Spoilers ahead!) Early on in the film, it becomes evident that Liz has a greater focus on her pyrokinetic abilities...and immediately after, it becomes just as evident that she's pregnant with Hellboy's baby. I was frustrated by this--instead of becoming a strong action hero in her own right through practice and self-control, Liz becomes nothing more than a baby-repository. She does little to contribute to the plot afterwards, except for the fact that she is, in fact, pregnant, and needs Hellboy to be a good father.

As with all summer-blockbusters, the action scenes are key, but they feel genuinely purposeless and lackluster in ...Golden Army. Hellboy fights a troll servant of Nuada in the "Troll Market", but there's nothing particularly exciting about it. A fight scene with a massive plant elemental in the streets of Brooklyn began to evoke the feel of the first movie, but was continually interrupted with drivel about the "death of the faerie world" and a lack of participation by Liz (boy, a pyrokinetic sure would be useful when fighting a giant freaking tree)). Even the final fight scenes seem tacked on and artificial, as the remaining BPRD members simply stand by as Hellboy fights Nuada in what looks like a scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1 on top of a giant clock.

Oh, and the ending? Not what I was hoping for whatsoever. It genuinely doesn't make sense in the context of the series. I wouldn't bother going to see for yourself; if you're curious, just ask me or go spoil yourself.

This is getting long, so I'll sum up swiftly--the characters are shallower than their earlier versions, the plot does not fit well with Hellboy's original mythology, the action's off-kilter, and it's not what the first film was. The visuals are beautiful, but they're all that the film has going for it. Save your money, and wait for the double-feature on FX.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

In Which The PlatinumChick Has a Stroke...of Genius!

So, on the way back from Origins, after going out to O'Charley's with Lionel and his family, Jules struck upon a massively brilliant idea.

After roaming around at Origins, playing the massive series of games there, she expressed a desire to run game again. Jules is the resident Eberron-nut, and she was especially jazzed when she ran "Sharn's Eleven" at WittCon V, but felt a bit frustrated when she had to skip levels of the game, due to the slowdowns of 3.5e.

So, when she mentioned this idea in her car, driving back to Fairborn, it hit me like a bolt out of the blue.

We had 7 Witt-Weggers at Origins this year. Next year, at the very least, we'll have four of us, with at least two more already in the wings.

GAMA, the organization that runs Origins, offers incentives for people who run games at Origins. In fact, the basic incentive is free admission/payment reimbursement for that Origins Game Fair. The Wittenberg Role-Playing Guild, as an organization, is already registered as a GAMA member-organization.

Being a GAMA-affiliated organization allows you certain advantages, such as some flexibility in scheduling events...and choice of rooms. Shoggoth.net, Rogue Cthulhu, Amorphous Blob--all of these have been able to get their own rooms and their own scheduling set up. Why not us?

The vision for next year: our very own Wittenberg Role-Playing Guild room. Maybe not for the entire show, but for at least a few days of it. If we can get each Witt-Wegger to run two games--our badges would provisionally be comp-ed, we can publicise both WittCon VI/VII, and get blind playtesting for both Dungeon Slam! and MOE.

I envision us in something like the Clark room--five tables of games, with each of us at one: myself running Dungeon Slam! or the Cthulhu Dark Ages scenario, "Deus Vult!"; Ebbs running MOE or his "Ninja Nuttiness" scenario; Lionel running Paranoia or his d20 Zombies scenario; Jules running d20 Modern or "Sharn's Eleven"....
...and, coupled with this--the WittCon banner hung for all to see, business cards with the guild-website and contact info, a tack-board with pictures from prior WittCons, and laser-etched dice (cheaper than you think!) with the Guild Shield.

If this works, we could potentially even look at having guests in, as well--El Willy comes immediately to mind, but others too...

Are we on to something here? Could this work? It's time to send some e-mails...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Origins 2008 Blog! Post-Con Wrap-Up...


That’s about my whole mentality right now. Origins is a ton of fun, but it’s a massively exhausting venture. Now that I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and relax, I feel like I can give a little bit of a retrospective.

• I may have been a little too virulent in my distaste for the RPGA. While I’ve had quite a few bad experiences in the “Living” games, my game this year—“Return to the Moathouse”—was a really pleasant surprise. The other players, there, were a generally jovial group who really knew their game. I was a touch frustrated at the general lack of roleplaying, but it was really nice to see the tactical rules in action. I know that it’s a con game, so you typically get one or the other, but I may have to give the RPGA a second shot, now that we’re in 4e.

• 4e is a fantastic little system, but it definitely is going to require some changes to the way I game. I really like the speed of the rules, as well as the simplicity on the DMing end, but the way that combat is currently situated, it definitively needs a battlemap. My purchases, as I’ll talk a little bit later, kinda reflect that. That said, it really fosters imagination in terms of rituals and the like, which makes DMing authentic. I love it, but it’s going to take some changing on my end.

• I really should have had a little more variety in terms of my gaming. While all of my games were really well put together, I feel like I spent Origins playing the same things over and over—-WEGS, D&D, Dark Heresy, and Call of Cthulhu. Not that any of those are bad, but trying out some new things is all about what Origins is. I was somewhat jealous of Jules’ schedule, which had a fantastic variety. Her Saturday game alone—a d20 Modern conversion of the classic 2e D&D adventure “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks” was a unique little throwback. Lionel, as well, had a varied schedule, with a ton of new boardgames and the like. My schedule was fantastic, but was really very vanilla. Next year? Some spice!

• Late nights make for early-morning killers. The idea of playing Dungeon Slam! with El Willy and his crew has been a long time in coming, but doing it at 1:30 in the morning? Not such a great idea. Same thing with the Friday Midnight Session of WEGS…playing a game until 3:00 am utterly leaves you devastated the next day, no matter how late you sleep in. I was utterly astounded that so many of our little group wanted to play in a 2:00 am Mutant Academy game—luckily for them (sort of), it was cancelled, as the GM never showed.

• The gaming industry is really one of friendliness, across the board. All of the designers I’ve been able to meet—El Willy, Steve Jackson (last year), Mike Mearls, Michelle Nephew, Curt Covert—have been absolutely fantastic and completely receptive. Talking shop with Curt was an absolute pleasure, and gave me some solid ideas on how to change things. It’s Michelle, though, that’s given me the most to think about. I’m not a big note-taker, but I ended up with 5 pages of notes. And because of this…

• I have a ton of work to do on Dungeon Slam! A ton. That’s not even putting it mildly. I was somewhat embarrassed as the cards for the demo on Wednesday night were messy and hard to read, with all of the hand-written revisions I’ve made. Michelle had said that, when submitting to a company you want your product to be “as neat and as professional as possible, without spending”. The next few months are going to be hectic, as I keep working on DS 3.5e.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Origins Blog 2008! Entry Five--The Swag!

No con is complete without the Swag! I was good, and kept to my vow of not spending more than $100. I even came under budget this year, spending only about $90. But that said, I was more than pleased with my purchases.

(Koplow Dice Tray)

I said I was going to get it, but this ended up being my last purchase. No surprises here—I’ve needed one for a while, and now I have it. The pleasant thing was seeing Bob (Don’t Call Him The Diceman!) at the booth. He seemed rather receptive about coming back to WittCon, which is a great positive—it’ll be great to have him in our corner again!

(Ironwind Metals—Fantasy Miniatures)

With the advent of 4e, and the tactical feel of combat, I set out for the Origins auction to look for some used minis that I’d be able to use when running the game. While the auction didn’t have what I was looking for, Ironwind did! At $2.00 an ounce for loose minis, I was able to pick up quite a selection (including a Cyclops, which is the spitting image of Craig T. Nelson’s monster in Flesh Gordon). Not too bad at all, particularly for $18.00 total.

(Sorting Chips—250—Multi-Color)

If it’s one thing I’ve noticed in many of the games I’ve been running recently, it’s that status conditions are getting more and more numerous. WEGS has its “Lost Action Phase”, and that’s to say nothing of Sure-Shot, Catlike-Tread, Magic/Mystic Sense, and more. D&D 4e, in addition, has “marked” targets, Warlock curses, “Hunter’s Quarry” targets, and much more. Having a way to keep track of these seems like a good way to go, and this was a cheap way to do it. At $4.00, you can’t beat the price—it’s great!

(Hex Hex; Smirk and Dagger Games)

Demoing this game with Curt Covert, while talking shop, may have been one of my most favorite sections of this year’s Origins. Hex Hex is a fun little game of backstabbing, which really runs when you’re sitting around with some good friends, just having a good time. It’d make for a stellar drinking game, too…but that’s another story. I was so impressed that I picked up the expansion, as well, Hex Hex Next, which has some even more lethal cards to toss in.

(Mutants and Masterminds 2e, Green Ronin Publishing)

Free is absolutely the best price, but this was an unexpected find. While I still love Palladium’s Heroes Unlimited, quite a few of the Witt-Weggers (Ebbs, for one) are all about the M&M. Reading through this, I can’t say I blame him too much—it’s a sweet little system. It may never replace my nostalgic favorite, but it’s a solid rules-set, with a lot of support behind it. None too bad at all.

So, I guess that, if you’re reading this, you’re wondering where are my reviews on Black Industries’ Inquisitors’ Handbook and the Kingsport Expansion for Arkham Horror. Well…I bought neither. But, this is for two different reasons.

I didn’t really find a good deal on Kingsport, and Bookery Fantasy is still offering their 15% off sale through the summer. I’d rather support my FLGS and get a sweet discount than simply get the expansion at a con, just for the experience of buying it there. I may even hold off for a tick, as Kingsport will be there for a while, and we typically play AH over at Lionel’s, so my set would go unused.

As for Inquisitors’ Handbook? Well, it’s a matter of cost. I paid $45.00 for the Dark Heresy core rules, which are in full-color and a beautiful matte hard-cover. Expensive for a book, but not unheard of. The Inquisitors’ Handbook, concurrently, is the same price, but is a soft-cover and only in black and white with red-borders. While I’d love to have it and use it, I just don’t think it’s worth it right now. Particularly when one considers that Fantasy Flight Games is expecting to put out their version in July, which will be in both hardcover and full-color. Thanks, but I’ll wait for that.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Origins Blog 2008! Entry Four

Alert! Blog Entries this week were written one week prior, on Saturday, June 28!

Whew. Origins is winding down, and the Witt-Weggers’ trip out here is about to come to a close. We head out tomorrow morning, to head home and actually get some sleep for once!

After El Willy’s Midnight Madness game, I got only about 4 hours of sleep before waking up (an hour early! Gah!) for my two seminars of the convention. The first was more of an informative session, dealing specifically with the ins and outs of getting a game published with a small-press. Michelle Nephew was particularly informative, and the setting was really casual. I took something like 5 pages of notes, and am slowly realizing that my game needs a ton of revisions—time to get back after the playtesting!

The second seminar, on 4e with Mike Mearls, was really a pleasant indulgence. Mearls really is a receptive guy, who knows his audience in and out. He was eager to ask just about any question we put to him, which was nice, as I was really curious to see his input on the new cosmology. While I still miss my beloved Great Wheel, I can see why the design team went the way they did—the idea being that, if you’re going for a setting-less game, why include a specific setting to muck things up? Again, Mearls was really a stand-up guy, and I was lucky enough to get to thank him for the earlier (near?) encounter over with Amorphous Blob.

A very sleep deprived Andy, with Mike Mearls, creator of D&D 4th Edition

Meeting up with Lionel after the game (and a purchase of Hex Hex, from Smirk and Dagger), we swiftly tried to make it over to North Market to grab some lunch…only to be interrupted by Columbus’s Annual Pride Day Parade. Thwarted by fate, we settled for the overpriced convention center food and relaxed with Jules and Ebbs while playing the aforementioned Hex Hex.

The Columbus Pride Day Parade...keeping us from North Market!

We did manage some time at the dealer-room today, which was fantastic, as I was able to finalize my purchases. More on those in a later entry.

Dinner came swiftly, and along with it came Lionel’s parents and cousin, in from New Jersey. As such, we headed to Buca di Beppo, a homestyle Italian chain.

Let me tell you this. I don’t think the ball of pasta that was my Gnocci de Telefone will ever leave my stomach. The walk back was hard enough. Making it to our final game—“Fallen Angels” done in Dark Heresy—will be just as big a challenge.

Lionel and Ebbs around the table, in the GrimDark of the far future...

With that, I’m out! Our happy next entry will be from the wondrous comfort of our apartment, as I wrap-up my con coverage and this year’s purchases.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different...

So, in the happy little chain-o'-blogs that I mull through sometimes, I came upon this little challenge: http://lotfp.blogspot.com/2008/06/media-influences.html

Basic premise: What are the 5 biggest media influences on you as a DM/GM/etc.?
So, here we go!

1) H.P. Lovecraft
I was introduced to Lovecraft relatively late in my GMing 'career', but the Cthulhian horror concepts he started tend to permeate whatever game I'm running. In D&D, I end up with Mind Flayers and Elder Brain, summoning "Far Realm" entities alongside their humanoid cultists. Same thing happens in Conan, and even in superhero games like Heroes Unlimited.

2. Ray Harryhausen
I first watched "Jason and the Argonauts" when I was in first grade. Greek myth, filtered through stop-motion effects and bad '60s haircuts, made my childhood what it was. It started in me a love of all things mystic and mythic, which hasn't ceased yet. In terms of GMing, a lot of this shows in my backgrounding. I love having some ancient myths and heroes sitting lost in the background, whose deeds the players can emulate.

3. He-Man
If nothing else, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has something for every GM. Ancient, forbidden magic; ultra-high technology; unique super-powers; a cackling villain with unique (and powerful) henchmen; massive, decaying fortresses...Seriously, what GM couldn't pull from a setting like this?! I was obsessed with He-Man for years, and managed to pick up the DVD releases immediately as they were released. I still go back to these for episodic game ideas...

4. Thomas Malory
As a Medievalist, Malory's 'piece de resistance' stands out any time I think about literary influences. The tragedy of Arthur's death, and the circumstances surrounding the fall of Camelot, are among the most recognizable for good reason. The nature of the Grail Quest, as well, is almost iconic in its representation of a "quest arc". I love pulling from Arthurian lore for adventures, particularly with lesser known knights (Yvain comes immediately to mind).

5. Planescape/Ravenloft
Growing up on D&D, it was really easy to paint many things in 4-color. Good was good, evil was evil, and that was it. These two campaign settings utterly threw me for a loop on that. Existential philosophy in gaming?! Moral quandaries?! Who knew that D&D could get so complex. Even in a non-planar, non-RL game, I find myself throwing in ideas and moral choices for players that are colored by these two campaign settings.

Origins 2008 Blog! Entry Three

Alert! Blog entries this week were written one week prior, on Saturday (morning), June 28!

Exhaustion was the name of the game yesterday, cats and kittens! Well, exhaustion…and WEGS, and Call of Cthulhu, and Settlers of Catan, and a little game called Hex Hex by Smirk and Dagger Games.

Back to the 2d10 and 2d6...

Willy the 2 tries his best to kill us all.

Jules and I began the day by pestering Willy the 2 in his morning “Dungeons OR Dragons” scenario, and helping to show off the system that brings craps to the geekdom table. I’ve really got to hand it to the WegsHogz—for never having done the booth-and-games thing before, their experience really shows. Their games have always been packed, and it’s been a non-stop stream of patrons at their fantastic casino/booth. Kudos to them!

Jules' Ranger faces death head-on

My Dwarven Sage against the Tentacle-Dragon.

Afterwards, we actually managed to make it through the dealer hall for once. Three days into the con, and I had yet to actually even take a look at most of the products coming out. If it’s one thing I noticed, it’s that the “flea-market” comments from last year did not fall on deaf ears. All of the booths, by default, were given black backdrops upon which to hang signs and merchandise. Simple, yeah, but it really classed up the place. Plus, despite the numerous places selling and buying used games, the feel was much more of a industry-insider show, with nearly all booths running open demos of games.

One of the neatest little surprises was a fellow I stumbled upon while demoing Dungeon Slam! for El Willy and his crew—-this being Smirk and Dagger Games’ Curt Covert. We talked a little about the game up in the breezeway but, as it was nearly 3 am by that point, he asked me to stop by his booth for a chat. As such, we ended up there, talking shop and trying out Hex Hex, a demonic little game that combines alchemical magic and Hot Potato into a nice little combination. I’ve got to say, he’s quite the sell at this—-I’ll probably be buying Hex Hex today—-but I definitely appreciated the chance to ‘talk shop’ with another real live professional.

Lionel gets "Dutched" at Giant Settlers of Catan

After taunting El Willy some more, regarding his Midnight Special, Jules headed off for some Settlers with Lionel and Maranda. I hung around and watched, getting the chance to both see them get schooled by another woman (who proudly bore her Knight of Catan emblem), and put together my surprise for El Willy—the new and improved Nordling: a Humz Trickster dabbling in Mage, and able to pull off a Flaming FryBall and an Enchanted Weapon. Locked and loaded, I was ready to go.

So, you get wood..."

Jules, being way too excited about clay.

I've got wood for sheep, if anyone else does...

The cities and village of Giant Settlers of Catan

Unfortunately, our dinner plans at the fabulous Japanese Steak House on High Street had to be put on hold, as their operating hours just didn’t mesh with our next games. As such, we headed to Barley’s next door before Dan, Jules, and I headed off for some Call of Cthulhu.

Jules' attention is rapt in the Rogue Cthulhu room

I had seen “Byhakees in Toyland” last year, and knew I absolutely had to get in on it this year. The premise? It’s Christmas Eve, and all the toys are awake…and something’s very wrong. Playing a sentient box of Legos, I helped My Little Pony, the Blue Power Ranger, and a PokeBall (amongst others) to the bottom of what was going on. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on Plush Cthulhu! My little block-man gibbered and stabbed his way to a near TPK, before being put out of his misery by Optimus Prime.

Our valiant GM, and a Power Ranger from "Byhakees in Toyland"

Rainbow blindings and stuffed bear maulings at "Byhakees in Toyland"

Call of Cthulhu ended somewhat early, so I had a chance rest up before the WEGS Midnight Madness game, where we headed off in search of Ogma’s Orb of Obliteration. The trash talk on the Table Top Gamers message boards was thick and heavy prior to this game, so I knew we were in for a challenge.

Ebbs and Lionel prepare for the Friday Midnight Madness WEGS-a-thon

Rachel mulls her mini options

The three forces combine--The ShroomEaters, the WegsHogz, and the Witt-Weggers

Our adversary? The mummy KlattaBarraBoo, a massive Triple-88 who lay deep within the caverns beneath the Dwarven Monestery of Banturbury. With Trickster Nordling at the ready, I was ready for some combat...

Ogma's Orb of Obliteration awaits!

Trickster Nordling leads the charge...

After a brutal three hour session, the game ended in stalemate, with our party losing Spoints by the handful and KlattaBarraBoo down to 1/3 of his usual massive health. It was a massively entertaining game all around, particularly when getting faced down by the “Dwunks”—that is, Dwarven Monks—and their Flaming Fists of Fury. The pictures can tell the story here...

Time to Skorp!

The first fatality--a ShroomEater falls

Run, Nordling! Run!

Ebbs Gnobbits his way across the board.

Valiantly facing KlattaBarraBoo

As you can imagine, getting back at 3 am has left me more than a little exhausted, but I have plenty of time this afternoon to nap away. I adjusted my registration yesterday, ending up with two new seminars—one focusing on game publication with Michelle Nephew of Atlas Games, and a q&a with D&D guru Mike Mearls (yeah, him again!). More on these later, as I have all of 5 minutes to get there! Oi!

Laters, cats and kittens! Hopefully next update won’t quite be so long!