Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Which The Warlock Looks Forward to the Coming Months...

Finally, back on time! Naturally, I'm procastinating from my usual work, but that's life...I'm used to it.

I must say, though, I am utterly excited. This part of the year always stands as the beginning of great things across the board, but particularly in gaming terms.

First off, there's the upcoming gaming. With "Shadows of the Cold War" about to start, and Fred's 4e game in full swing, I'm up to my eyeballs in great gaming. Twice a week, at least? Can't beat it with a stick.

Further, I managed to sneak in a little playtesting of Dungeon Slam! this weekend, as well. While many of the issues that came up have been ones I'm much aware of--relative weakness of spellcasters, need for more Health and Arcana, overall game speed--this game was an utter success, as the players really went for the throat on the PvP. Between the Malevelolent Teleporter uses (which are just a touch overpowered), the Astral Thievery, and the utter wrath with which players went after one another...the game was fantastically played! I was utterly amazed at the virulence with which they went at it! When the Martial Artist got marooned in Skull Sanctum after having used Resist Arcana on several other players, I was laughing my head off! Karma works, children!

What amazed me most about all this was the fact that, with one exception, all of these players were brand new! Within the span of one evening, they caught onto the game faster than even some of the veterans I've had play. With no lies, I've never seen the Swashbuckler played as well as the way he was this past time. The player said it seemed somewhat broken, but I had to break it to him--the way he was rolling was exactly the way I'd intended it! He just stumbled onto some great combinations!

This gives me some real promise for the upcoming revision of DS. I really want to pump out a new revision before WittCon VI, which is coming up in March. Can't wait for that!

Further, the great Con season begins again! February begins with UD Con, over at University of Dayton, followed by WittCon VI in March, and then GloryCon after that...

...can't beat the gaming, particularly at Origins after that! :D

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Which The Warlock Fails His Saving Throw vs. Poison...

Apologies on the delay, faithful readers. I realize that when I post late, I usually open with an apology but this time...I have a legitimate excuse: food poisoning.

You see, your friendly-neighborhood Warlock has given up pop--carbonated beverages have been kept at a minimum since October, and I've kept to that pretty well by sticking to Kool-Aid and juice. Unfortunately, it was the latter that caught up with me. By the time that I was 3/4 of the way through the juice bottle...Jules had noted that it was over 3 months expired.

I, consequently, spent the last three days unable to eat anything, and have been pretty much latched to the toilet.

On the plus side, I am much on the mend and am looking forward to a full weekend of geekdom to come. On the downside, though, I missed out on much of last weekend's festivities...which included a portion of a visit from my former roommate, Karl!

However, we did have some time to wedge in a WEGS scenario--based on the D&D Tiny Adventures creation "The Haunted Streets of Agamentar--with some sweet LEGO props! I joined him behind the screen at first, but when a player had to leave was up to Nordling the XIV to take to the fore!

Unfortunately for Nordling and his krew...the odds and gods were not on their sides. In the crypt of a dread lich, they fell quickly and mercilessly beneath no less than 5 consecutive Good Shots by Karl's dice...

Never fear, though! This Saturday brings some more "Dungeon Slam!" and hopefully some karmatic vengeance!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Warlock's Review: "Manual of the Planes"

I took a little bit of heat from gaming-buddy Nick, when I didn't update this Sunday, but I wanted to make sure that I had all of my ducks in a row before putting forward this post. Believe it or not, I actually had to do some research for this one.

One of my favorite things regarding the entirety of D&D, since I began playing, has been the cosmological aspect of it. The Great Wheel, in particular, was one of my favorite concepts--the simple idea that there was a verisimilitude within the cosmos, between the various Heavens and Hells out there. Fittingly, one of my favorite campaign settings has been Planescape, with its wacky, Victorian philosophical factions, its plane-hopping nature, and the omnipresent city of Sigil looming overhead.

When 4e came out, I was slightly perturbed that The Great Wheel, a D&D institution since First Edition, went the way of the dodo. In fact, I asked Mike Mearls about this change, last year at Origins, just after 4e's release. While he was not able to give me a whole lot of solace in this regard, I kept an optimistic outlook regarding the new cosmology, and was looking forward to this release greatly.

One of the reasons for my optimism was newness. The Feywild, The Shadowfell, the Elemental Chaos...all of these seemed to reek of the old Modernist adage, "Make it new!" Unfortunately, upon my reading, this seems not to be the case.

Manual of the Planes, in format, is a typical 160 page, full-color, hardcover release from Wizards of the Coast, with all the high quality that comes with it. WotC is the gold standard for book design in the RPG world, and has been since 3e, and nothing has changed here. I could even overlook the reused 3eartwork, if not for a few major sections...

My geek senses kicked off in this regard as I read (ironically enough) the section on Sigil. As I read, I could have sworn that I had read the section before, despite the fact that this was the first read through of 4e's Manual of the Planes that I had done. Then I realized it!

the text for Sigil, as well as the City of Brass and several other locations, was taken nearly word for word from 3e's Manual of the Planes and the Planar Handbook

To say the least, I was chagrined. I was promised newness, and this was borderline plagarism. Entire sections of text were copy-pasted, with changes only made to eliminate 3e mechanics. For example, text was copy-pasted on the City of Brass's architecture, but the 4e version is shorter only due to the Planar Handbook's mention of "Continual flame spells"--something that no longer exists in 4e.

Lazy writing aside, I was further surprised by the utterly laziness in design decisions on the creators' choices. The Elemental Chaos was promised to be a "more accessible" elemental plane system, but the only three locations presented therein are ZerthAd'Lun (a githyanki city), the aforementioned City of Brass, and a few Abyssal layers--all of which had seen extensive treatment in prior books, both 3e and 4e. Nothing new.

While I was pleased with the creativity showing in the Feywild section--based around pseudo-Celtic fey courts and the 4 seasons--this pleasure swiftly dimmed in my reading of the following section on the Shadowfell. If you know me at all, you know my games tend towards darker themes (Ravenloft, anyone?), so the idea of the Shadowfell had peaked my interest. However, despite the fact that its chapter is a full page longer than that of the Feywild (16 pages, compared to 15), it includes only 1 locale, and few other stats. Oh, and the Dread Emperor gets a full page...that wonderful throwback to the decidedly mediocre Book of Vile Darkness. Yeech.

There were bright spots in this book, primarily in the new material. The "domain of night", Tytherion, was an intreguing addition, and the inclusion of various fey demesenes were a plus. By and large, though, these areas were hit or miss. Shom, a blinding desert wasteland, is included, but few details are given save that it was once the home of the illumian empire. Were illumians really so popular that they needed a one-page entry? Somehow I doubt it. It would have been nice to see that page, and other wasted space, go towards giving Far Realm (a fan, and personal, favorite) a better treatment--it currently gets 3/4 of a page, with a sidebar on Mak Thuum Ngatha--or, for that matter, a section on Dreamspace or more information on spelljammers, which only get touched on.

Players get a wee bit of material at the end of the book, with a handful of paragon paths based on the planes. However, this chapter feels tacked on, and really brings little to the party in terms of creativity. It feels as if the designers each picked a core class and a plane, then cobbled together a paragon path to combine them. And the Doomguard reference in the fighter entry? It might have been nice had factions actually been discussed in any length in this book, but such was not the case.

All in all, Manual of the Planes is a decidedly mediocre book, made worse by recycled material, a lack of focus, and a dearth of usable campaign hooks and the like. While the Feywild section was strong, it's the lone real jewel in a sea of muddy water. I still love the mechanics of 4e, but right now, the 'fluff' of the system has yet to sell me.

Monday, January 05, 2009

In Which The Warlock Realizes Some Irony...

...immediately after commending myself about my ability to update on time, this update is, of course, late. Oi. *hangs head* It's life.

But, on a more positive spin, things are finally rolling in our Friday night game. Unsere, my tiefling artificer/swordmage, is utterly fed up with getting followed around by everyone in sight, but at least she's finding her way out of Thromstorm! However, I can't help but feel just a touch of frustration, as what I had originally intended to be a more "supporting" character seems to be turning into the plot's lead. *shrug* That's the way of things, some days. Nothing like a 'reluctant hero' archetype!

Further positive, I've set myself on using Heroes Unlimited 2e Revised for my Watchmen/Call of Cthulhu game. Looking onto the rules, they're not quite so clunky as to shy the newbies to Palladium away, and it's definitely the best fit for the setting's feel.

That said, I'm definitely going to pare out some of the "bigger" powers, to fit with the feel of the world. I just can't imagine Nite-Owl or Silk Spectre roaming around with someone with "Alter Physical Structure: Plasma", who can melt through steel walls with his bare hands. I mean, the whole point of Dr. Manhattan was the fact that he was one-of-a-kind. Doesn't make much sense to populate the whole world with Captain Atom!

One of my bigger difficulties comes from the grafting of the Sanity system onto the Palladium stats. While "Mental Endurance" seems to be a great place to start, the character classes that rely on it most heavily--Mystics and Psionics--should be the first ones to go crazy, not the last! I think I may end up using an average of all mental stats, to form the Sanity base, but I'm still undecided.
We shall see, I suppose!

Next post? My 4e Manual of the Planes review!