Friday, August 30, 2013

One Contest's Not Enough! How about another!

So, here's a thing:  faithful readers of my scrolls here already know about my 400th Entry Contest--go enter HERE if you haven't already!--which closes this weekend.

But, JourneymanWill just tipped me off a great contest over at The Gamer Effect, who are giving out two gift cards to DriveThruRPG and!  I'm entering just by writing this!

Who doesn't love free gaming stuff?!  Jump in on my contest (ends September 1st) and then head over to The Gamer Effect for a shot at even more swag!

Good luck, fellow gamers!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Warlock's Review: Pirates vs. Dinosaurs!

(Aside:  Just a few days left to enter my 400th Entry Contest!  Three simple questions separate you from a pair of great PDFs!  Enter now!)

Unfortunately, due to my spring/summer hiatus, I didn't get a chance to do my traditional Origins recap as in past years.  I'm pleased to say that the con went spectacularly, with nearly every Cold Steel Wardens event going off, with players excited to see the book in print!  Plus, I actually got a chance to play my own game for the first time, as the PlatinumChick had an open slot in one of her Saturday "Birds in Flight" sessions.  It's a unique thing to sit down and play your own creation, rather than GM!

Pirates vs. Dinosaurs!
But, I didn't spend the whole convention behind the GM screen; I did manage to pull myself away from the big chair long enough to try out a few new games, including Jolly Roger Games' Pirates vs. Dinosaurs.  Created by revered game designer Richard Launius--creator of Arkham Horror and contributor to Greater Than Games' Infernal Relics expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse--Pirates vs. Dinosaurs provides a fun little romp through a dinosaur-infested island in search of booty!

The game itself has two primary phases:  the "exploration" phase and the "dig" phase.  During exploration,  your pirates search the island for hidden landmarks necessary to find the treasure dig site.  Exploration phase is marked by Dinosaur encounters (facing off against nasty Velociraptors and the like) and Other encounters (which range from quicksand to cliffs to native islanders).  All encounters are inflicted by your fellow pirates, though you can encounter one dinosaur and one "other" encounter per turn, which keeps any one player from being saddled with tons of encounters.  Encounter cards are also used as personal one-shots granting additional dice, rerolls, or allowing for additional successes on the dice.

Sample encounter cards from Pirates vs Dinosaurs.
Note the bomb icons on certain cards:
Those indicate one-shot discard effects!
Defeating encounters hinges on your relics and equipment (chosen round-robin at the beginning of the game) and your crew, which attack as a series of dice.  While you never "lose" to an encounter, you do lose crew members, which mean less dice to roll--weakening you for future encounters--and limiting the amount of treasure that you can possibly carry during the "dig phase".  I would have liked to see some incentive or benefit gained for not losing crew members, but that would mean numerous changes to the game mechanics.

After finding the necessary landmarks, your pirate enters their "dig" phase, which is a "Press Your Luck" sort of mini-game in which your crew might unearth spectacular treasures, ancient curses, or inadvertently trigger a volcanic eruption.  The "dig phase" is neat concept, though it often ends up that the first player to reach the dig site garners the most treasure, ending up in a win for them.  Treasure is randomized by amount, so that's not always the case, though more treasure chests unearthed almost always equates to more treasure in tallying victory.
The board for Pirates Vs. Dinosaurs.
Not shown are the hidden "landmark" tiles,
which direct your pirate to the dig site (top right).

While Pirates vs. Dinosaurs is nominally a race game, it does include numerous player vs player elements.  In addition to playing encounters on one another, players may even have their crews battle one another, if in the same location, including the dig site itself. Unfortunately, there's just not a lot of incentive to actually fight one another. If you want to stay ahead of the competition, it's almost always a better choice to simply explore or dig, rather than actively fight one another.  If there were a more tangible benefit to PvP, I could see it becoming more viable.

As with pretty much any game by the esteemed Mr. Launius, Pirates vs. Dinosaurs does have its share of fiddly-bits.  Crew tokens, cards for equipment and relics, encounter cards, landmark cards and such seem like they would become overwhelming, though each pirate's placard helps keep these elements organized and straightforward.  I honestly wish that Arkham Horror's character placards were as well laid out as those for Pirates vs. Dinosaurs, to keep equipment and spells organized.  I was impressed with the quality of the game pieces overall, with clear, easy to read cards and easily interpreted symbols.

Most important of all:  is it fun?  Yes, yes it is.  There's really nothing like siccing a charging triceratops on a fellow pirate crew, driving them out of the swamps so that you can explore the area uninhibited.  While there are issues with the endgame--particularly the "first person there tends to win" problem, the game works actively to keep players engaged and interested even when it's not their turn, which is the hallmark of a great game.  Plus, it plays fast:  a single game rarely takes more than 90 minutes, counting set-up and tear-down.

Pirates vs. Dinosaurs is a spectacular little diversion well worth the sticker price.  Pick it up if you're a fan of Launius' other games, pirates, dinos, or any combination of the above!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Which The Warlock Tosses in Everything (Including the Kitchen Sink!)

(Aside:  Have you entered into my 400th entry contest yet?  Three simple questions might be all that's keeping you from a PDF prize pack!  Deadline is September 1st!)

This summer has been somewhat brutal on my gaming schedule.  In addition to our usual convention circuit, two of our usual crew have been finishing up their doctoral degrees, which has put a damper on our usual dice-slinging.  We've gotten in quite a few rounds of Sentinels of the Multiverse and Arkham Horror, but neither of those scratches that omnipresent itch to roleplay.
The Lady of Pain
Ruler of the City of Sigil

With ChaoticFrederick's 4e mini-campaign petering out, I offered to take up the reins for a foray into one of my favorite settings:  Planescape!  However, I decided to do something that flies in the face of traditional "game balance".  You see, I told my players that they could play anything they wanted, as long as they could relatively legally stat it up using d20 rules.

Most GMs, I'm sure, are slapping their heads right now.  And, truth be told, the usual suspects around my game table were taken slightly aback at the myriad of opportunities.  "Can I play Cthulhu?" one asked me.  "Why, yes.  Yes, you can.  Straight out of the book, even!" I replied, as I passed them the d20 Call of Cthulhu book.  "Can I play a Pokemon master?" another retorted.  "Sure.  Go for it," I responded.

Don't tell my players this, but their actual choices in character aren't going to matter much in the scope of the ongoing campaign.  Not to say that they won't have massive input (and plot hooks) hanging on their characters, but rather that the nature of Planescape's oddity will let them fit into the City of Doors with no ill effects at all.  Plus, it gives me a chance to flex my GMing acumen by accommodating a party of wild diversity in terms of both mechanics and background.

So, what did my intrepid players end up choosing?  Let's have a look, shall we?

  • A time-manipulating child, claiming to hail from the Lost City of Carcosa, which was drowned beneath the waves of Lake Hali.  With an air of innocence, he claims to know nothing of the sanity-blasting horrors which overtook that dread city in the name of The Yellow Sign. (Level 8)
  • A massively powerful centaur scout stricken inexplicably with amnesia, now following a pseudo-Buddhist philosophy of balance, passivity, and non-violence. (Level 26)
  • A shifter bard, alternating between charm and grace and phenomenal martial arts prowess, varying only on the beast within her. (Level 7)
  • Queen Lilioukalani, the last queen of Hawai'i, gifted with Pele's blessing to control fire and lava.  Lilioukalani believes herself to be the very embodiment of Pele herself:  a goddess given mortal form. (Level TBD)
  • Jim Bob, a non-descript farmer...who may have a unique destiny all his own. (Level 2)
My intent is to run "rings around the ring"--one session featuring each Sigil's noted factions, culminating with a chance to escape The Cage, while simultaneously providing a grand tour of Sigil itself.

What do you think, friends and neighbors?  Am I mad?  Am I biting off more than I can chew?  Time will tell, I suppose!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Warlock's 400th Entry Contest!

Yes, friends and neighbors!  After much trial and travail, this blog has officially reached its 400th entry!

And here I am, verging on the publication of my first solo book.  What a long, strange trip it's been, yes?
What started as a brief excursion into in-character journaling has evolved over the years into a series of reviews, miscellaneous gaming thoughts, and now my own company.  It's madness, really.

This past Origins, I sat down with El Willy--my entry into game editing and the master of all things WEGS.  I chuckled as we waited for a few players to arrive for a session of Pittsburgh 68.  "Larry," I said, "you warned me.  Back in the day, you warned me on getting involved in the game industry.  Now...well...go figure!"

So, how do I celebrate this momentous occasion?  With a present for one of you lucky readers!

As a celebration of this blog's 400th entry, I'll be giving away a prize pack of two PDFs:

  • A PDF copy of Sarah Lynne Bowman's The Functions of Role-Playing Games.
  • A PDF copy of my very own Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics, as soon as it's released to Kickstarter backers.
To enter this contest, leave a comment in THIS blog entry with your answers to the following three questions:

Question 1:  What group sponsored the Kickstarter which I interviewed about in the last entry?
(Hint:  You can look at their Kickstarter HERE!  Or, their website HERE!)

Question 2:  Check out the art galleries over on the Blackfall Press, LLC Facebook Page!  
List one piece of art as your favorite!

Question 3:  Tell me who's your favorite superhero!

Leave your answers to all three questions in the comments, along with your name and a valid e-mail address!
This contest will be open until September 1st, 2013.  Winner will be chosen randomly from the total number of completed entries.  Only one entry per contestant.

Good luck and thanks for your support!