Oct 20, 2009

The High-Tech Tabletop

I just saw the MS Surface demo for D&D. It's only proof of concept at this point, but what a concept...

Surfacescapes Demo Walkthrough from Visual Story TAs on Vimeo.

Oct 16, 2009

DM Tools: Mazes

I just read an article, mostly geared to parents, about a site that had free mazes that could be downloaded and printed out for children. Since I'm always on the lookout for inspiration, I decided to check these out.

There are a much of different difficulty levels, with each level having a couple of different mazes (all in one PDF file). Depending on how tough you want to be on your players, you could choose from a "Child's Play" or a "Backbreaking maze to adapt for your players. And with a little planning you could modify the maze to include a few encounter areas, or even portals for quick exit, or portals to other mazes... if you really want to drive the players crazy!

Enjoy

Oct 9, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 26) - The Gathering (Part 1)

The Gathering

the gathering part 1As the little narrator box let's us know in the first panel of the first page, the group is in hills near the glass seas. While everyone else sleeps, Riva's dragon, Ktarrah, keeps watch over the group.

It seems Riva is having another nightmare (her last one was all the way back in issue 3), this one about Ktarrah being attacked by a bunch of different dragons.

She wakes up and runs out of her tent to see the dragon screeching and flying away into the night.

The next day the party books passage on Glass Sea boat (the Glass Sea looks like a frozen river, or one made of crystal and the boat is equiped with blades to ride on top). Just before they leave port, Skrum sees a minotaur crewmember and immediately draws a weapon thinking it's a member of League of Minotaurs. Before any fighting starts, Maraghiz tells everyone to stand down; that he senses no evil from the minotaur, and Mezamere the gnome calms down his minotaur friend. One that's sorted out the ship sets sail.

Meanwhile, a group of soldiers from the League, lead by the minotaur Karranus, seize a Glass Sea boat, kill the captain, and order the crew to set off. It seems Karranus is tracking Griffin and Skrum from a lead that the two traitors recently set sail on the Glass Sea.

While on the sea, Riva collapses from another vision of Ktarrh in some kind of danger. She begs the captain to sail faster. At the same time, Karranus, orders his sailors to push faster as well.

Later in Captain Antara's cabin, she and Riva look over a map of the area and plan their route. Riva begins to ask Antara if the glass rider people worship the god Paladine. Before Riva finishes her question there is a call from the deck. When both women make it top side, they see another boat chasing after them.

Taking a chance, Captain Antara orders the ship to sail through a dangerous glass cavern, while the minotaur and his crew portage their ship over the cavern instead of through it. While inside the cavern, Sulai notices strange carvings detailing some sort of gathering place. Before the ship leaves the area, they are attacked by hodge-podge of creatures, including a giant, chimera, and other fantastical beasts. After the crew and party defeat their attackers, they emerge from the cavern into a shardstorm, a howling storm of tiny glass shards, raining down on everyone while the boat Karranus seized is giving close chase.

And if that's not enough, Riva realizes this is the storm she saw Ktarrh in during one of her visions!

Commentary

The first thing I'll mention is that this is the first issue NOT written by Dan Mishkin (not including one of the short stories in issue 21). Instead Charles and Lisa Moore pick up the ongoing threads for the beginning of a new tale. I like that this arc is only planned for two issues, especially in light of how many of the 4-issue arcs seemed to drag in the middle and end so weakly. Hopefully the shorter length will result in a tighter story overall.

For the most part I liked the story, it was definitely fast paced and packed with a lot of things happening in one issue. My biggest problem, and even Skrum acknowledges it, how does Riva know know where to go? I would have liked a scene where a local, or even Antara piece together clues from a vision to determine a location. With that said, I liked Antara and her crew as new characters, and would like to see more of them in further issues beyond this arc.

Incidentally, in the Forgotten Realms comic book that DC put out at the same time, the main characters were all on a boat, and always pulling in to new ports for each story.

As far as the art goes, this is one of my favorite issues, while Riva's color scheme is a little different than usual, it's not to drastic and helps her stand out a bit more. There's a great flow of the panels on the page and plenty of detail on the ship, in the glass cavern, and during the the shardstorm. I also really liked the coloring in the panels with Riva and Antara in the captain's quarters.

Can't wait to see how this ends... next time.

Oct 2, 2009

D&D Podcast

I know I'm late to the game, but I've recently been listening to the D&D Podcast episodes that are recordings of a game Chris Perkins ran for a couple of well known people.

I resisted downloading these episodes as I once tried listening to a podcast of another group's game session. The podcast (that should not be named) was difficult to listen to as there were 8 players, all talking over each other, the sound quality was subpar with plenty of background noise and different volume levels, resulting in a well-intentioned, but unlistenable experience.

I'm glad to say, the D&D podcast is completely the opposite. With only a few players, great audio, and very distinctive voices from Chris and Wil Wheaton (one of the players), this is great to listen to and easy to know who is talking.

If you haven't heard it yet, check on the wizards website. There's two previous games currently available, and they are in the middle of posting parts of the third game session now.

P.S. The regularly scheduled D&D/DC comic review is postponed one week. Unfortunately this was a busy week IRL, but I'll be back next week.

Sep 18, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 25) - The Dragonring Saga

Death in the Burning Sea

dragon ring part 2This issue starts off with each of the party members riding a different dragon, while Riva and Maraghiz lament about how they should have foreseen Erestem's influence on Skrum through the ring.

They then arrive at a location near a lava flow where Skrum commands the dragons to drop off the party members off in a nearby valley. Once Skrum dismounts, all the dragons fly away. He tells everyone that he has brought them here to meet the goddess.

Rising up from the pool, a gigantic lava-form of Erestem appears. She taunts Riva about their previous meeting (in issue #3). Meanwhile, Sulai casts an ice storm spell on Erestem. Skurm laughs at the elf mage's attempt, saying that "a little hail won't extinguish Erestem's flame!"

What Skurm didn't realize was that Sulai's real intention of the spell was not to harm the goddess, but to use the mixture of flame and ice to create enough steam for the party to escape unseen.

Under cover of the fog, the party makes their retreat, soon finding a step path leading them up out of the valley. As they make their way to the top, they are met by Skurm, once again atop a green dragon, and the Dragonring firmly in grasp. While Riva distracts Skrum, Griffin tackles him off the dragon, knocks him out with one punch and tries to pry the ring from his fingers.

Before Griffin can get the ring, General Axantheas shows up atop his red dragon claiming the ring as his, and willing to cut off the gnomes hand to get it (as his own hand had been cut off before).

Then suddenly, out of the sky, Riva's dragon, Ktarrh, arrives (with a saddle and full complement of lances attached) in time to attack the red and send it retreating into the sky. Riva quickly hops onto Ktarrh and gives chance. The general and Riva trade attacks and even Erestem (in her gigantic lava form) rises up to attack the solamnic knight.

Meanwhile, down below, the Maraghiz worked on dispelling the evil hold Erestem had on Skrum, while Griffin grabbed the dragonring from the gnome.

With the ring in hand, Griffin summoned a blue dragon and rode the beast toward General Axantheas, all the while taunting the minotaur. The general threw a spear that ended up knocking Griffin off the blue dragon and falling toward the huge lava pit. Not wanting to lose his ring, Axantheas chased after it.

After Griffin flung the ring away from himself, Axantheas chased after it atop his red dragon. He realized too late that he couldn't get the ring in time. He pleaded to Erestem to let him have the ring back, but the goddess of evil ignored his plea, allowing the red dragon to fly the minotaur general straight into the lava, and certain destruction.

Meanwhile, Riva and Ktarrh rescued Griffin before he too fell into the lava.

Back on land, everyone (including the gnome, Skrum) pledged to band together and turn back the tide of evil that had such a grip on Taladas.

The last caption of the last page ends with: "A new beginning"

Commentary

For the most part I didn't really care for this issue. The opening was weak; how did everyone get on separate dragons, and why do they NOT look like prisoners? I don't really understand the point of the lava flow meeting place... since Erestem is so powerful on this continent, she should be able to appear anywhere (like she does on Ansalon). Also having Ktarrh literally coming out of nowhere, complete with saddle and weapons at the exact moment he's needed just shows the weak structure of this issue. While I did like the way the general was defeated, I didn't like the "Saturday morning cartoon" ending with Skrum being completely cured and ready to join "Team Riva". I would have liked to see some after-effect of being tainted by the ultimate goddess of evil in this world.

Lastly, I didn't like that the evil cabal, seen in the last issue, doesn't make an appearance, leaving me to feel that they will not be seen again and therefore making those pages in the previous issue worthless and disposable.

As for the art, that's a different story. While I still don't like the elves outfits, and Griffin's skin tone keeps shifting from tan to strange-red, there was much more I liked.

The molten lava (aka the Burning Sea) was well drawn, with a dymanic quality that showed it was always bubbling and shifting. I didn't like that the party is just a few feet away and no one is the slightest bit hot from the lava (a little sweat would have worked here). I also liked the fire avatar of Erestem, and the arerial comabat between Riva and Axantheas was well drawn, even more so when Griffin and the blue dragon joined the fight.

Overall this was an uneven end to this arc, something we've seen before too many times. While the last line reads "A new beginning", the storytelling and art seem to indicate that the new beginning will be a whole lot like what came before.

See you in 2 weeks!

Sep 17, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons: The Soda

I've seen plenty of D&D licensed merch, from comics, to toys, to the Saturday morning cartoons, and even an AD&D beach towel (BTW, if you know of anyone selling said beach towel, contact me, I'm desperately looking for one) but this latest announcement from Jones Soda is most unexpected one I could find.

After looking at the drink titles, I started thinking about a second series of bopttles, but all in a Dragonlance theme, like maybe:

  • Draconian Brew
  • Ansalonian Ginger Ale
  • Toade Sweat (sorry, I just saw Tropic Thunder again, and can't get Booty Sweat out of my mind)
  • Fizban's Fruitpunch
  • Solamnic Soda
and of...
  • Raistlin's Tea
Any ones I've missed? Please leave a comment.

Sep 16, 2009

Blackwater Keep: Sleeping on the Job (part 3)

The battle with the jarak-sinn who had confronted the party right after the Harpy attack, didn't last long. While the party defeated most of the attackers, one had managed to get away, escaping deeper into the lair of the jarak-sinn.

Between the two recent fights, everyone was a little bloody and bruised and decided to take refuge in the nearby alcove in the tree-lair, considering it an easily defensible position.

The first few hours were uneventful and the party starting thinking the night might go by without incident, that was not to be... The jarak-sinn, noticing that the most recent patrol hadn't returned and several other tribesmen had gone missing, started to worry about intruders.

DM Note: (Behind the Scenes) Incidentally, the one lizardfolk who had gotten away died before being able to tell the others what exactly had happened, but the dead body was clearly an indication that it wasn't good.
Later that night, Jes and Hunter, while on watch, heard the faint sounds of movement down one of the twisting, turning passages. They waited silently, until the lizardfolk rounded a curve and saw them in the hall. Hunter loosed several arrows while the swampfolk closed in, and Jes was ready to strike the first one he could reach. As the commotion in the hall continued, Theo awoke from all the noise, leaving only Adow asleep.

As Theo joined the battle, another group of jarak-sinn approached from the corridor behind the party. Hunter moved to face these new attackers unleashing arrows, followed up with a bit of magic to try to entangle the lizardfolk in the various branches and roots that line the walls of their lair.

Soon many of the jarak-sinn had fallen under the party's attacks, leaving only one of the larger attackers still standing. It quickly rushed into the safehold the party had been resting in, and with sharp claws poised above the neck of the sleeping mage, threatened in crude common, "you move [and] he dies!"

Sep 11, 2009

DM Tools: Inspiration

In previous posts, I've mentioned some of the tools I use as a DM (Post-it Notes, and Heromachine), but one of the fundamental tools is inspiration, or more importantly, where to get inspiration.

Madonna once sang that "you can dance for inspiration", though anyone seeing me dance might only be inspired to think "that poor man is having a seizure... right there on the dance floor!" So, other than Madge's advice, where do I find inspiration as a DM? A lot of different sources, actually, and hopefully a few you haven't thought of yourself.

I think anything can be a source of inspiration, from an automobile, to a sudoku puzzle, and for everything from a character name (Katera-- as in Cadillac Catera), to a method of random dungeon generation. The real trick for the DM is keeping their DM hat on (in the background) as they go about daily life. Here are some of the sources that routinely inspire me.

  • By far and wide the best resource I've found is the History Channel (and History International). Many of the programs can provide any number of adventure ideas. Programs looking at Nostradamus or Edgar Cayce can provide details and backstory for a villain, sage, or PC. Programs on Pirates or Sailors/Explorers can help flesh out a module or campaign, and shows like Secret Passage can provide details on dungeon passages.
  • Music isn't as obvious a source for inspiration, but listen to the lyrics of a song like "Wrapped Around Your Finger" by The Police... that's the beginning of a module in under 6 minutes!
  • Another source is in great literature... I've created modules based on "Romeo and Juliet", and "Othello". Even Dungeon magazine did modules around "MacBeth" and "The Tempest" (I think).
  • Lastly, keep your eye out for strange or interesting news... The following are two news items I read (one over a year ago). Each inspired me to want to use elements or details in my own campaign.
If you have a unique or unusual source for inspiration, please leave a comment...

Sep 4, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 24) - Dragonring!

Ring of Evil

dragon ring part 1This issue starts out with General Axantheas holding a meeting. Around the table are humanoids of different races and genders (including a traag draconian and a hobgoblin). Behind the general is a statue of Erestem (aka Takhisis). The mintour proclaims this small group to be the greatest champions of evil on Taladas, each representing one of the Erestem's five heads.

There is infighting within the group, and Axantheas even kills one of the other "heads", believing him to be a spy for the rival nation of Thenol.

Elsewhere, Riva starts the morning in prayer to Paladine. Afterward the rest of the party convince her that the best way to stop the general and Esterem, is to reveal their plot to the emperor of the League of Minotaurs.

Later they unleash an attack on the emperor's entourage in an attempt to get a private audience with the leader. After fighting the emperor's minions, he steps out of his carriage in full battle gear. As he listens to the party, he laughs off their warning; the emperor is fully aware of who is plotting against him and is not worried about the general or the goddess Erestem.

After the brief parley, minotaur archers surround the party. Just then Skrum uses the dragonring in a last-chance effort to summon dragons to aid them.

Dragons of various colors (though all evil) arrive and begin attacking the minotaurs. Since they failed to get the emperor to confront General Axantheas, Griffin recommends now using the dragons to destroy the emperor. While Riva and the rest of the group debate the change in objective, Skrum declares that he's now in charge, wielding the dragonring in the name of Erestem.

Commentary

Overall I liked this issue. I thought it was well paced, with great art and plenty of action.

I would have liked to see the secret cabal meeting in the beginning of the issue take more focus this issue. Setting up this secret organization allows for plenty of story ideas. Likewise, I would have liked to set the man from Thenol live longer than just one line before he's killed. There could be a whole subplot around this character and if he is in fact betraying the other members. Hopefully we'll see stories concerting the others in future issues.

Art-wise Ron Randall did a great job. His dragons have plenty of detail (if still uni-colored) and he does a great job of setting up pages and panels with the huge beasts in unique posses.

On of the interesting things I've noticed over the run of this book is just how hard it is to fit dragons and humans in the same panel. In many cases, he uses splash pages or spreads to get both "in frame" with plenty of detail on lumbering beasts as well as detail on the humanoids around them. Great job overall!

I'm not sure why they changed the name from Landfall to Dragonring, as I see this directly related to those issues. Maybe this marks the end of the anthology format of the book and all future issues will be set with these characters an in this location. While I still cringe at the outfits the tiger elves wear, I do like the idea of a consistent group of characters in an ongoing story (like how I run my D&D games).

Hopefully the next issue will be just as good as this one.

One last note... issue 24 marks the end of the second year for this comic, and while overall, the best I can say about the issues is they are "uneven", hopefully some of these changes will result in an overall better book. We shall see...

Sep 2, 2009

When D&D Meets Matel Electronics

If you are like me, and were born in the late sixties or seventies, you probably grew up with one or more of those fabulously simple Mattel hand held games that were nothing more than red blips on a screen (I'll spare everyone my curmudgeonly sounding argument about how we were so imaginative that even red blips could keep us entertained for hours back then while kids today blah, blah, blah).

If you've never seen these before check this YouTube playlist of these games "in action". As you'll see there were versions for baseball, football, basketball, and a whole bunch of others.

ANYWAY... somewhere around that time, Mattel and TSR (before they got bought out by WotC, before WotC got bought out by Hasbro) got together and must have thought that red blips were too much for the D&D community, and came up with a 2 player game featuring only four miniatures--a single treasure chest, one figure for each player and one for the puniest looking dragons, I've ever seen--until that D&D mini for the blue dragon wyrmling came out, not to mention... I'll stop ranting now, just check out this commercial and ask yourself, would you play this game?



One last thing... why do these commercials always have creepy adults in them (like the DM in this commercial I previously posted).

Aug 26, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Flashback 2... James Dallas Egbert III

As I mentioned in a previous post, once upon a time there was a lot of controversy surrounding Dungeons and Dragons. James Dallas Egbert III was at the center of one such story about a young, brilliant teen lost in steam tunnels during a "real life" game of D&D (and yes, this was the inspiration for the novel and movie "Mazes and Monsters").

While I was a young boy at the time, I have no memories of when the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III happened. Years later, before I started playing D&D, I read The Dungeon Master, a book about the incident from the private detective the family hired to investigate James' disappearance.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of his disappearance. For the full story, check out this link from GeekSix.com

Aug 25, 2009

Blackwater Keep: Lair of the Jarak-Sinn (part 2)

After leaving Blackwater Keep, the party journeyed into the Blackwater Swamp in search of Marzena and the soldiers kidnapped earlier by the jarak-sinn.


In the swamp, the trails were hard to follow, but Hunter found enough tracks to keep the party moving in the general direction. The party sloshed through dirty water and damp high-ground for most of the day. As they looked for a camping location for the night, they came upon a stream. At first glance it appeared to be a safe place for rest and get fresh water, but looking around they noticed a bunch of small woodland creatures, all petrified into stone; they promptly found another place to camp.

The night was damp, and as darkness descended, all manner of strange noise rose from the swamplands. Luckily for them, noise was the only thing they had to contend with. The next morning, the group continued their journey into the forest and arrived at the site of a huge cluster of inter-grown mangaroo trees by mid-day (the cluster of roots and branches were a few hundred feet in diameter). In order to avoid a lantern or other light source, Hunter started to scout down the central hallway. After making it about 40-50 feet inside, Hunter heard the sounds of several creatures moving in his direction. He beat a hasty retreat and the party outside, on alert the whole time he was scouting was prepared to attack what ever emerged from the tree.

A few moments later a patrol of jarak-sinn emerged from their lair. The party waited just long enough for the lizardfolk move further into the swamp before unleashing their attack. With a well planned strike the patrol was defeated in short order and before any of the jarak-sinn could get word back to their lair.

After hiding the bodies, the party re-entered the tree-lair. At a cross way in the tree, there was a small alcove ahead and paths at each side. Inside the alcove was a small clay pot adorned with symbols that Adow believed were to whatever god or spirit the jarak-sinn worshipped. Inside the pot were a few spears and clubs, all with similar decoration and the same symbols as the clay pot.

As the party explored down one of the pathways, they entered a large room with a dome ceiling. On various perches around the room were several hideous looking half-bird half-woman creatures. A pair of them immediately began crooning. Something about the tone or melody transfixed Hunter, Theo, Jes.

harpyAdow recognized these creatures as harpies. In an attempt to stop the song that was fascinating his friends, Adow unleashed missiles of magical energy on one of the singing creatures. Meanwhile, the last harpy flew in close to rake the mage with her sharp claws. Ignoring the pain caused by the one harpy, Adow continued casting spells on the singing harpy, until that creature was too hurt to continue. After it stopped singing, Hunter and Theo snapped out of the enchantment and began attacking the other harpies in the room.

Hunter used his bow to eliminate one of the harpies in mid flight, while Adow and Theo concentrated on the one still enchanting Jes. Moments later, all the harpy bodies laid scattered around their aerie.

After the battle, Jes noticed a shinny bauble weaved into the structure of the aerie. Climbing up to take a closer look, he found it be a very expensive looking necklace. Meanwhile, down the hall, the party heard the sound of footsteps, the sound getting louder as something (or several somethings) made their way closer and closer...

Aug 21, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 23) - Landfall! Continues

Winging it!

landfall part 2This issue starts off with Riva, Griffin, and Skrum arriving as prisoners in Kristophan, the capital city of the League of Minotaurs. On the outskirts of the city, Tyche, one of the minotaur soldiers loyal to the traitorous General Axantheas, kills a human soldier to frame the prisoners who Tyche intends to kill as "they were trying to escape".

Riva reaches for the dead solders polearm and uses it to knock Tyche to the ground and allowing them to make a real escape. As they run down streets and through buildings, Skrum reveals that he still has the real dragonring, and what he had previously handed over to the soldiers was an old bracelet he had.

Skrum uses the ring to summon a dragon. Unknown to Skrum, a red dragon appears attacking the chasing soldiers and allowing the three to escape. At first Riva hesitates, not wanting to ally herself with such an evil creature until league soldiers are right on her.

As soon as the dragon takes flight, Riva forces Skrum to land and send the dragon on it's own.

Elsewhere, a cleric of Erestem (as Takhisis is known on Taladas) sees the flying beast and takes it as an omen that Erestem still favors General Axantheas (a fact that the general never doubted anyway).

Meanwhile, Griffin wonders if the power of the dragonring is too much for anyone to wield, a fact Riva agrees with. As the three make their way though quite streets and back alleys, they are accosted by an elf maid clad in tiger skins. At first the elf uses a fiery illusion to disarm Griffin, but as Riva sees through the trick and begins to attack, the elf calls on the help of her brother, Maraghiz.

The elf male emerges from the shadows of the nearby alley, revealing to all that he is blind. This infirmary is no hindrance, as Maraghiz promptly summons insects to keep the party at bay. He announces that there should be no fight, as everyone is on the same side.

The party stops and is prepared to listen to the two elves. They reveal that they were sent to find the paladin (Riva) by the Tiger Quoyai, the totem spirit of their clan.

Maraghiz tells the tale of how he received visions of from the Tiger Quoyai, while the current clan shaman did not. The clan shaman had Maraghiz blinded for these visions and exiled him and Sulai, his sister from the clan. As they journeyed the land, the spirit guided them to Kristophan to find Riva and charging them with nurturing and defending good from the evil that had so gripped Taladas.

Just then a group of red dragons fly over the city, promising more trouble for this party.

Oh, the last page of the comic actually features a letters page. I can't recall the last time this comic did one. Usually they appeared letter's page every month, not just when the comic had a random page to fill.

Commentary

Overall I found the issue to be inconsistent in both the writing and art. On the writing side, I thought the plot was a little too thin. Basically all that really happens is the group escapes and meets two elves. There's a few more little details, like Skrum's possessiveness of the dragonring and the elves charge to find and aid Riva, but that's it. With a plot that thin, I would have liked to see more character development, especially around the new characters of Griffin and Skrum. Also, any fans of the original Dragonlance trilogy should recognize the backstory of the tiger clan elves as a swipe on Goldmoon and Riverwind.

Art-wise things are a bit better. I liked the splash page featuring the city of Kristophan and Ron Randall's dragons are very well done (in all the issues he worked on). I liked the background detail in the city, it helped make the settling seem live and bustling, while the league soldiers' uniforms are consistent with what was established in the Taladas roleplaying game.

Now for a couple of things I didn't like with the art. First, Griffin's skin tone changes from page to page, from a very light brown (as though he's well tanned from all this traveling as a soldier) to a dark pink color. Pick a skin tone Randy Elliott, and stick with it. Similarly, a red dragon shouldn't be an ALL red dragon. The claws and horns can be a different colors (I've seen Dragonlance art depict the claws and horns off-white or black).

Lastly, and most importantly, are the depictions of tiger clan elves. Their outfits are so ridiculous. They should be similar pieced together bits of animal hide (tiger in this case), but they look like something right out of a Victoria Secret catalog. Sulai, the female elf is basically wearing the cloth equivalent of the "chainmail bikini" along with a half jacket and cape. Everything is orange and stripes and edged in white fur. And Maraghiz, her elf brother, doesn't fair too much better. And the worst part is during the flashback sequence with the other Tiger Clan elves, Sulai and Maraghiz are the only ones wearing such silly outfits.

Hopefully the next issue will have more plot, and maybe even a way to get the two elves out of their goofy looking outfits.

Aug 19, 2009

The Guild: The Music Video: "Do You Want to Date My Avatar"

I know I talked about The Guild a long time ago. In short, it's one of the funniest web shows out there featuring a bunch of W0W-like players playing their game and also some of their real life exploits. I highly recommend you go watch the first season while the new second season episodes are starting to appear on YouTube.

Along with the new episodes, The Guild also released a song and music video. The song is called "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar" and video is equally funny. Check it out here and then go over to iTunes or Amazon and buy the song and/or video. Proceeds will help finance the third season.

Aug 17, 2009

GenCon: After the Fact

Ok, so GenCon 09 has come and gone, and once again I wasn't there (boo). My last convention was the year 3.0 came out, back when the convention was in Milwaukee, and the Safe House was still a restaurant to visit at least once during the trip.

I've been following blog posts and tweets from various people and once again, it sounds like everyone had a good time this year (PS, if you're at a game convention and don't have a good time, you may want to rethink your choice of hobbies).

By far the largest amount of posts were the various product announcements from WotC. Everyone went into the convention wanting to know what the new setting for 2010 would be, since no previous WotC communication went beyond announcing Forgotten Realms (2008) and Eberron (2009). Even though I am an ardent fan of the Dragonlance setting, I felt it was too soon to update that setting to 4e (and since the 3.5 update was handled by a 3rd party, Margaret Weis Productions, WotC doesn't see big revenue from Dragonlance as a roleplaying setting). So it was no surprise for me when it turned out that DarkSun is the next campaign setting.

DarkSun never really received a 3.0 or 3.5 update (except for a few articles in Dragon and Dungeon magazines), was always a fan-favorite setting, and is very different from Forgotten Realms and Eberron (good for keeping cannibalization down between settings).

Other interesting announcements from WotC at the con:

  • Castle Ravenloft - the boardgame. I'm surprised to see one of the best D&D modules of all time be reduced to a board game, but I'll be interested to see how it turns out. Certainly the fortune telling aspect will be kept (or classic D&D gamers will take up their own pitchforks and torches and storm the WotC castle at next year's GenCon)
  • Racial Splat Books. Thirty-two page books focusing on a particular race. If priced correctly, these might be interesting.
  • Focused Locations. The 32 page books format is not just for players. DMs will get the same treatment for encounter locations, hopefully fleshed out enough for long-term roleplaying (such as a base of operations) or for a quick crawl. Along with a fold out map, I'll certainly check these out too.
Lastly, there have been some chatter about the D&D giveaways, especially the backpack that they gave out for folks who signed up for DDI at the con. I'm sure you'll be seeing those on Ebay soon enough.

Hopefully next year I'll be on site for the announcements, games, and other activities, and I hope you'll be there too!

If you went to the con or read about it online like I did, what did you find most interesting? Leave a comment.

Aug 12, 2009

Advertising D&D

If you're TSR/WotC/Hasbro, how would you advertise your game to the world?

Well, apparently back in the day, all you needed was a little commercial like this...



For better quality, click this link to this version the commercial.

PS. And we wonder where the D&D/geek stereotype started? I'm sure it wasn't this commercial, but it certainly didn't help

Aug 6, 2009

When D&D and LEGO Meet

As you can tell from a previous post showing off my LEGO centaur, I'm as much a fan of LEGO bricks as I am of D&D.

There are many ways to use LEGO in your Dungeons and Dragons game. And thanks to a number of LEGO sites for AFOLs (Adult Fans Of LEGO, hey, they have their own lingo too!), it's not hard to find great ideas and get the pieces you need in an easy, cost effective manner.

The top LEGO site out there is LUGNET.com. This site has an extensive forum broken down by theme (Pirates, Castle, Vikings, and many other) and topics. This can be a great site for getting advice on building large or small projects and seeing pictures of fan creations, (also known as MOCs or My Own Creations).

Another great site is Brickshelf. This is kind of like Flickr for the LEGO crowd. Here you can find a massive amount of images featuring large and small projects on any subject AFOLs can think of, from Lord of the Rings custom figures and dioramas to actual wedding cake toppers made out of the little bricks. This is a great site for inspiration. As I mentioned in my post on the centaur, some of the design came form other sources... those sources were primarily other images from Brickshelf.

The last important site to mention is Bricklink (since LEGO is a trademark the company strictly enforces, "Brick" has come to be the common synonym for LEGO bricks). Bricklink is a collection of various aftermarket resellers of LEGO throughout the world. You can search for individual pieces or complete sets. Do you want the LEGO whip piece that was created for the Indiana Jones sets? There are currently 283 different stores selling it. Are you looking for the Train Rescue set from the Spider-Man 2 set? There are currently 8 stores selling this.

The way I incorporate LEGO into my game is to add a few pieces of "set decoration". For a forest combat, maybe I'll use some tree trunks and trees along with a few rocks to give the terrain map some dimension.

For a dungeon, I can add treasure chests, individual weapons, coins, more coins, or even a few strange items (and tell me if this piece doesn't scream Hand of Vecna?)

Lastly, while you can't find every D&D creature, you can find a lot of "critters" like spiders, rats, bats, birds, and scorpions and even a few more iconic creatures like dwarves, orcs, dragons, other dragons, and even a pretty good looking earth elemental.

With a little planning and a few dollars, you can start to build up a collection of LEGO pieces that can add more visual flair to you games in many ways.

If you currently use LEGO in your games, let us know what you're using.

Aug 3, 2009

D&D Advice from the Pros

One of the best article series in the old (print) edition of Dungeon magazine was the Dugeoncraft articles. At various times, different professionals in the RPG industry (including Monte Cook) wrote the column. While I haven't found many of these articles online, it seems all of Ray Winninger's columns have been collected.

The series starts asking the most basic question "Should I be a DM?" and then going into all the details that anyone answering "Yes" to that first question should consider.

Click here for the full list of articles: http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/dnd/dungeoncraft/
Or click here for the zip file of all the articles: http://dnd.castellan.net/random_adventure/dungeoncraft.zip

Jul 31, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 22) - Landfall

Landfall

Landfall part 1 The issue starts with Riva and Fizban on a boat out in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of a storm. It seems Riva is on this boat as part of a mission from the knighthood for her to prove her obedience to the order. Fizban also has a mission for Riva, instructing her to bring her love of goodness, justice, and mercy to the continent of Taladas, a continent of Krynn that hasn't known those virtues for centuries.

Before her boat crashes into the rocky shoreline, Fizban teleports the warrior and her magical dragonlance onto the dry plains of this new land. Nearby, Riva sees two people on horseback (a man and gnome) being chased by a huge group of warriors. The two are so desperate to evade the chasing legion, they push their horses to leap over a huge chasm.

On the other side of the chasm, they are confronted by a one-handed minotaur named Axantheas riding atop a blue dragon. The minotaur focuses on trying to kill Griffin, the human warrior, while Skrum rides his horse into the nearby forest for cover.

Axantheas, believing the gnome is in possession of a special ring, has his blue dragon unleash lighting strikes in an attempt to burn the forest down. Skrum is able to ride out of the forest and rejoin Griffin. As the two ride away, the blue dragon gives chase, mere feet away from snatching the riders off their horses.

From a high outcrop, Riva jumps onto the beast, plunging her dragonlance into the dragon's hide. As the dragon twists around, Riva falls to the ground and immediately takes a position ready to spear the creature again if it gets close enough.

As the dragon dives toward the young woman, Griffin snatches her up onto the back of his horse and rides toward the dragon. Riva, now standing on the back of Griffin's horse, stabs the blue dragon in it's exposed underbelly. The attack causes her dragonlance to break and sends the dying creature down a deep canyon. As it falls, the minotaur is able to safely leap off the steed.

As they ride away from the area, introductions are made, and Griffin mentions that he and Skrum are soldiers of "The League of Minotaurs" (a name Riva is not familiar with). Finding a quite cave nearby, the three stop for a rest. Griffin learned that the general had made a deal with the Erestem, the Queen of Darkness (another name Riva doesn't know) against the Emperor of the League. Fearing for their own lives in such a civil war, Griffin and Skrum stole the dragon ring from the general, by cutting off his hand, and were trying to inform the emperor of his general's treachery.

Overhead, the sound of horses indicates that the soldiers are still searching for Griffin and Skrum and riding away from their current spot. As the three head out of the cave, they are surrounded by a group of soldiers, the ones they heard overhead in the cave were securing the other exit from the caves.

Surrounded by human and minotaur soldiers, Griffin decides to surrender. While they will be executed for treason, that will be done before the Emperor of the League, the one person capable of helping them.

Commentary

Before I start my review, let's have a little history lesson. Late 1989, TSR decided rather than continue to develop the existing Dragonlance setting (the continent of Ansalon) for the Dungeons and Dragons game, instead to launch a new setting, Taladas. Taladas was set in the same world, but on a totally different continent.
Trivia: For almost 15 years these comics would be the only fiction set on this new continent until 2005 when Chris Pierson wrote Blades of the Tiger, the first book in the "Taladas Trilogy".
When the story first appeared, I was disappointed, as I would rather read more stories set on Ansalon than a new land that I didn't care as much about.

But putting that aside, this was a great first issue. The artwork was great, with plenty of detail on the dragon and the minotaurs and the action scenes, especially Riva and Fizban on the boat, and Riva fighting the blue dragon were exciting and well paced.

One thing I didn't like was the slight changes to Riva's appearance. In this issue she appears more muscular for one, but worst of all, her facial expressions seem more intense, more angry, even when they shouldn't be.

Overall, I'm really looking forward to the next part of the story, and maybe a return of the "softer, gentler" Riva we've seen in the other stories.

Jul 30, 2009

Not Quite 101 Uses for A Petrified PC

As Qualar wandered the dank dungeon alone, he could almost hear the call of the ancient magical treasures surely contained within. He skulked along the walls like a rat, peeking into the room with caution. But the pull, the promise of great power was too much. He entered. . . and came face to face with a basilisk.

Several hours later when the party found him (for Qualar wasn't going anywhere now) they began to wonder what they would do with a petrified party member.

A long (long) time ago, I started working on an article based on a real-game event (real-life sounds strange when talking about imaginary characters). I wanted to come up with 101 uses for the PC after he was petrified, but ended up falling short.

  1. Use him as the figurehead of a boat
  2. Use him as a decoy
  3. Use him as a pole to hold up a tent
  4. Use a reduce spell to turn him into a finely detailed figurine
  5. Use a reduce spell to turn him into a bullet for a sling/staff sling
  6. Shatter him into pieces (and thereby destroying any chance of returning him to normal) for a bunch of bullets for a sling/staff sling
  7. Use him in a catapult (again, the chances of returning him to normal after this are slim)
  8. Tie a rope or chain to him and use as a boat anchor
  9. Display as art
  10. As a person always willing to listen to your problems, and never trying to get a word in edgewise
  11. If the character was good enough to get petrified while holding a sword, he or she can be used for dueling/fencing practice
  12. Use as cover from ranged attacks
  13. Use as a clothing/armor mannequin
  14. As a conversation piece ("Did I ever tell you the story of how he got this way?")
  15. As the perfect painters model ("Now just hold that pose!")
  16. As a scarecrow
  17. For display in a rock garden, especially appropriate if he was a gnome
  18. Grind him into a fine powder; the dust can be thrown in opponents eyes
  19. As a perch for birds
  20. With a stone shape spell, he can become the cornerstone of a new building, hopefully dedicated in his honor
  21. With a permanent levitate spell and a piece of string, he can be a balloon
  22. Hollow out the insides to create a secret hiding place
  23. ...and if filled with candy and toys, a pinata!
  24. Paint him pink and use him as a cheesy lawn ornament.
  25. Wrap him in fur and let the ranger's pet use as a scratching post
  26. Shrink and use as a bracelet charm
  27. or an earring
  28. or as a door knocker
  29. or a necklace
  30. or a Christmas tree or other festive ornament
  31. or as a chess piece (Khas if you're a Dragonlance fan)
  32. or use in a role playing game (he could be his own mini!)
  33. To prove the theory of gravity (the larger broken pieces could be used again and again to verify this theory)
  34. With a permanent stone shape spell, he can be play-do
  35. Use as a battering ram
  36. Use as a very large candle holder
  37. Use as a paper weight
  38. Properly modified, he could be a bobbing head ornament
  39. Shrink and place into a glass bowl filled with water and silver shavings to make a "snow globe"
  40. Use as a door stop
  41. Use as a barricade
  42. Use as a coat and hat rack
  43. Use as a giant sharpening stone
  44. Use as a coat and hat rack
  45. Use as a weapon (club or sap)
  46. Use as a lasso practice target
  47. Use as a permanent torch with a Continual Flame spell
  48. Reduce, hollow out and add holes in his head to create a salt or pepper shaker
  49. Lean on it's side, a bench
  50. Use as a warning alarm with a Magic Mouth spell
  51. As the recipient of a Stone to Flesh spell, but who'd wanna do a thing like that!
So here's my list... if you have any suggestions, add a comment and maybe together we can finally finish this list...

Jul 27, 2009

DM Tools - Post-It Notes and Note Cards

As someone who runs a lot of pre-made modules, some of my best DM tools are Post-it Notes and Note Cards.

The best things about the Post-It notes "stickies" are that they come is all different shapes and sizes. They also come in all different colors, but I'm too lazy to come up with any kind of color-code system. In the modules I'm running, I use the small stickies to remind me of key information I might need during a session. If a certain piece of terrain has a unique effect or associated DC to cross, I'll write up a small note with the DC and/or effect. This makes it a lot easier than having the re-read a paragraph in the middle of the game to get all the details (monsters and traps are usually easy to find in a glance, but sometimes even these too need a little reminder).

Larger notes can be for listing out a creature or NPC battle plan (round one: fireball. round two: silence on the mage, etc), or I'll rewrite the "read aloud" text. I may need to change something for my specific campaign setting or campaign idea, but just as much I rewrite text so that it sounds more natural to me.

Also, I sometimes use the really large stickies to block out large sections of the module. In a recent module, I did a lot of changing around for various reasons, and dropped a number of the original encounters. When I did that, I just covered up the encounter number so I wouldn't get distracted during the session.

My other favorite DM tool for prepping a module is note cards, but not just any note card. A little while ago I stumbled on 4x6 index cards at my local Staples with a grid on the front instead of lines. These cards are a great size for drawing an encounter area (room, crossroad, campfire) and listing key info like location of monsters, traps, treasure, and even monster hps if there's room. Additionally, I can attach a sticky with the "read aloud" text (as I talked about above) to start off the encounter and run combat right off the card.

For me, when I run my own adventures, I don't need as many reminders since all the ins and outs of the module are in my head (and the paper is just an outline of locations and events), but when I'm running pre-made adventures, my stickies and note cards are invaluable tools for helping me make the module mine.

If you have other "tricks" or tools to running your games, please leave a comment, I'm always looking for new ideas.

Jul 21, 2009

Celebrity Dungeons and Dragons

You ever wonder what would happen if Celebrity Poker and Dungeons and Dragons ran into each other like an early 80's commercial for Reece cups?

Luckily you don't have to wonder any more. Here's on idea of how a celebrity session might play out:



and for some color commentary on the game session:

Jul 17, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 21) - A Special Issue

A Special IssueThis issue contains two stories, one featuring Myrella and the other with Riva Silvercrown. Sadly, the two tales are separate, so Riva and Myrella never actually meet.

The Sorceress' Apprentice

This short tale is any early adventure of Myrella before her first appearance in issue 5. The would-be mage is in a forest with another mage, Jenque, planning to assault the nearby castle of Borgys, who is also a mage. It seems that Borgys is in possession of the staff of Ethys, and plans to use the magic item to raise an army of undead and conquer the local province. Jenque can't enter the castle as the old mage has cast a protection spell around his stronghold.

Jenque asks Myrella to sneak in and destroy the amulet Borgys wears. The amulet is a component of the protection spell that keeps her at bay. Myrella is at first nervous, but knows she needs to prove herself if she wants Jenque to accept her as an apprentice.

With only a few basic spells, Myrella enters the castle. Coming across a pair of guards, her sleep spell renders them unconscious quickly. Delighted at the magic running through her, she casts another spell to blast through the door to Borgys' chamber. In the confusion, Myrella races in and seizes the amulet before the old man can put up a defense. Borgys cries out as Myrella crushes the device, ending the protection spell around the castle.

As the smoke and dust clear, Myrella notices a dead woman on a stone altar. The corpse wears a wedding ring; one that matches the ring Borgys wears on his own hand.

Just then, Jenque grabs the staff and with her own magical abilities, kills Borgys. In horror over her part in this, Myrella runs out of the castle. Moments later Jenque appears. As Myrella cowers in fear, anticipating her own impending death, Jenque begins to explain.

Borgys' control of the staff had already driven him insane and his plan to bring the dead woman back to life would create an unnatural bridge between the realms of death and live; Borgys could be allowed to complete his plan. As Jenque walks away into the night, she reveals that Borgys was her father.

To Sail on Sunbeams

This story focuses on an early adventure of Riva Silvercrown. It starts off with a bronze dragon bringing food back to a nest of wyrmlings. Meanwhile Riva is climbing up the huge mountain toward the nest in response to a dare from her friend Brak to grab a piece of one of the dragon eggs.

As she loses her grip and starts falling, she is grabbed by the adult bronze dragon, who promptly plops the young girl in the middle of the nest. The bedding of the nest gives way and Riva falls into a dark cavern surrounded by the dragon's treasure. When the huge dragon takes flight, a few of the wyrmlings also fall into the cavern.

In the cavern, a group of gnomes arrive from a connecting tunnel. They see the wyrmlings as potential hostages and a way to insure that the adult dragon won't stop them as the gnomes loot all the treasures here.

When the parent dragon returns, the leader of the gnomes grabs a wyrmling and holds it at knife point. He demands that the dragon hand over a Dragon Orb, an item that the bronze doesn't have. Riva claims to have found it in one of the treasure piles, but this is a ruse to distract the gnomes for a moment while she attacks and ultimately chases them away. Her bravery and selflessness earns her the gratitude of the parent dragon.

Several days later, Riva watches in delight and amazement from a nearby ledge as the wyrmlings are learning to fly. The stone gives way under her, and she starts to fall. Moments later one of the wyrmlings rescues her.

After the bronze dragons take Riva home, she is given a special amulet. It will identify her to other bronze dragons as someone worthy of being a dragon's familiar. Also it will also make her forget this experience.

While the dragons fly away, Riva clutches the amulet in her hand, proclaiming this to be a greater treasure than any piece of dragon egg.

Commentary

The art for The Sorceress' Apprentice was really well done for the most part. Myrella looked like a teenage girl, Borgys had the look of a crazy old man, fitting based on Jenque's story. Jenque herself had a very sexualized look, more like a temptress than a mage. Also the castle had a great attention to detail and the scene of the exploding the chamber door, followed by the smoke filled room helped capture the swiftness of that action.

A few of the things I didn't like, art wise, where that neither of the mages wore any kind of colored robe. Most mages wear colors in line with the order of magic they belong to. Borgys should have had a black robe, while Jenque is probably a red robe. Based on the twisty ending, I understand hiding her magical allegiance as she appears evil for a while till she explains her side of the story.

As for the plot, I liked the pacing and overall theme. In only ten pages, this tale turns out to be more compelling than some of the previous arcs that used up eight times as many pages.

With regard to the Riva story, as a generic fantasy tale, it's ok. As a dragonlance tale, it's downright awful. Clearly this author (each story was written by a different person) has little to no familiarity with the dragonlance setting, and no understanding of what the world was like before the War of the Lance, when this story had to have taken place (as Riva is grown up in issue 1, which takes place at the beginning of the war).

For instance, before the War of the Lance, dragons, especially bronze dragons, were not on the continent, and had been unseen for so long that most people thought they were a myth. Certainly Riva and Brak shouldn't have known were one was nesting.

Additionally, the gnomes do not behave like dragonlance gnomes, being more obsessed with money and magic, than technology. Likewise, the gnomes names and speech patterns don't match krynnish custom. Lastly, one gnome even refers to his "Uncle Trapspringer", a mythic kender, NOT gnome.

It's a shame the story is so flawed, because the artwork is fantastic. Riva is drawn to look like a young teenager, with an outfit close to what she wears in the first story arc. The art has great scene detail, from the various scattered items in the treasure cavern, to all the details on the mountains in the range. Likewise her facial expressions are detailed and very expressive.

Here's to hoping that next issue isn't so uneven as this "special issue" turned out to be.

Jul 16, 2009

Real Life People Need Help Too

One of the things I love most about D&D has nothing to do with character classes, or magic items, or any of that. What I love most about the game is that at it's core, it's a cooperative experience. The players and DM work together to tell a story, one that neither one could have told on their own, but one that exists only through the collaboration of all the people involved.

In real life this occasionally happens too; a chance or an opportunity to collaborate on the larger story of life. Sadly this tale starts with a man hoping for a little assistance, help from a group of virtual strangers and willing to offer a reward for their generosity and compassion.

In this case it's a story all too common these days. Without medical insurance and in need of cancer treatment for his wife, the bills have added up to an epic level. And now he seeks our help.

Please read his story in his words: http://tinyurl.com/n94phr

Now is the time for all of us to put down our pencils, and set aside our dice. Now is the time for us to show our real character, our true class, and help in any way we can. If you can make a donation, great. If not, you can still spread the word on YOUR blog, YOUR Twitter network, or YOUR Facebook page.

One of the truisms of D&D is that when different peoples all come together for a single cause, they can overcome great obstacles, and triumph over evil. And while the world doesn't always work that way, it doesn't mean we should stop trying.

Jul 13, 2009

D&D Fan? Wear It Proudly

If you're a Dungeons and Dragons fan, you probably talk the talk. Well, now it's time to walk the walk.

I'm sure you have some collection of game related t-shirts in your closet or drawer. I personally have the Choose Your Weapon tee along with at least one TSR tee adapted from a classic module cover. But now it's time for the latest in gamer clothing... your footwear.

Seems there's a contest going on right now to design a D&D sneaker. Top prize includes $1000. For more on the contest and a gallery of current submission, check out the RYZ site.

Jul 10, 2009

The Draconians are Coming, The Draconians are Coming

Pictures of the miniatures in the next D&D set, Legendary Evils, confirm that two creatures exclusively from the Dragonlance setting will be included. This new set will feature minis for both the Aurak and Sivak types of draconians.

Previously, the Dragoneye set included minis for the Baaz and Kapak draconians. Now all I need is for them to create a Bozak figure to round out the set. Interestingly the Baaz and Kapak are the two weakest and the Aurak and Sivak are the two strongest, leaving the Bozak to suffer middle-child syndrome.

Another exciting bit of news about draconians is that one of the new source books will include 4e stats for these creatures. I haven't heard yet if the book will also include rules to play Baaz and Kapak, like the 3.5 edition of Dragonlance did.

All of these little bits are leading some to think that Dragonlance will be the new 4e setting for 2010 (last year was Forgotten Realms, this year is Eberron). While I hope it is Dragonlance, I wouldn't be surprised if Dark Sun was the next setting, since it never got a real 3.0 or 3.5 update, except for a few articles in Dungeon/Dragon.

Jul 8, 2009

Blackwater Keep: Barbarians at the Gate (part 1)

After using the Gem of Amara to shatter the bones of the Black Scourge and disperse his ghostly form, the party spent some time with Greybear and the local druid circle resting and healing from their adventure.

After a few days, they bid farewell to their druid friends and journeyed back to Dun Eamon for training and to seek out Elinda Bannon's aid. The mage in residence for the town had helped the party in the past, and hopefully she could shed light on how to deal with the dragon's bone shrapnel still embedded in their bodies. While it didn't hurt, everyone, except for Jesriel, felt a slight sensation where the fragment was.

By the time they returned to Dun Eamon, they found that Elinda was out of town for the next few weeks. The party used that time to get supplies and train in their various skills. At the same time, Adow was summoned by the Wizards of High Sorcery to take his Test, the results of which were sometimes fatal.

When Elinda returned, Hunter, Theo and Jesriel went to see her. After explaining their story, she realized that the only person in the area that might have an answer is Marzena, a mage and friend of Elinda's that specializes in dragon lore. Marzena was currently at Blackwater Keep, providing magical assistance to the guards in the keep and researching the rumor of a black dragon in the swamp. The party planned to head for the outpost once Adow returned.

When Adow returned, the party was shocked to see the changes the Test had wrought on the young man. Clad now in the white robes of good, Adow had apparently suffered greatly in his test. A large scare covered one side of his face, with some of his hair gone from the burn. In place of one of his eyes a large gem glittered as it moved within the socket.

Adow claimed to have little memory of what happened during this test, and could not explain how he survived, or earned white robes. While the gem was also a mystery, he did confide that he could see through the gem, even to the point of seeing in the dark like an elf.

jarak-sinn warriorAfter this reunion, the party set out shortly thereafter for the keep. The journey was uneventful until the last day. As they crested the final hill, they could see the keep in the valley below. Surrounding the building appeared to be several dozen jarak-sinn. Small clusters of 5 or 6 of the lizardmen dotted the area around the keep and even more dead lizardmen and dead soldiers littered the landscape. The nearby stable looked to be damaged and the dead carcass of a horse lay in the doorway.

In the keep itself, providing defense, less than a dozen soldiers manned the wall, some walking wounded, others covered in the blood of their comrades, all very exhausted. They probably couldn't out last a second assault from the jarak-sinn.

Moving closer, the party was able to get into a good fighting position without being noticed by any of the attackers. At first Hunter and Adow launched attacks from bows and spells. The long range attacks picked off a few of the jarak-sinn and caused others to advance on their position. When the lizardfolk got close enough, Theo and Jes sprung from their hiding spots and attacked those closest to them.

After the first group was defeated, two more clusters of jarak-sinn moved in to attack. Switching to his sword, Hunter dove into the fray swinging and hacking at the nearest jarak-sinn before him, while Adow unleashed any one of a number of deadly spells on the lizardfolk. Soon a dozen or more bodies lay around them. Seeing this, the other jarak-sinn retreated into the forest and into the swamp. For now the area was safe.

Inside the keep, the party found the remnants of an earlier attack where the jarak-sinn breached the main door. That time it took most of the soldiers to push them back and secure the keep.

Hunter went about helping the soldiers by treating wounds, changing bandages and for the most sever cases, administering some of the healing potions everyone had brought along.

"Thank you for all your assistance with the men here," the soldier, Arton said with a wave of his hand at the wounded men huddled around a table in the mess hall, "and for chasing off the 'folk out there."

"I know you want to speak with Marzena, unfortunately she was one of the people on the front line when those filthy 'jars' broke down the door. They pulled her and two other men out like trophies!" Arton spoke, the anger spilling out of his voice along with each word.

"I really wish we could run into the swamps and get them back, but as you can see, there's no men to spare right now. I can't offer a reward, but I can assure you that Lord Angus will know of your bravery. Can we count on your help?"

After the party agreed, Arton took everyone to a private room. Together they reviewed maps of the local area.

"In addition to the half dozen or so tribes in the swamp," Arton began, "there are a number of other creatures and hazards, not the least of which is the rumor of a black dragon. We've never seen it or seen traces of it, but Marzena was trying locate where it might be."

After a short pause, he continued, "the 'jars' today were all from the Black Spear tribe, based on their weapons. They lair somewhere in this general area," the soldier drew a wide circle on the map with his index finger, "infighting between the tribes keeps their numbers small and keeps them on the move every season."

"I wish I could be more specific on where to find them. It's important to find them soon, since the these jars seem to have a real 'taste' for the humans."

With that, the party set off into the swamp, hoping that they could rescue everyone before time ran out...

Jul 6, 2009

Twitter... Social Networking Tool or D&D Magic Item?

And here I thought Twitter was just for staying in contact with friends, coworkers, etc... seems it can also be one pretty cool magic item for the 4th edition of D&D:

http://allgeektout.com/2009/06/24/gituot/

Jul 3, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 20) - A Winter's Knight Concludes

A Winter's Knight

Winter's Night part 4This issue starts off with Riva, Darial, and Shaya meeting with Palin Majere at the Castle of the Dawn. She delivers the secret to the draconians undoing (as revealed last issue), which turns out to be a magic scroll created by Takhisis. It was created in case the draconians became too power to keep under control.

Palin casts the spell, which summons all draconians within a 200 mile area to travel to this location. The closer they get, the weaker they get, making them easy to defeat. This should effectively end their control on the area.

Afterward, Riva talks about another great victory that happened here, Wistan Dawnbringer's final battle with the black robed wizard Ravenna...

Wistan's tale picks up with him and two knights, Collum and Hagen, heading toward Ravenna's base over snow covered lands. Along the way they are confronted by a group of thanoi (commonly called walrus men). While the thanoi are usually in the coldest climates, the three year winter has made these lands ideal for them.

During the fight, Collum is killed by one of the creatures, while Hagen and Wistan defeat the others. The remaining two knights set off for the wizard in the middle of the storm.

Some time later, after the storm has passed and the two knights are nearing the Castle of Dawn, they encounter another of Ravenna's guards; a frost giant in this case.

As the giant attacks, the two knights split up with Wistan heading for cover while Hagen draws the lumbering hulk onto a nearby frozen lake. Hagen narrowly avoids the giant's battle axe, causing the weapon to crack into the ice sheet it was standing. The crack, and the giants massive weight break the ice causing it to fall into the frozen depth. As it's last act, the giant grabs Hagen dragging the down to the same watery grave.

Wistan cries out for his friend, but is too far away to help.

As Riva tells her story, Shaya is saddened that so many good people have to die to defeat evil. Riva recounts those who have passed and how their sacrifice helped them bring Palin the spell needed to defeat the draconians. Riva continues with her story...

Wistan enters the castle to find it empty. In the main room at the top of one of the towers, Wistan finds three versions of Ravenna. Two of the non-existent versions dissolve under attacks from the knight. As he swings his blade for a killing blow at the remaining wizard, this one also turns out be an illusion.

By aid of her spells, Ravenna pulls Wistan's sword out of his hand and plunges a pair of daggers into the knight's stomach. Wistan charges the wizard and grabs his sword long enough to attack her with it. Locked in a hand to hand grapple, Wistan pushes her toward the open tower window. As they both fall to their death, Wistan proclaims that Ravenna will wield no more evil magic on Krynn.

As the two bodies lie motionless on the ground, the rising sun starts melting the snow, and the land starts to be reclaimed from Ravenna's long winter.

Commentary

This was a very, very good issue. The only thing holding it back from being a great issue, was that the Riva section of the story was so short and uneventful. After all her traveling, the ending is her and two kids watch Palin cast a spell. I would have liked some combat at the end, or some kind of resolution to Darial and Shaya's story. Overall, a very weak ending to her tale.

Also the art was a bit strange. As I commented before, it looks like DC was one again experimenting with some computer coloring on the pages, in many places it looked good (like Palin casting the spell), but in others it looked really awful (like the closeup of Riva where her age lines are done with shades of flesh tones, instead of line art. But that's only a minor complaint since the artwork for the draconians, and most of the other creatures and characters are nicely detailed and very engaging.

As for the Wistan section, the writing was strong and the art was probably the best of the series. The combats with the thanoi and the frost giant were exciting and well paced. I really enjoyed Hagen's trick and was sad that he didn't escape the giant after all his work.

Portraying much of Wistan's journey during a snow storm added an energy and urgency to the panels. The battle with the thanoi could have been a bit better, the creatures come off as naked brutes, and none wield their trademark ice battle axes.

But this small bit doesn't take away from what is a really, really good issue. The only way it could be better would be for all of it to focus on Wistan and ignore the Riva parts.

Jul 1, 2009

Flashback... The 60 Minutes Report on Dungeons and Dragons

Clips from 1985 episode of 60 Minutes looking at the alleged harmful influence of Dungeons and Dragons in the murder/suicides of several teens. Part 2 ends with a follow-up on Dr. Thomas Radecki, who became involved in another controversy a few years later.

Part 1


Part 2



Sadly, Pat Pulling died in 1997. I've found no information that she ever changed her opinion about the game or its effect on her son. As mentioned in the story, I suspect that this grieving mother may have needed something to blame for her son's unfortunate tragedy.

Jun 25, 2009

Famous Players

In addition to me and you, it turns out there are a number of other famous people who admit to playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Check out this link for some of those people: 20 Celebrities Who Play Dungeons & Dragons

Jun 22, 2009

Ultimate Dragonlance Fan

Hey, looks like WotC is running a contest to find the "Ultimate Dragonlance Fan", so if you think you got what it takes, head over the the official page to get your entry form.

Top prize includes a free trip to GenCon this year and an autographed copy of the new Weis and Hickman book, Dragons of the Hourglass Mage.

You have till July 15 to send the entry in. And good luck, but not too much, since I'll be entering too!!

Jun 19, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 19) - A Winter's Knight Continues

Season of the Witch

Winter's Night part 3This issue starts with Riva and companions reaching her destination. This turns out to be an empty mesa, but Riva doesn't seem bothered with this. Instead she uses the time to continue telling more tales of Wistan Dawnbringer.

Wistan's tale picks up three years after his adventure in the Silvanesti lands. During that time, lands important to the Knights of Solomnia have been plunged into an eternal winter. The knights recently learned that this was the work of the black-robed wizard Ravenna and now march on her lair.

As they approach a particularly steep hill, Alben, Lord Sigmun's son, goes on foot to scout ahead. Just over the rise, the young knight is attacked engulfed in the freezing breath of a white dragon. The other knights quickly attack and drive away the dragon, but it's too late to save the young knight.

Meanwhile as they gather fire wood, Shaya and Riva talk about the pain Lord Sigmun must have felt over sending his own son to his death. Shaya asks if Riva had any children. The old knight starts to respond, but then simple says "yes, a son".

As Wistan's story continues, the knights confront Ravenna and a pair of polar bears under her control. At first she rains down an ice storm on the knights, and then sends the bears to attack. The knights fight hard against the bears, but the beasts decimate their ranks, including taking the life of Lord Sigmun. Wistan is able to wound Ravenna enough that the mage and her polar companions retreat, while the knights are too weak to give chase.

Afterward many of the knights want to retreat and gather more reinforcements before confronting Ravenna again. Wistan on the other hand wants to push on and face her while she's still weak. In the end only two other knights accompany Wistan after Ravenna, while the remaining knights head back.

After Riva finishes this part of her tale, Shaya sees dragons flying toward them. Riva calms the girl as these dragons are good dragons, ridden by Knights of Solomnia. Riva tells Garrin, one of the knights, that her mission was a success. As she reveals strange writing on the cloth she's been wearing as a head band, she reveals this to be "the secret of the draconians undoing".

Commentary

This was another good issue in this series. The Riva portion was not very eventful, except for her mentioning that she has (or had) a son. It clearly seemed like a sad subject for her to talk about. Her rendevous with the other knights clearly showed that this older lady was still in high regard amoung her male (and younger) counterparts. I also thought it clever that the headband she's been wearing thoughout all these issues was more than just a decoration.

The Wistan portion on the other hand took up much of the issue. I liked the characterization of Wistan and Sigmun, while Ravenna seemed a little cliche, the typical "mad wizard". I would like to know what her plan/goal is and why she's been intersecting with the knights all these years.

In terms of art, this issue was a big hit... The detail on the white dragon was very well done. Likewise the polar bears attacking the knights looked realistic and imposing, especially when reared up on hind legs swinging massive paws. I also liked the details on the knights, like seeing them in winter gear, and seeing Wistan's long hair and moustache (trademark symbols of the knights) really helped set the stage and call attention to how much time has past since the previous story of Wistan.

For the Riva section, I didn't find the art that special, maybe since very little happended, though I do admit the look on her face, more than words, captured her sadness when talking about her son.

Overall, I really liked this issue (the Wistan part more than the Riva part) and look forward to the concluding chapter.

Jun 17, 2009

Return to Brightstone Keep

Having finally recovered the Gem of Amara, the party returned to Dun Eamon for supplies and a chance to plan their next move...

Inside the Grey Citadel, Hunter, Theo, Jes, and Adow were contacted by Caledon, a local druid and friend of Greybear. He reported that the local druids were watching the area around Brightstone Keep and there had been an increase in activity around the mine. The druids currently believed that the followers of the Black Scourge had retrieved as many as eight or nine of the ten bones needed to allow the Scourge to return to the prime material plane.

Everyone then packed up with fresh supplies for the journey back to the keep. En route, the party met up with the druids actually monitoring the area. They were reunited with Greybear, who informed them of recent events.

Many of the local hobgoblin and gnoll tribes had aligned themselves with this cult, and the main entrance to the mine was well guarded by these minions. Something they recently discovered, was that there was a seldom used second entrance that appeared to connect with the mine. It seems this alternate route was used only for the most clandestine meetings. While the entrance way was very well hidden, the druids were able to eventually find it.

Greybear and the party believed the best plan was for the druids to create a distraction at the front of the mine, while Hunter, Theo, Adow, and Jes sneeked in from the alternate route to get to the inner sanctum of the cult.

After making their way down a rocky slop the party was confronted by a group of slig guards. With their long polearms, the sligs put up a bit of a fight, but they were soon taken care of. The party then moved into the underground room that served as the sligs barracks. They avoided the various traps that had been set (sligs are notorious for trapping their lairs) and soon found the real enterance further into the mine.


Next the party found themselves just outside a larger set of caverns. Squeaking, coming from a ceiling covered in darkness, served as perch to unseen creatures. As the group moved further into the area, they could see into the next cavern. Two natural columns divided the cave opening into three smaller openings, while in the back of the cave, there was a huge monolith of ice, like a small mountain inside the cavern.

As the group entered the area, an arrow shot out of the darkness just missing Hunter. Meanwhile a pair of draconians emerges around one side of the ice pillar to attack the party while another pair came around the other side. Ignoring the shooter from it's dark perch against the side way, the party concentrated on the attacking draconians. In short order the draconians were crumbling to dust around the party.

Climbing up to the perch, they found the shooter gone, a crude, quick note promising swift revenge at a later date, and a makeshift latter leading to a simple trapdoor in the ceiling. Through the trapdoor, the party found themselves in a small room just off from the main chamber where the Black Scourge was still imprisoned in the guardian sigil.


Pacing the imprisoning square anxiously, eager to break out of it's cage, the ghostly image seemed more solid now that eight bone shards had been returned to the Scourge. Down the halls of the former mine, the sound of sword against sword rang out in testimony to the battle going on between the minions of the Black Scourge and the druids.

The air in the room felt as if it were electrified when the Gem of Amara was freed from the leather satchel it was carried in. The Scourge stopped it's pacing and stared, eyes fixed in their direction.

As Adow began to recite the words that Greybear had told him, the Gem began glowing, and trails of shimmering light spilled out snaking around the room. As the light swirled, it mixed with the gray and black shadows. Where light would fill one corner the darkness would overtake another. The shone brighter and the darkness pulsed as if the two basic forces were fighting for control in this one spot. Swirling around and chasing each other the darkness and the light formed a small whirlwind here.

Meanwhile the ghostly claws and wings of mist tried to propel the Black Scourge free from it's prison. As the whirlwind grew in strength, dirt and debris were pulled into it's vortex obscuring everything around the party.

Adow stopped chanting the words that invoked the power of the gem, and the gem, for it's part flared in white, blinding brilliance for one very long second, and then exploded.

As the wind died down and the room became visible again, the party could see that the Black Scourge was gone... no bones or ghostly images remained, and the protection sigil was like was shattered and broken. Bruised and bloodied, with not even the smallest shard of the Gem of Amara to be found, everyone gathered up their things and began to head out of the mine.

With the destruction of their dragon-god, the alliance of goblin and kobold, hobgoblin and gnoll broke down with everyone running for themselves. They scattered deeper into the mines or into the surrounding hills and mountains, while the druids did what they could to secure the keep and this mine.

Outside the party regrouped with the druids and celebrated this unique victory. Later that night as Hunter and Theo, Adow and Jes made camp each noticed a sharp stabbing pain. For some it was in the arm, others in a foot, or a shoulderblade, and looking closer, the source of the pain seemed to come from something that looked like the fragment of a bone embedded in their flesh, dark black and grey with shimmering light swirling around it...

Jun 16, 2009

DDO F.R.E.E

It was recently announced that the Dungeons and Dragons Online MMORPG is trying out a free version. It doesn't cost anything to play, but certain character upgrades will cost.

While it's an interesting take on the game model, sadly, it feels more like a last ditch effort to get bodies in the game... I mean you can't really call it "massively multi-player" if there are only a few folks on at any one time. It also doesn't help that overall opinion of the original version of DDO was totally unenthusiastic. Maybe this new version will be better...

As soon as I can get some free time, I'll check it out... oh wait, there's no Mac version. Guess that ends that (and poorly too)

Jun 12, 2009

Get More D&D This Weekend

Now's the time to do your part to help stimulate the economy... this weekend (June 12th - 14th, 2009) WotC and participating retailers are giving away free stuff with all purchases over $15.

$15... that's like half of a source book, a box of minis, or a few booster packs of MtG cards. Now I like D&D, but I like free stuff even more!

Looks like it's time for me to pick up a few items to fill out my collection.

Jun 10, 2009

When Dungeon Tiles Leave the Dungeon

First off, I'm a big fan of anything that really helps portray a scene to the players... from minis and maps, to props and pictures, I try to do whatever I can to showcase an adventure. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the Dungeon Tile sets (I used the Lost Caverns of the Underdark set to create the mines at Brightstone Keep).

On one hand they help show what an area actually looks like and on the other they can help track what's going on during a battle (when used with some kind of minis, such as those from the Dangerous Delves set).

I just read about some new tiles that are a little more above ground than the typical sets (though these new set are not the first to go topside).

The first is a special set that's not for sale. It is only for DMs as part of the RPGA DM Rewards program. This year the set is a sheet of tiles that can be used to create a ship, with one side being the top and the flip side being below decks. I know I'll be checking eBay to see what these are going for...

The other is the latest full set of tiles. This new set, DU4 Arcane Towers, is just what you think it is, various tiles, including rounded ones, to help build everything from a wizard's lab to a library, to a solders' outpost. The sample images on the WotC site are tempting... I could see myself wanting to pick up a couple copies of this set since in case I end up needing a lot of a certain tile, and since WotC doesn't seem to reprint any of the sets when they go out of stock (good luck trying to find a copy of the original set--called just "Dungeon Tiles").

So do you use Dungeon Tiles in your games, do you have a favorite set, or something you want to see in an upcoming set? Leave a comment...

Jun 5, 2009

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 18) - A Winter's Knight Continues

Mission of Mercy

Winter's Night part 2This issue opens up with Darial and Shaya riding a cart into town when they are stopped by a group of draconian guards. The guards are wondering why they are arriving into town so late at night.

Darial makes up a story that Shaya is sick and needs a healer. The draconains, finished tormenting the travelers, sends them on their way.

A little while later, in the house of the town healer, Riva receives a foul smelling potion. In moments, the poison is purged from her body and the knight is up and about. The healer warns that Riva still needs time to heal and takes the three of them through a secret passage into a room, hidden from draconian guards.

While sharing a feast, Darial asks how Riva became a night. There's a one page montage of moments from the first arc of the comic: Lord Soth, Riva fighting Takhisis, fighting with Kitiara, Riva in an embrace with Vandar, and kneeing in front of Vandar's body.

Rather than tell her story, she continues talking about Winston Dawnbringer...

Wistan, under the training of Lord Sigmun, is almost ready to enter the knighthood as a knight of the crown (the lowest of the knightly orders), but Wistan expresses his desire to be a knight of the sword, like Lord Sigmun. Sigmun sets Wistan on a quest, one that, if Wistan completes, will prove his worthiness to be a sword knight.

The quest is for Wistan and Solith, the grandnephew of Silvanos (king of the silvanesti elves), to journey into Silvanesti lands under the control of ogres and a black mage named Ravenna, and rescue Vyratha, Solith's sister, who, through some means Solith doesn't discuss, is giving information useful in planning attacks against the elves.

The lands under the control of Ravenna have been twisted into a mockery of the peaceful, serene lands they once where. In this realms, the knight and elf are attacked by a group of savage ogres. In one particularly nasty fight, an ogre disarms Wistan and tries to attack the knight with his own sword. Wistan blocks every attack with his shield and ends up using the sharp end of that same shield to spear the hapless ogre.

A short distance later, they find Vyratha, only she has been transformed by dark magic into one of the twisted hideous trees that dot this landscape. Solith, not knowing any way to save his sister is set to destroy her tree form and thereby grant her some peace. But Wistan is not so ready to watch her murdered and fights with Solith to consider another solution.

Wistan deduces that the fruit blossoming from her tree form is how the ogres are getting their information to plan attacks. In that case, maybe the fruit also contains the knowledge of freeing Vyratha from her transformation. After taking a bite, Wistan learns of a nearby flower blossom that can free her.

As he heads in the direction of the flower needed to free the elf woman, Wistan hears (and then sees) his dead mother calling to him. Wistan moves closer to what he desperately wants to believe is his mother, all the while Solith is trying to convince the knight that it is merely an illusion. When Wistan is close enough, the plant (that was the source of the illusion) attacks Wistan.

The knight regains enough of his senses to realize that his mother is long since dead and strikes down this illusionary version with his sword. Afterward, both the elf and the knight hear more voices, but ignore all the calls, knowing full well they are merely illusions. Soon the retrieve the needed flower blossoms and when the flower's scent is released before Vyratha, she is transformed back into her elven form.

Wistan feels a cold wind blowing all around and comments that winter is coming early that year.

Before Riva can continue her story, a fiery explosion engulfs the safe room in flames. Riva leads Darial and Shaya out a secret passage and into a back alley, onto a pair of horses and out of the town. It seems Riva possesses certain information about the draconians that they are trying retrieve from her before she can make use of it.

Commentary

If you've been following my reviews of the series, you know I haven't been a fan of many of the issues. This, on the other hand, is one of those really good issues that hints at the potential this series could have had.

First off, I thought the pacing of the story flowed smoothly. I didn't feel like any panels or pages were wasted space. Not a lot happened in the Riva section, but as a framing sequence for another story about Wistan, this was better done that the last issue. Also the revelation at the end of the issue actually makes Riva's section just as important as the tales of Wistan.

Speaking of the Wistan section, that story was also very exciting. Wistan's mission wasn't terribly original ("rescue the princess"), but the twists were fun and exciting, if not too suprising.

As for the artwork, Ron Randall did a great job this time... all my previous complaints seemed to have been addressed this time around. The draconains in the opening spread were well detailed and very menacing, the backgrounds of the twisted forest had plenty of detail, and the depiction of Vyatha in tree form was shocking and saddening.

I thought the fight sequence with the plant creature was exciting, as was the fight with the ogres. The details of the Solith fighting an ogre was the kind of background elements I wanted to see in issue #17.

Lastly, the artwork for the one page montage of Riva's events in the first four issues is a wonderful piece of art and something I wish I owned.

There were some negatives: the healer is never given a name, the ogres look too much like cavemen instead of what I've seen in various D&D game manuals, and I wish the importance of Riva's part of this arc was hinted at last issue instead of this one.

But overall, I think this may be one of the best single issues of the comic so far. I eagerly look forward to the next part of this story.