Jan 19, 2010

Book Review: The Dungeon Alphabet

The other day I was in my FLGS, looking at the New Stuff rack. It's the first step in my ritual which usually takes me around the store, looking at d20, 3.5, and 4e books (in that order) before finishing up at the miniature rack with all those great Reaper minis that I don't have the time, or talent to paint.

Anyway, while looking over the new products, I was pleasantly surprised to see something called The Dungeon Alphabet by Michael Curtis. It was new product, but had a great old-school cover (and I'm talking Erol Otus-old, not Jeff Easley-2nd-edition-old), and an even older-school price tag. At $9.99 for a hardback book, I certainly had to check this out. The store shrink wraps everything meaning I had to wait to get home before paging though it and also putting a strain on "F" of FLGS.

The book clocks in at 48 pages, with a couple used for the TOC and other product advertising, and features a color cover by Erol. The interior is black and white with a ton of old-school-styled illustrations. But nostalgia aside, the book is chock full of tables, like 100 different book titles, 3d20 different magical devices, or 30 different traps.

All the info in the book is system neutral, so it can apply to any edition of D&D (or, dare I say, any non-WotC/TSR fantasy roleplaying game). As a DM, I might see myself using this at the game table on the spur of the moment, but I see the greater value in using this as inspiration during planning. I know the next time I start fleshing out a dungeon, I'll be looking over my copy of The Dungeon Alphabet for fresh ideas (wow, sorry for the cover-blurb).

Hopefully this will be the first in a line of similarly inspired books. If so, I know I'll be back for more!

Jan 15, 2010

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 27) - The Gathering (Part 2)

Eron's Keep

the gathering part 2It's been a while since my last comic review, so you might want to take a moment and read the synopsis for part one of this arc before continuing.

This issue opens with a cleric, Bishop Trandemere, talking with his god, Hith about a silver dragon hatching ground, and the hope that they can get to the eggs before Erestem or Paladine.

Meanwhile, Riva awakens in a cave, having a nightmare about the recent storm (see last issue) and finds that everyone is safe and accounted for, including her dragon. Ktarrh tells Riva that he was summoned to this location, the silver dragon hatching ground, to convince his brethren to hide their eggs in more than one location for the safety of the silver dragon species.

Riva then asks the same question I had been wondering, how they survived the shardstorm (again, last issue). Ktarrh mentions that they were brought here by Eron, someone Ktarrh wants her to meet. Elsewhere the rest of the crew works on repairing the ship while Griffin and Skrum explore the cave they're in.

When Ktarrh, Riva, and the tiger clan elves arrive in the main hatching chamber, they find a group of dragons and elven "keepers" (including Eron) in deep discussion. Clearly the keepers think the silver dragon eggs should be kept in one location (based on ancient tradition), while the other dragon races (I think brass and copper) are offering to help move the eggs to a variety of locations. Seeing the party arrive, the dragons end their talk and take flight. Eron greats the party.

Elsewhere, Griffin and Skrum run into a group of minotaurs sneaking up on the party. Griffin fights of the legionaries while Skrum runs back to the dock for help. He returns with Riva, the elves, and a bunch of people from the ship.

As the two sides parley, the minotaur leader is willing to leave if the escaped prisoners, Griffin, Skrum and Riva, are handed over. Rather than hand them over, Hester (the minotaur from the ship) fights his cousin in single combat. Meanwhile an earth quake opens a new passage into the hatching chamber, allowing a horde of ogres to swarm in, with only Eron and Ktarrh to protect the precious dragon eggs.

Elsewhere, Hester kills his attacker as Riva hears screams coming from the hatching chamber. Leaving everyone else behind to deal with the other minotaurs, she runs toward the chamber. Riva arrives to see the ogres destroying the eggs in wanton slaughter while Ktarrh attacks nearby ogres with his breath weapon and Eron and the other keepers transform from elf to silver dragon. The combined effort of the dragons eliminates the ogres, but the damage is already done; most of the eggs have been destroyed!

Later Hester burns the body of his cousin, in minotaur tradition, while the silver dragons, especially Eron, realize how his pride almost doomed his species.

Back in Thenol, Hith appears before Bishop Trandemere and informs his dark cleric that most of the eggs were destroyed, denying him his dreamed of draconian warriors, but also keeping the eggs out of the hands of his great enemy, Erestem

Commentary

Story-wise, this issue was a complete mess. The framing sequence with Bishop Trandemere and the god Hith would have been more interesting if they did more in the middle. Also, Hith seems so interested in getting the silver dragon eggs, but does nothing more than send a bunch of ogres to pop in to the hatching ground and smash them up, with the pretense of at least keeping them out of Erestem's or Paladine's hands. That would be great, but I wanted to see at least an attempt to actually steal them first.

I also didn't like that the issue skipped over the apparent cliffhanger from last issue. I would rather see storm rage, and the escape from the other ship than all the head talking, most of it pointless, that filled up the issue.

Lastly, I didn't like that the party doesn't really do anything. They wake up and wander around without affecting anything. Riva meets Eron, but doesn't say a word to try to change his opinion. Riva races to the the hatching chamber in time to do absolutely nothing, at least let her and a dragon work together to save the last egg. Then you have the themes of teamwork, hope, etc.

Then there's the minotaurs... there's no explanation of how they survived the storm (at least have them look a little bruised and battered). All they really do plot-wise is give story to the minotaur shipmate Hester, who didn't really do anything last issue and who we probably won't see after this issue.

All said, this arc should have been three issues, with the missing issue about the two ships in the storm--we could have gotten more background on Hester, seen Hith do more, and seen Riva and the companions do more.

As for the art, things weren't so bad in this issue. The scenery was nice and there was a lot of detail on the creatures, but on the other hand, all the minotaur legionnaires looked the same, all the ogres looked the same, you get the idea. I'm also realizing that while there's a lot of detail in the art, there wasn't a lot of creativity in panels and angles. It all come across very serviceable, but very mundane.

Overall, a big disappointment. Maybe the next ish will be better.

Jan 13, 2010

How Do You Like Your D&D? Basic Or Advanced

I've been seeing a couple of different blogs, posts, etc about people's game space, from professional tables, like The Sultan, to decorated rooms, like this functional game room, or this decorated game room, to incorporating the latest hi-tech, like this finished tabletop projector, or this beta tabletop projector project.

My question to you is: Are a lot of people using these elaborate setups? Is everyone now armed at the game table with a PC, open to your favorite e-character sheet, or Power Attack calculator and a steady stream of Twitter comments and photos?

As a DM, I did go through the phase when I had a laptop at the table to track HPs and init, and auto roll for the monsters, but the software was way crappy back then, and my typing skills sucked so it took me a long time to enter info into the various screens.

Most of all, I grew out of the computer phase because I simply missed the feeling I had when I first started playing. The sound of real dice rolling, scribbling on my page when I took damage (which seemed to happen a lot in the games I played back then), and rubbing holes into said same character sheet when the goodly cleric would crack open a couple of those precious Cure Light Wounds spells.

Nowadays, I use computers, the Internet, Photoshop, and whatever else I can get my laptop to point to when I prep for a game, but when the actual session starts, it's dice, notebooks, and pencils, along with minis, battle maps and the occasional piece of LEGO scenery (so I'm not completely old school).

Anyway, how do you like your D&D, basic (low-tech) or advanced (hi-tech)?

Jan 5, 2010

When the Games' Not in Town

Here's a question for you:

When you can't or aren't playing any D&D (for an extended time), what do you do to get your D&D "fix"?

I've been thinking about this recently since I had to put my own game on extended hold while I took care of some real life issues (and then a whole bunch of other things came up that look to delay things even further). In the last few weeks, I've been wishing to roll the dice for a bit but I didn't have the time or any game to run for my current group.

I guess it's not too surprising, but I've filling the itch with some video games. Right now I'm playing the D&D Tactics game for PSP. It was actually a gift for my last birthday (almost a year ago now), but I'm just getting around to seriously playing it... as serious as you can with the game; the interface is maddeningly frustrating and I would have given up earlier if I had a real game to run/play.

I've also been catching up on my reading--not fantasy novels, they never fill the same spot as a good game--but catching up on rule books I haven't read thoroughly, modules I'm thinking of running, etc. They at least let me imagine a game where I'm using this rule or running that encounter and allow me to decide how to customize something for my tastes.

Lastly, I find myself following the #dnd thread on Twitter and reading more of the game posts and looking at combat pictures, with their hand drawn encounter areas and minis spread out in mid action. It's not with a little longing that I wish I were at one or two of these tables.

Hopefully I'll be getting my game back up and running soon, and then I'll be the one posting pics for everyone else to read...

Jan 1, 2010

New Year - More Posts

Just want to send a big Happy New Year out to everyone.

I know I haven't written in a long while, unfortunately some really serious things have come up that I was NOT AT ALL prepared for.

Here's hoping the new year will be better than the last one, and I should be able to get back on a regular posting schedule, as well as a regular playing schedule!