Oct 31, 2013

The Horror of it All

When thinking about Dungeons and Dragons, especially so close to Halloween, I naturally think less  of epic campaigns and warriors defeating great evil, and more of the classic things and got bump in the night.

In the early days of D&D, few probably thought of the game through such a radical re-imagining--sure there were the classic creatures like werewolfs, mummies, and vampires, along with a plethora of other undead filling up the various monster manuals.

But that all changed when TSR release Ravenloft. A module by Tracy Hickman (of future Dragonlance fame) and his wife Laura. The module is a radical departure from standard crawls, offering a haunted house, in place of the ubiquitous dungeon, and offering a vampire antagonist who is a fully fleshed out character with backstory and personal motives. Any while much of Strahd may look, at first glance, like a swipe on Count Dracula, he can be so much more, and most importantly, he was so much more than the standard vampire of the D&D rules.

I6 (the module code for Ravenloft), would go on to be a classic. It spawned a sequel module Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill, as well as being the inspiration for an entire setting, the "Demiplane of Dread", also under the Ravenloft name (which included books, comics, game products, and computer games). The original module itself has been reprinted and updated several times and was the basis for the successful D&D board game, Castle Ravenloft.
Oh, and a little Dragonlance trivia: Strahd has two brothers, Sergei, and another named... Sturm, the same name Tracy would later use for the tragic knight, Sturm Brightblade.
So this Halloween, after all the trick-or-treaters are home with their bags of candy, I'll be kicking back in a comfy chair to spend some time re-reading this classic piece of gaming history... with all the light on.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 24, 2013

D&D Kre-0 Sets - Pictures and Initial Thoughts

If you followed my previous posts about the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons Kre-o line (here and here), you know I am eagerly looking forward to their release next year. So you can image how glad I was to see preview images of some of the sets and details and prices on those products.

Unfortunately, after looking over the images and product descriptions in greater detail, I'm a little less enthused than I once was.

If you want to see more of the pictures and read the product information for yourself, check out the post here on battlegrip.com (the link will open in a new window, so you can look at the images and following along with my comments here).

First, a couple of things I like about the sets.
  1. Variety of sets for different budgets. They have simple figure packs as low as 2.99, up to sets running as high as 24.99, so there's something for everyone.
  2. For the minifigs (or Kreons as Kre-o calls them), there are a good variety of armors, helms, and weapons across the line. All the warriors and orcs are not the same.
  3. The green discs the figures stand on look like they might be approximately 1 inch, which would make them great for use on a traditional battle map.
Now, for some of the things I don't like, and unfortunately this list is longer.
  1. Blind Bags. Kre-o is referring to their random Kreon bags as "Blind Bags". There are two versions. One offers 36 different figures (way too many), and the other, just 10 figures (about right). Also, the bags only include one figure. I would have liked to see two figures per bag, one "good guy" and one "bad" for instant use right out of the bag.
         The Kre-o Cityville line does include two figs per blind bag in just this configuration.
  2. The sets are cluttered with cards and firing catapults turning what could have been a storytelling imagination play set in to a simple build and break game. For younger kids this may be a great hit, but for fans of D&D, which skews older, it comes off childish. If that was the case, why bother with the D&D brand?
  3. While there is variety in the warrior and orc figures, unfortunately, that's all you get, variations on human warriors, and variations on orcs; no elves or dwarves, or goblins.
  4. And while we're speaking of orcs, in my opinion, they look more like feral zombies with their light grey skin tone. How about a little green?
  5. The buildings in all the sets, from the top of the line to the most basic, are too simplistic. Again, this is due to the sets focusing on the build and break game and not as vehicle for imaginative play and storytelling.
  6. The sets appear under the Dungeons and Dragons brand name, but there are no Dungons, nor Dragons in any of the sets. Again, why bother with the license name, when the sets don't even superficially live up to the name.
  7. And lastly, of all the sets, only the Warriors sets seem to have anything related to the D&D IP, with "accessories to build iconic DUNGEONS & DRAGONS story vignettes". At $4.99 a pack of 30 pieces, I'm not expecting to see Drizzt vs Icingdeath or Sturm on the High Clerist Tower, and if you're not leveraging these great story scenes, I ask again, why bother using the D&D brand name?
Overall, I'm looking forward to seeing these products for myself, and maybe picking up a few sets (mostly fig packs), but clearly my enthusiasm for the product line is already dropping.

Oct 17, 2013

Game Session - Dragon Island (Part 2)

After leaving Darsov at the basecamp last session, the party returned to the mountain lair of the black dragon Scourge. At the end of one of the crude hallways, they found a secret passage that lead into another shifting hallway, this one ending in large cavern with a pool of still water taking up much of the room. In the center of the pool was a old chest that looked like it had been dragged through the Maelstrom to end up here in the room, sitting on a ledge just underneath the water line.

After Jes climbs into the water, which is up toward his shoulders. He starts making his way toward the submerged chest, but before he reaches the object, a hideous water naga rises to confront him.

Theo, in an attempt to protect the party on the shore, pours oil on the water and sets it on fire. Three other naga rise from the water depths of the lake, but none of them move to attack. The naga soon reveal that they are the protectors of the "greatest treasure of the Stone Hammer clan."

The party tries to ask the creatures some questions, but the naga provide no further information. As the fire spreads across the lake, Jes is forced to retreat back to dry land. The naga swirl around the submerged chest before diving under water for safety as pockets of flaming oil spread all around the lake's surface.

Unsure what to do next, the party leaves this room, planning to return after exploring the mountain further. They wander down one of the corridors to a four way intersection. Going down one of the pathways leads them to an open chamber. The hallway and the chamber smell of old rot and decay, and the room holds only one item. On a natural stone slab body parts of various humanoids are sewn together in some places or attached with dried mud in others. This simple flesh doll lies motionless in a crude mockery of life.

The party waits a moment to see if the creature has any semblance of life, but Adow, the mage, was quickly able to determine that this golem was too poorly made to be able to hold any magic enchantment. The party left the room, and headed down another one of the long winding passageways which lead to a different chamber.

This chamber held the scattered icons of Reorx, the god for who this chamber had originally been a shrine to. Now the god of the forge had been cast aside in favor of other power, of dark magics. Where once this room would have held the tools and symbols of the creator god, now it held jars filled with cloudy liquid, small lizard-like body parts in suspension. The floor was rechristened with a summoning circle that looked to be of recent design. What exact purpose it was for, Adow could not determine.

From down the hall the sounds of footsteps fell, seemingly growing closer. From inside the summoning chamber room, Hunter quickly closes the door to provide some cover. On the other side of the door hung a magical mirror, the property's of which caused duplicates of some of the party members to appear in the room. Soon, the magical clones of Hunter (the ranger), Theo (the kender) and Jes (the monk) began attacking their real counter parts.

Adow, who was also in the room, but far enough away to not affect the magic mirror tried aiding his companions, but the swirl of battle made it difficult to know who was the right version to attack. In short order, one of the Theo's lay dad on the floor as Jes and Adow worked to destroy the mirror. Soon it burst and the room was filled with a shower of silvered glass shards. Afterward, the clones of Hunter and Jes were gone and the party awaited whatever had been approaching the room from down the lone hallway.

The party waiting, staring at the door for someone or something to enter...

Oct 10, 2013

Those OTHER D&D Movies

There are a couple of movies coming out (hopefully) soon that look to be of interest to the gaming crowds. And no, I don't mean the Dungeons and Dragons movie that Hasbro is trying to put together at Universal once they deal with this lawsuit and that lawsuit. In case you haven't heard, they are...

  1. Zero Charisma - This movie is opening in limited release in THEATERS, actual theaters I tell you! It tells the tale of local popular DM (actually GM, they avoid D&D specific trademarks) who suddenly finds his sway over his gaming group challenged by the arrival of a new player to his group. This dark comedy looks like it will trod familiar geek tropes like living in the basement and lack of romantic relationships. We'll see if rises above the obvious to provide something interesting for movie goers.
         Zero Charisma opens in limited release in the US starting tomorrow (Friday Oct 11), and is already available as a VOD selection depending on your cable provider.
  2. Knights of Badassdom - Here's a strange one, not the movie's premise. The premise is about a group of LARPers who unknowing release a real evil on the world and try to deal with the consequences.
        No, what I find so strange is this--let's take a bunch of well-known actors from a variety of high profile projects, like Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (Firefly and Sarah Connor Chronicles), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Danny Pudi (Community), Steve Zahn, and Jimmi Simpson (Psyche), make a big genre movie about LARPers and real Demons, hold a big panel at San Diego Comic-Con, and then get so tangled up in legal issues that the movie's release gets pushed out more than 2 years after it was made.
         The latest information was that this film was to be released sometime in 2013, but as the months tick away, that's looking more and more unlikely. Ridiculous! No one makes money with this film while it sits on the shelf.
So I'll see you, at the movies, and save me the aisle seat (and any other movie review show taglines I can think of). Enjoy!

UPDATE: Some more movie reviews of Zero Charisma: