Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bigger Forest [RPG]

Bigger Forest is a product in the Pathfinder Flip-Mats line that's almost half-again as big as traditional Pathfinder flip-mats.  Each side of the one-inch gridded sheet has different terrain on it.

One side depicts a fifteen-foot wide stream meandering through a light forest scattered with large boulders.  There's some cool features on this map, such as a single log serving as a bridge across the stream, a cave, a clearing featuring what looks like an ancient ceremonial site, and even a small waterfall. This scene offers numerous tactical opportunities and is beautifully illustrated.

The second side depicts a scene that's harder to make immediate sense of; I think it's supposed to be a rocky scrubland in the height of summer with barren trees scattered about a plateau.  There are multiple cliff edges and a small pond.  One part of the map has a scattering of stone slabs creating what (I think) is a cave underneath them and a trail that has some partially visible paving.  Frankly I don't quite get what's going on in this scene.  The back of the cover calls it a "blighted dead stretch of former woodlands."

The advantages of Bigger Forest is that it is indeed an impressive side for a flip-mat, and is quite easy to use since it allows for wet erase, dry erase, or even permanent markers.  My criticism of the product, and it might seem an odd one, is that there's not actually that much forest!  On one side, the stream, clearing, and rock outcroppings take up such much of the scene that the trees and undergrowth are pushed to the margins.  Ironically, the more distinctive features there are on a flip-mat, the less likely I am to use it because I don't want subsequent encounters to seem repetitive ("wow, how many ceremonial sites are in this forest, anyway?").  On the other other side of the flip-mat, a blighted forest of dead trees isn't what I expected from the product title and is much less likely to see use in my games simply because there are fewer "blighted forests" detailed in the areas my PCs are likely to visit.  The last suggestion I'll make is that since the inside front and back cover of the packaging are blank, they would have been the perfect place to give the GM some suggestions on how the terrain features operate: how tall are those rock slabs, are the trees of the type that provide full cover or can those squares be moved through and only give partial cover?  Etc.  A GM can research the terrain rules and make decisions, but a quick "cheat sheet" specific to the flip-mat would be quite handy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Buffy Comic Project: "Slayer, Interrupted" Act 2


Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 57

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Scott Lobdell & Fabian Nicieza (story); Cliff Richards (pencils); Will Conrad (inks); Dave McCaig & Lisa Gonzales (colors); Clem Robins (letters)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Buffy, Cordelia, Harmony, Willow, Quentin Travers, Giles, Joyce, Hank Summers, Dawn, Angel, Whistler

Major Original Characters:  Dr. Primrose (psychiatrist), Dr. Stone (asylum director), April (patient)

Summary:  Buffy takes part in group therapy sessions at the asylum where she's staying.  She tells the other patients and their psychiatrist, Dr. Primrose, that she's the Slayer and responsible for protecting the world against demons.  Another patient, April, claims she's the "Bride of Rakagore".  Later, Dr. Primrose and Dr. Stone discuss medicating and using electro-shock therapy on Buffy.  Meanwhile, Dawn overhears her mom and dad arguing again, Cordelia and the Cordettes snicker at Willow, Angel and Whistler wonder why Buffy's in an asylum, and Giles turns the table on his Ripper doppelganger and kills him with a sword!  Back in the asylum, Buffy has a one-on-one session with Dr. Primrose.  Later that night, in the asylum's basement, Dr. Stone is revealed to be the demon Rakagore and April is his next target.

Review

The storyline advances very slowly in this issue, and is a bit choppy, with single-page looks at what several other characters are doing while Buffy's in the asylum.  I actually would have preferred they *didn't* go with a "demon running the asylum" angle and instead stuck with the psychological insight that made "Normal Again" so fascinating.  It's not a bad issue, but disappointing compared to the first issue in the story arc.

Notes

* The letters' page announces the end of the monthly series with a series of "special projects" planned instead.  The good news is that (eventually) Dark Horse will start publishing Season 8 with Joss Whedon at the helm!

*  There's an ad in this issue I found quite amusing.  It's a full-page pitch to get people to come to an "Exclusive Autograph Signing" for Angel actor Vincent Kartheiser (Connor) scheduled for three hours at a venue in California.  I just can't believe this was an effective use of advertising dollars!  Even if we imagine Vincent signed one autograph a minute at say, $ 50 a pop, that's only $ 9000 in total for the event.  Why would you buy an ad in a national publication for a three-hour event in California?  And nothing against Connor, but he was never exactly the # 1 fan favorite in the entire Buffyverse.  Just seems poorly thought-out all around . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Session # 0 [RPG]

22 Rova 4707

On the eve of Sandpoint’s Swallowtail Festival, four adventurers arrive separately in the harbor town, little realizing that they have been destined to play a role in the fate of all of Varisia!

Bey Lin
Bey Lin, a seer of some skill who is loosely affiliated with the Church of Desna, arrives in Sandpoint wearing her trademark armor.  The armor, which at a distance appears to be torn and ripped, is revealed to be exquisitely crafted when viewed up close.  It draws strange looks towards the dark-haired woman in her thirties who makes her way down the streets of Sandpoint to the base of Old Light.  This crumbled tower testifies to the existence of an ancient culture thousands of years old that long predated the settling of Varisia by the Chelaxians just three centuries ago (with the concomitant displacement of the indigenous Shoanti and Varisian peoples).

Bey knocks at the front door of an old stone building, haphazardly repaired, that sits near the base of Old Light, and is greeted by a balding, cantankerous old man named Brodert Quink.  Quink welcomes Bey inside, as the two have been corresponding for a few years now about the history of Thassilon, the ancient empire which used to rule the land now called Varisia.  Little is known about Thassilon, but Brodert Quink is a self-proclaimed sage and historian, and has recently taken to speculating about the purposes for which Old Light was originally built.  His promise to reveal his theories to Bey is one of the reasons for her travelling to Sandpoint (the other is a meeting scheduled with a reclusive Varisian mystic named Madame Mvashti for 10 bells on 24 Rova).  After some small talk, Quink goes on to share his theory about Old Light with Bey: he says it was never a lighthouse, like most scholars think, but in fact a weapon capable of hurling balls of fire hundreds of miles!  He suggests that the power source for the weapon could be buried deep below, but he has no concrete evidence for his theory.

Nonetheless, he leads Bey outside so she can see Old Light up close.  He leads her to a particular stone block that is, like the others, surprisingly intact given its thousands of years of exposure to the elements.  Here, the runic language of ancient Thassilon provides the only real clue to Old Light’s purpose.  Most scholars translate the runes to say “When risk is at its highest, the light shall shine”, but Bey realizes the passage could alternatively be interpreted to say “When danger is at its height, the fires of heaven shall be unleashed.”  So intent are Bey and Brodert on translating and discussing the runes, they have no idea that a pack of dire rats (filthy rats the size of small dogs) have emerged from somewhere within the rocks and are about to attack!
Oliver Turn

Meanwhile, just down the street, a professional bounty hunter and wilderness scout named Oliver Turn has arrived at the Sandpoint Garrison, a stone fortress that serves as the headquarters for the Town Watch and Town Militia.  Oliver, a weather-beaten ranger in his mid-30s, has come to Sandpoint for work; the sheriff of Sandpoint, Belor Hemlock, has quietly circulated word that the city is temporarily hiring freelancers to help patrol the Swallowtail festival, and is paying 5 silver pieces a day and providing free room and board at the Garrison.  After waiting in line with many other freelancers for several minutes, Oliver is taken to Sheriff Hemlock, a grim Shoanti man.  Hemlock asks each recruit to demonstrate why they deserve a job, and Oliver decides to show his skill with the crossbow by firing a bolt almost dead centre into a distant target.  Hemlock gives his approval with a nod, and instructs Oliver to familiarise himself with Sandpoint before going on duty in the morning.  When Oliver leaves the garrison, he hears shouts of alarm coming from just down the street in the direction of Old Light!

Dire Rats!
At the base of Old Light, four dire rats have surrounded Bey Lin and Brodert Quink.  Quink shrinks back in fear, but Bey readies her quarterstaff and prepares for a fight.  The two are bitten multiple times by the strangely aggressive rats before help suddenly arrives as Oliver Turn charges into the battle bearing a massive greatsword!  His blade quickly cuts three of the dire rats in twain, leaving only one left.  Bey’s eyes go black as she intones “the darkness is coming, you must be prepared” and magically gifts Oliver with even more fighting prowess.  He kills the remaining dire rat, but not before suffering a vicious wound himself.

Bey and Oliver decide to seek help for Quink, who has been badly wounded in the attack.  He sends them in the direction of the new cathedral in the hopes of finding Father Zantus.  But before the pair of newcomers arrive, they’re distracted by shouts and the sound of breaking glass and splintering wood: an untamed bronco is bucking madly down the street, smashing barrels and windows with its hooves, dragging a poor teenager whose foot is caught in the horse’s saddle harness!  Oliver runs and tries to leap on the back of the horse, but he catches a hoof right in the ribs for his trouble.  Bey manages to dash in and free the teen’s foot just before the horse dashes further down the street and out of sight.

The teenager, who is shaken but not actually hurt, gives his name as Bimmy Bean and says the horse was a new acquisition by Daviren Hosk at the Goblin Squash Stables.  Bimmy says he actually hates horses, but his father, a farmer, made him try to find work in town since the surly teen doesn’t enjoy life in the Sandpoint hinterlands.  When asked, he does point them in the direction of the newly-built cathedral, the dedication of which will be the highlight of tomorrow’s Swallowtail Festival.

When Bey and Oliver arrive at Sandpoint Cathedral, they’re quickly directed to the town’s high-priest, a pleasant man named Father Abstalar Zantus.  Father Zantus promises to send help to Brodert Quink, but he also diagnoses that one of the bites Oliver suffered from the dire rats may be infected, and that a mild disease known as “filth fever” can be carried with such bites.  He tells Oliver to monitor himself closely over the next 24 hours and to return if symptoms set in.

Xeveg Kishalq
That same afternoon, elsewhere in Sandpoint, a seventeen-year-old named Xeveg Kishalq arrives in front of Turandarok Academy.  Xeveg has developed a keen interest in history and archaeology for one so young, and in recent months has been exchanging letters with Ilsoari Gandethus, the Headmaster of Turandarok Academy.  Since it’s a Sunday, classes are not in session at the institution that serves Sandpoint as a school and orphanage, and Xeveg is soon led by the Head Mother, Dorienne, to Ilsoari Gandethus’ study.  Gandethus, a stern-looking man in his 60s, is widely known as a former adventurer and dabbler in the arcane, and has promised in his correspondence to show Xeveg his collection of unique artifacts held in the Academy’s basement.  As the two sip tea in the study, Gandethus tells Xeveg that western Varisia holds several sites of historical significance, and perhaps even ancient treasure!  He mentions Sog’s Bay, where ships have been shipwrecked on the rocks for countless years, and the Whisperwood, rumoured to hold ancient ruins of old Thassilon.  Gandethus is about to lead Xeveg to the basement when he’s called away by Dorienne; one of the boarding students has been injured in an accident.

Zombie Rabbits!
Left to his own devices, Xeveg looks around Gandethus’ study but soon hears a crash followed by a strange thumping sound.  When the youth goes to investigate, he sees the sound is coming from the stairway to the basement—and the thumping sound is a rabbit, clearly dead but somehow still animated, hopping up the stairs!  In moments, a second such abomination appears.  The creatures quicken their pace and hop towards Xeveg, clearly intending to sink their teeth into him!  Fortunately, Xeveg had prepared a minor incantation against the undead, and his magical rays are able to slow the beasts.  One is blinded in the battle and ends up falling down the stairs, destroying itself.  The other leaps for Xeveg but the spritely lad jumps out of the way, and the creature crashes into the wall and lays still.

Seconds later, Gandethus and the other residents of the Academy arrive on the scene.  Gandethus apologises for the attack, saying he recently obtained a strange coffin that displayed necromantic auras, and that he had placed the rabbits inside to see what would happen.  He promises to show Xeveg his basement collection the day after the festival, when he’s had a chance to clean everything up.  Xeveg gets directions to a nearby inn, the Rusty Dragon.

Felix Bloodrider
Sandpoint’s other inn and tavern, the White Deer, is crowded as merchants, tourists, and farmers have come to Sandpoint for the festival.  It also serves as the destination for another newcomer to the city, a rugged-looking Shoanti man wearing hide armor named Felix Bloodrider.  Felix, a wanderer by nature, has come to Sandpoint for supplies and has stopped at the White Deer specifically because he’s heard it’s an establishment particularly friendly to his people.  The proprietor of the White Deer is a Shoanti man named Garridan Viskalai and he’s said to offer cut-rate prices to Shoanti who are willing to share news with him of the culture he’s had to cut ties with in order to live in Sandpoint with his wife and family.  Felix makes his way through the crowd and takes a seat at the bar.  He’s greeted by Garridan with a tankard of ale, and the two start to converse but are quickly interrupted by Garridan’s wife, Lartie.  Lartie pleads with Garridan to call the Town Watch about a pair of drunken Chelaxian merchants from Magnimar at a corner table who are harassing the servers and shouting racist comments about Garridan’s Shoanti heritage.  Garridan, however, refuses to call the Watch, stating that it will only bring his brother and he’d rather endure the insults of fat foreigners from Magnimar then have “Sheriff Hemlock” set foot on his property.

Felix decides to take justice into his own hands.  When one of the merchants, a portly man named Nefus Dobiggle, heads to the latrines, Felix bribes Dobiggle’s bodyguard to go “check on the horses.”  Felix then enters the latrine and with two quick punches knocks him out cold!  The fat merchant’s unconscious form crashes through the door of the latrine and into the common room and full view.  The other merchant, Tamsyn Hollirock, and his bodyguard make for the door, but Felix continues his assault.  He dodges the shortsword thrusts of the guard and pummels him to the ground, and when the fleeing Hollirock vows revenge should Felix ever come to Magnimar, the crusader chases him down and lands a vicious two-handed punch to the back of the man’s neck!

When Felix re-enters the White Deer, he’s greeted with applause from the other patrons.  Garridan offers Felix free room and board for the night, and a promise of a gold piece if he’ll attend the Swallowtail Festival tomorrow and keep an eye on his wife and kids, who will be running a lemonberry juice stand.

Four adventurers from disparate walks of life have thus come to Sandpoint on the eve of the Swallowtail Festival.  What happens in the succeeding weeks and months may very well become the stuff of legend . . .
---------------------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (18/01/2017)

This campaign started in July of 2016.  I thought it might be a good time to start posting the weekly recaps I prepared for each session.  For this very first session of the campaign ("Session 0") I did something a bit unusual.  I had a short, one-on-one session with each player (or a join session with two of the players since they were a couple) consisting of a single RP encounter and a single (easy) combat encounter.  The idea of this Session 0 was to give the players a chance to get acquainted with their PC (both RP and mechanics wise) and to give me a chance to get a little more familiar with Sandpoint before the "real thing" started with the official beginning of the adventure path in Session # 1.  This was everyone's first adventure path and first time using Golarion as a campaign setting for playing Pathfinder.

The PCs for the beginning of this campaign were:

Bey Lin, Human Oracle (Apocalypse Mystery)
Felix Bloodrider, Shoanti Brawler
Xeveg Kishalq, Human Wizard (Necromancy)
Oliver Turn, Human Ranger

Come back every week or so to see what happens next!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Irrisen, Land of Eternal Winter [RPG]

The subtitle to this book in Pathfinder's Campaign Setting line immediately sums up the essence of Irrisen: it's a place of perpetual winter.  Cursed by the witch Baba Yaga, Irrisen is a foreboding land ruled by witch-queens placed upon the throne by Baba Yaga herself and even the cities are full of dangerous, intelligent monsters like winter wolves, frost giants, ice trolls, and more.  The peasantry are governed with strict rules and prohibited from leaving Irrisen for more inviting places, and even merchants and adventurers who travel to Irrisen from elsewhere do so at their own risk.  Irrisen isn't an easy place to live, because if the weather doesn't kill you the inhabitants very well might.  Although released to support the Reign of Winter adventure path (which takes place in Irrisen), this book works very well as a standalone source-book for GMs wanting to set other campaigns in the nation.  The inside front cover of this 64-page book features a map of Irrisen, showing how it's been divided into six different provinces, each ruled by a different winter witch Jadwiga (descendant of Baba Yaga and of Irrisen's first queen).

The first six pages of the book give an introduction to Irrisen and a history of its centuries-long rule by the winter witches.  Unlike some histories of fictional lands, this one is quite interesting and has on-going resonance for the "present day" state of the setting.

Next, the bulk of the book is devoted to a full summary of each of the six provinces, including their ruler, major cities, and other locations of note.  Each province receive six pages of coverage, and includes a map of the province, a map of the province's capital, and a picture of a notable NPC.  I won't go through the six provinces as they all share a common overall theme, but I will say I very much appreciated that a lot of work was put into making the descriptions full of adventuring hooks for a GM to exploit.  Sometimes even the best GMs need inspiration, and it's much more interesting to read a source-book like this if its relevance to actual game-play is clear from the outset.

After the provinces, a six-page "Plots and Perils" section provides more detail on some particular places for adventure and potential storylines to involve the PCs.  Using any of these would still require a lot of work by a GM, but there's enough to plant the seeds for several adventures.  There's also a few new afflictions (curses and diseases) and some supernatural weather hazards.

Last, there's an extensive bestiary that includes random encounter tables for each of the provinces.  I like random encounter tables, but what's missing from these is how often an encounter should take place.  In addition, the vast range of CRs on the very same table (one table ranges from CR 2 to CR 17) are such that actually randomly rolling up encounters is likely to result in something either laughably easy or an instant TPK.  This reduces the usefulness of the tables substantially, though they can still serve as a list of possible threats for a GM to pick from.  The rest of the bestiary is quite solid.  One of the really interesting features of Irrisen is that every century, Baba Yaga returns to take the current queen with her and installs a new queen on the throne; this occurrence is presaged by the appearance of the Three Riders, who pass judgment on Irrisen's inhabitants, from the lowliest peasants to the most wealthy winter witch.  Each of the Three Riders receives a full page entry.  After this, a new template ("Boreal") is created to make it easy to add winter flavour to any ordinary monster, and example stat-blocks of Boreal wolves, Boreal manticores, and Boreal annis hags are provided.  Other new monsters include the guardians of Irrisen's borders (Sentinel Huts and Guardian Dolls), a dragon called a Khala, a giant called a Ved, and NPC stat blocks for a standard winter witch baroness and a winter witch "Cold Sister" (the land's inquisitors).  Of the campaign setting books I've read so far, this one has by far the best and most useful bestiary.

The artwork in Irrisen, Land of Eternal Winter is uniformly excellent.  Although I think I would have preferred to see more variation from province to province, I could definitely imagine setting an entire campaign in Irrisen and using this book as my primary resource for dozens of sessions of adventure.  When your players have had it too easy for too long, send their characters to Irrisen--that should shake things up!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bells for the Dead [RPG]

NO SPOILERS

Bells for the Dead is a four-part series of web fiction in the Pathfinder Tales line.  Unlike most of the other web fiction on the Paizo website, this story hasn't been collected in an e-book format; but it's still available for free here.  Set entirely in the Andoren city of Oregent, the story features a professional gunslinger bounty hunter named Lisette and a dwarf named Karag.  If I had to sum it up, I guess I would call it competent.  It's not particularly memorable, though there is a nice twist in the final chapter.  The action scenes are solid, but there's just not enough personality or originality to the characters or plot to make me want to read more.


SPOILERS

Lisette is ostensibly on the trail of an archer who murdered her former partner.  In Bells for the Dead, she encounters a dwarf named Karag and the two form an unlikely team (both characters apparently appear again in a published Pathfinder novel named Stalking the Beast) as they follow the trail of this bowman through Oregent's underworld and with the semi-cooperation of its authorities.  The big twist is Lisette's sob/revenge story is partially a ruse; the bounty she's after is actually a demon who can read minds, so Lisette had to lie to the others so the demon wouldn't detect the truth and she could sneak up on it (she herself had an amulet of mind shielding).  There's a plot thread left dangling (who the archer really is) that I assume will be picked up in the novel.  Lisette's proficiency with rifles and pistols sets this slightly apart from traditional fantasy, but the difference isn't interesting enough to save the story.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mynock Squadron Recap # 18 [RPG]

After furious planning, the time arrives for Gamma Flight to begin the mission to liberate four political prisoners on the planet Nishr.  Although the group has been promised that Mynock Squadron will receive a new batch of B-Wing bombers for their next assignment, their current undertaking must still be performed in Y-Wings that have seen many years of battle.  On their way to the hangar, Max tells Kero that if he’s near death’s door, he wants her to give him the kiss of life.  Kero seems confused by the term, and, hearing an explanation, asks why everyone seems to think she’s such a good doctor.  However, during the short hyperspace voyage to Nishr, Kero bores her co-pilot, Warik, with tedious details of the conference on immunology she recently attended.

Gamma Flight’s Y-Wings touch down a few kilometers from the detention center, just before dawn.  Trill and Max begin their trek towards the base on foot, Keth and Tazo-Rhi share a Y-Wing to provide air cover, and Kero and Waric prepare a pair of missile launchers.  Kero comms Marrass and tells her to take cover, as a bombardment will begin shortly.  Marrass confirms that she and the political prisoners are all in the same cell block.

The battle begins with a streaking missile fired by Kero impacting the camp’s southwest tower.  Waric takes aim at the southeast tower, but the missile is defective and flies just a few feet before exploding in mid-air!  Waric is burned badly, and the portion of his face that is not already covered by a prosthetic metal shell is scarred.  However, the Zabrak is hardy enough to continue with the mission after the wound is field-dressed.  Kero finishes the first stage of the plan by calling in mortar strikes from Nishrian rebels hidden nearby.

Although the southeast tower is still standing, Trill is a crack shot with her sniper rifle and downs the guards before they can fire back with the tower’s E-web turrets.  Under Trill’s watchful eyes, Max advances towards the fenceline, waiting only for an opening to be blasted into it by another missile fired by Kero.

The DuraSun mercenaries are caught flat-footed by the sudden bombardment, and are slow to respond.  With Keth piloting and Tazo-Rhi operating the turret, their Y-Wing streaks in to engage the small detachment of TIEs guarding the camp.  A proton torpedo disintegrates one hapless TIE before its pilot even realizes a battle is underway.  Keth tries to lure a second into a dogfight but it manages to evade his slower vessel.  However, Tazo-Rhi lines up another shot and again takes one down with a torpedo.  With both of the TIEs that were in the air destroyed, Keth and Tazo-Rhi turn their attention to the four on the ground.  They manage to destroy one before it takes off, but the other three quickly launch and swarm around the Y-Wing!  Keth’s able piloting keeps the vessel intact, but its shields are weakening.  Fortunately, Waric and Kero arrive on the scene in their Y-Wing.  Tazo-Rhi shoots down a TIE (which crashes into the middle cellblock and begins a small conflagration), while Kero shoots down the remaining two.  Despite the decision to rely on torpedoes and risk collateral damage, the gambit pays off and complete air superiority is quickly established.

Meanwhile, the most crucial and fraught portion of the operation is underway.  Max is spotted crossing through the destroyed portion of the southern fence, but Trill drops the sentry before he can respond.  Max reaches the high-security cellblock and just two mercenaries are close enough to pose an obstacle to a successful rescue.  At the brink of victory, however, disaster strikes in the form of friendly fire.  Having earlier prepared a makeshift collection of thermal detonators to serve as aerial-dropped proximity bombs,  Waric’s attempt to help Max backfires when the thermal detonators land and explode too closely to him!  One of the mercenaries is disintegrated and the other flees, but a burning hot durasteel door is blown off of its hinges by the force of the explosion and smashes into Max, knocking the poor swashbuckler to the ground, dying.  Realizing his mistake, Waric lands nearby and Kero jumps out of the ship’s turret.  She rushes over to Max and stabilizes him through an extraordinary display of trauma surgery. 

Having been routed, the surviving DuraSun mercenaries flee in an armoured landspeeder.  Keth and Tazo-Rhi give chase in their Y-Wing, but are forced to turn back when a power feedback surges through the cockpit and burns Keth’s legs severely!  Luckily, he has the presence of mind to land the vessel safely.  When Kero examines him, she says that he’ll need immediate immersion in a bacta tank, but that there should be no permanent impairment after a period of rehabilitation.

Although not having exactly received the “kiss of life,” Max lives to fight another day and even regains consciousness. The base is secure but the locked security door to the cellblock still poses a hindrance.  Max tries his hand at slicing through the electronic locks, but he is still groggy from the explosion and can’t quite get it.  When Waric arrives to help, Max thrusts his security kit in his hands and glares.  Max stalks away, and although Kero orders him to return, he keeps going.  Trill says she’ll go after him.  Later, after opening the door and freeing Marrass and the prisoners, Waric finds Max and apologizes to him sincerely.  Max offers a grudging acceptance.

Apart from mechanical difficulties and friendly-fire incidents, the well-planned mission is a complete success, and Gamma Flight’s shaky reputation is increased considerably.  With R&R on the horizon, the group is able to relax on their voyage back to The Flourishing.
-------------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (January 13, 2017)

This was the big "free the prisoners" mission that the group had been planning for a long time.   In many ways this Star Wars campaign was "second banana" (in terms of my time and attention) to the D&D campaign I was running at the same time and was also a much more casual game for the players, but within each session we had some damned exciting, memorable moments.  And despite my best efforts to create really challenging, risky missions for these fighter-commando PCs, they often managed to come through in flying colours!  This mission in particular was a complete success and was almost too-easy, as the group planned and executed well. 

 I tend to think that the proton missile launchers on the Y-Wings are overpowered; it's hard to see why those ships would ever use blasters, as the missiles do a ton of extra damage and get to roll twice to hit; the ships carry a limited payload, but even though I made the players keep track, they never had such a long encounter or so many encounters that ammunition was an issue.

In fact, the only hiccups during the session were the major critical fumbles that severely wounded the PCs (rolling a natural 1 with a hand-held concussion missile launcher!).  It really was fortunate the group had both some red chips left and the presence of a healing-focussed PC; in this session, we see the others getting a tad closer to figuring out that something is strange with Kero's expertise/ignorance of medical matters.

This sort of mission-focussed session was the sort of thing I imagined the PCs going on a lot when I started thinking about a Rogue Squadron-like campaign.  A lot of planning, a combined arms approach, and seeing what happened when different problems came up.  However, it was a lot of work to get a scenario like this ready (detailing an entire complex, guards, vehicles, etc.) and I didn't manage to pull it off as often as I would have liked.




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Andoran, Spirit of Libery [RPG]

Andoran, Spirit of Liberty is a 2010 product in the Pathfinder Player's Companion line of books.  Andoran can best be summed up to newcomers as "the American colonies during the Revolutionary War", as everything from the common clothing styles to the emphasis on yeomen farmers to the deep-seated individual commitment to freedom are evocative of that time period.  One of the things I really like about Andoran is that it's a "good" country, but unlike those in most other fantasy settings (like Cormyr in the Forgotten Realms) it's not premised on the ideals of monarchy, chivalry, and nobility.  Instead, it's premised on ideals that (hopefully) are more prevalent today: equality, liberty, democracy, and justice.  The inside front cover is an attractive, full-color map of Andoran, while the inside back cover is a reproduction of the cover but without the title or logo.  The interior artwork isn't of the more refined quality of most of Paizo's later work, but it really gives you a feel for what the book is about.  The contents of the book are divided into seven sections.

Section 1 is a thirteen-page overview of Andoran.  Most of what you would expect to find is here, including information on the country's history, government, and military.  But there's also at least a few paragraphs each about material you might not expect, like banking and music.  The section does a great job giving one a real feel for what life in Adoran would be like.  I found most interesting the parts about Andoran's relationship with the Fey and on "Ongoing Problems" with the Darklands, kobolds, piracy, and more.  As with most of these early Player's Companions, a lot of this information is equally more even more essential for GMs.  This section includes two new regional traits (neither mechanically powerful but each reasonably flavourful) and five new achievement feats.  The concept of achievement feats seems to have withered in Pathfinder over the years, but I actually really like the notion that in-game actions could serve as a prerequisite for taking some feats (though the benefit of these achievement feats are often underwhelming compared to the difficulty in getting them).

Section 2 contains eight pages on the cities of Andoran.  The major city of Almas receives a few pages itself, and other cities covered in some detail are Augustana, Bellis, Carpenden, and Oregent.  Interestingly, these last three cities come with a few regional traits each.  This section concludes with one-paragraph descriptions of several other cities in Andoran.

Section 3 is a two-page "Combat" section that consists solely of the Steel Falcon prestige class.  Steel Falcons are one branch of the famed Eagle Knights, and are known for carrying out Andoren values in other countries.  It's a bit of an unusual prestige class in that players could conceivably take it starting at character level 3, and there are only five levels to it.  It's actually pretty powerful in terms of class abilities.

Section 4 is a two-page "Faith" section.  A brief overview of how some of the major deities are perceived in Andoran is included, but of more interest is the discussion of Talmandor, an avoral (a bird-like celestial creature) that is thought of as the country's spiritual patron.

Section 5, "Magic," consists of two pages of magical items that are very strongly tied to Andoran and four spells, three of which are themed around detecting and liberating others from magical charms and compulsions.

Section 6, "Persona", gives descriptions of two prominent NPCs in Andoran (Alysande Benedict, deceased, and Reginald Cormoth) and a full stat block for a "local hero" named Jamus Hainard, a halfling paladin of Erastil.

Section 7 is a "Social" section that discusses more of how Andorens view the world.  There wasn't a lot here that couldn't have been inferred from Section 1.

The strengths of this book are in its descriptions and flavour of Andoran, and players or GMs looking for that sort of material should be happy.  Players looking for major new mechanical options, however, are likely to go home disappointed compared to the various other books available.  Overall, I would say this was a solid book, just not an exemplary one.