Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Road System [RPG]


I'm honestly torn about the usefulness of Road System, the first product I've purchased in the Pathfinder Map Pack line.  The product consists of 18 full-colour tiles, each 5 squares wide and 8 squares long and containing a section of a dirt road or (on two of the tiles) a stone bridge across a narrow stream.  The tiles can be arranged in whatever order wished, such as one long road or a shorter road featuring crossroads and intersections.  The artwork on the tiles is really good, as everything from muddy puddles to a felled tree to clumps of boulders are added in for some interesting terrain features.  The tiles, which are single-sided only, allow for wet, dry, and even permanent markers, so a GM need have no hesitation in adding an overturned wagon, a dead horse, or whatever they'd like.

I picked up Road System as an aid for random encounters when PCs are travelling from place to place.  I've only used the pack once, so my comments should be taken with a grain of salt.  My main concern is that, as pretty as the road looks, it's obviously too narrow to contain a full-fledged encounter.  This means the tiles have to be used in conjunction with an underlying map which isn't going to be nearly as attractive, and on which the GM will still probably want to add minor terrain features to add realism (unless the road is going across a featureless plain).  Because the easiest thing to draw on a blank play-mat is a set of parallel lines to make a road, I'm not sure how much "value-add" the map pack is actually providing.  It may be possible to combine a wilderness-themed Flip-Mat underneath Road System tiles, but I'm not sure how well the two would mesh together.

So all in all, the reason I'd give this an average score isn't because there's anything wrong with the set, but only because I'm not convinced yet of its usefulness.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Winter Witch [RPG]


NO-SPOILERS
Winter Witch was the second novel published in Paizo's Pathfinder Tales line. Written by veteran fantasy novelist Elaine Cunningham, the book is primarily set in Korvosa, Irrisen, and the Land of Linnorm Kings. It's a book with both urban and wilderness elements and features both arcane and martial protagonists. An interior map and surprisingly extensive glossary are quite helpful for newcomers.

Winter Witch isn't afraid to hold back on some of the mysteries it sets up until the end, and contains at least one excellent twist. It's well-grounded in Golarion-lore and its main characters and plot are interesting enough to give it a solid recommendation. The book would serve as excellent background to anyone running adventures in any of the areas where the book is set. Winter Witch may not be earth-shattering, but fans of the campaign setting will definitely enjoy it; I know I did.

SPOILERS
The two leads in Winter Witch are a mapmaker (and reluctant wizard) from Korvosa named Declan Avari and a warrior shield-maiden from the Land of Linnorm Kings named Ellasif. Ellasif's sister is a witch who has ended up in Whitethrone, capital of Irrisen, after a sequence of events that are heart-rending. Ellasif makes a deal that if she can bring a powerful wizard to trade for her sister, the winter witches will let the girl go. Thus, Ellasif tricks and lures Declan to travel all the way across Varisia with her on an epic quest, the real purpose of which he is none the wiser.

One of the parts about Declan I really enjoyed was his unconscious magic ability to manifest into reality things from his sketchbook. It's handled quite well in the book, and whether or not it has a Pathfinder RPG analogue, it certainly makes him distinctive and memorable compared to standard wizards. The differing cultures between Korvosa, Irrisen, and the Land of the Linnorm Kings
are illustrated quite well in the novel and one can see how nurture and nature interact.

For a moment it looked like the ending would take place without violence, a surprising but not unwelcome way to resolve the storyline. Instead, the book has a more conventional (if tragic) ending to Ellasif's quest. Other readers are probably more clever than I, but I was completely blind-sided by a twist involving a supporting character's real identity. I'm still not 100% sure why Declan was seen as such an attractive prospect for a winter witch in Whitethrone, but the detail is small enough that it didn't lessen my enjoyment of the book. Overall, a strong second entry in the novel line.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Session # 2 [RPG]


23 Rova 4707 (continued)

Having successfully defended Sandpoint from a surprise goblin raid, the adventurers return to the house where they left a bound goblin, hoping to interrogate it.  Unfortunately, when they arrive they see members of the Watch removing the goblin and lifting it into the back of a hay-wagon containing a few other prisoners.  Sheriff Hemlock is there overseeing events, and calls the adventurers over for a quick word.  He says all non-emergency personnel should be off the streets, and asks them to come to the garrison at Nine Bells in the morning for a full report since they were spotted fighting goblins.

Lonjiku Kaijitsu
The adventurers head towards the Rusty Dragon.  Bey, who oddly seems to see better at nighttime than during the day, notices Xeveg’s newly-acquired medallion and asks him about it.  The two realize they have a shared interest in the history and language of ancient Thassilon.  When the adventurers reach the inn, they realize they’ve become local heroes, as several townspeople come by to pat them on the back, shake their hand, or buy them drinks.  The evening of drinking and companionship continues for some hours until interrupted by the inn’s front door slamming and the arrival of an older Tian man who is obviously angry.  The newcomer shouts something in a language the adventurers don’t understand and then stalks through the common room as the previously boisterous conversation quiets completely.  Bethana Corwin, the Rusty Dragon’s halfing maid, whispers to the group that it’s Lonjiku Kaijitsu; she clearly understands what he is shouting about.  When Lonjiku sets eyes on the adventurers, he condemns their “antics” and derisively says they should have left the fighting to the professionals.


The adventurers argue back until the doors to the kitchen swing open and Lonjiku focuses his seething gaze on his daughter, Ameiko.  Lonjiku shouts at Ameiko, again in a foreign tongue, and then grabs her by the hair as if to drag her out of the inn!  Ameiko brains him with a soup ladle and Felix intervenes, restraining the enraged Lonjiku.  The Tian man thrusts out a finger towards Ameiko and says in accented Common:  “You are as dead to me as your mother!”  Felix allows him to turn and head for the door, when suddenly, out of nowhere, Oliver does a running slam-tackle on the old man!  Oliver makes as if to arrest Lonjiku, when he realizes everyone in the common room is shocked by his behaviour.  A local at a nearby table whispers to him that Lonjiku is head of one of the town’s founding families, and Felix adds that as much as he liked the violence, it might not be worth antagonizing a town leader.  Lonjiku himself spews an unending torrent of threats towards Oliver, including promises to contact the Sheriff, the Mayor, the Town Council, and even the Justice Court of Magnimar over the indignity.  After chewing it over, Oliver decides to let Lonjiku go.  The older man storms out, his clothes dirty and his face cut and bruised from the altercation.

Conversation in the common room starts to pick up again, as now the locals have both the goblin raid and an assault on the head of a founding family to talk about.  Xeveg and Bey try to convince Bethana to explain what Lonjiku and Ameiko were arguing about, but she’s reluctant to discuss her employer’s family affairs with strangers, even if they are heroes.  Oliver decides to ask Ameiko directly, and finds her in the kitchen trying to keep her composure; she kindly but similarly tells him to just let things be.  Having had quite the day, the adventurers go up to their rooms, but stop to take note of a “Help Wanted” sign near the bar.  It lists several opportunities, including dung-sweeping for someone named Gorvi, finding a lost spyglass for Brodert Quink, removing a snake from a well for Mayor Deverin, auditioning for a new play at the Sandpoint Theatre, and a bounty on goblin ears by Daviren Hosk at the Goblin Squash Stables.  That night, Bey has a memorable dream about peering into a dark tunnel or hole and being lunged at by a fanged creature.


24 Rova 4707

Having forged a bond the previous night, the four adventurers decide to breakfast together in the morning.  They discuss the Help Wanted board and decide that, after meeting with Sheriff Hemlock and accepting Madame Mvashti’s invitation to have tea with Bey and her friends, they should perhaps help Mayor Deverin with her snake problem.  The adventurers see three liveried servants, obviously not staff of the Rusty Dragon, carefully preparing a table for one.  Some minutes later, Aldern Foxglove makes his way down to breakfast, looking far more composed than when the adventurers encountered him the previous evening.  He is delighted to see his rescuers and invites them to dine with him.  He eats daintily and delicately, but is quite personable.  As a reward for saving his life, he invites the adventurers to go on a boar hunt with him in nearby Tickwood.  He offers to buy the adventurers mounts and boar spears, which they can keep, and says he plans to depart for the hunt at dawn the next day.  The group accept his offer and hurry off to their appointment with Sheriff Hemlock after reminding Oliver he needs to dress in more than a simple bathrobe!

Sheriff Hemlock is in a conference room littered with maps and reports when the adventurers arrive.  He says he’s heard several reports of the adventurers’ running battles against the goblins, and after asking them to confirm several details (which Xeveg does aptly), he offers sincere gratitude, even going so far as to tell Felix that he’s willing to give him another chance.  Sheriff Hemlock tells Oliver that he is more than welcome to maintain his provisional status in the Town Watch.  Hemlock explains that he has his deputies investigating several locations where goblins were spotted last night, and assigns Oliver to follow up on two leads: the Boneyard and Junk Beach. 

Before leaving the garrison, the adventurers decide to personally interrogate the captured goblins, four of whom are held in a basement cell.  Xeveg is able to speak the guttural goblin language and translates (sometimes quite loosely) for his allies.  At first the goblins refuse to provide any useful information and make fun of the adventurers, but when Xeveg bluffs them into thinking they’ll be executed by horse-trampling if they don’t cooperate, they begin to talk.  The goblins, two of whom are from Mosswood and two of whom are from Shank’s Wood, say that lots of goblins from all over were in on the raid.  Two say they were snuck into Sandpoint in a covered wagon, while the other two came over a wall via ladder, and all were instructed by their boss, a “longshanks”, to kill and burn at will.  The Shank’s Wood goblins confirm they never go to nearby Tickwood because of the wild boars there.  While the interrogation is going on, Felix encounters the town jailer, a Shoanti man named Vachedi.


Madame Mvashti
The adventurers head across town towards Madame Mvashti’s residence.  Bey has a difficult time convincing her allies that it’s worth their time to meet with the seer, but they reluctantly go along.  On the way, the adventurers receive further evidence of their popularity in the harbor town; Aneka Avertin of Sandpoint Savories rushes out with a gift basket of pastries for the “Heroes of Sandpoint”, while Felix and Oliver receive seductive smiles and winks from a ginger-haired beauty they haven’t met yet.  Madame Mvashti’s house turns out to be a sprawling, decrepit mansion.  After being welcomed in by her niece, Gianya Frallino, the group is taken to Madame Mvashti’s sitting room which is chock-full of bizarre trinkets, concoctions, wooden masks, and more.  Madame Mvashti throws the bones and does a reading for the group.  She says that trouble has been brewing for five years now, and that it’s about to erupt from above and below.  Last night’s raid was just a drop in the bucket of the devastation sure to come to Sandpoint, but there’s still a chance the fates can be swayed if heroes arise to stem the tide.  She finds Oliver particularly amusing, saying he has heart but no head, and gifts him with a dusty jar full of briny liquid to drink when “things are at their worst.”  She also expresses her fondness for Xeveg, who is clearly sceptical of her ability to foretell the future, saying that he has head but no heart and that perhaps he and Oliver can learn from each other.  Madame Mvashti finishes by saying it’s time for her nap, but that Bey and her friends are welcome to come again.

The newly-built Sandpoint Cathedral is the adventurers’ next destination.  It’s the town’s largest building by far, home to chapels to six different faiths (Abadar, Desna, Erastil, Gozreh, Sarenrae, and Shelyn), and features an open-air courtyard with ancient standing stones that served as a place of worship for the indigenous Varisians for generations.  Sister Arva, one of the temple’s four acolytes, expresses her willingness to heal the adventurers in gratitude for their valour the night prior.  The adventurers then travel through the cathedral and out a back door that leads directly to the Boneyards, Sandpoint’s cemetery.  The Boneyards overlooks the Turandarok River, and in addition to the expected grave plots it features dozens of stone vaults owned by the more affluent members of the community.


Xeveg’s keen eyes quickly spots where the goblins climbed over the wall.  Oliver’s woodland skill in tracking reveals that there were six goblins and one lightweight humanoid.  The ranger follows the tracks from the wall to a particular vault whose heavy square door still hangs ajar.  Felix puts his shoulder to the door and forces it open further, revealing four stone sarcophagi inside.  But far more pressing to the skilled brawler are two skeletal abominations that leaps out at him with rusty scimitars and bony claws!  Fortunately, Felix dodges away from their attacks and shatters one of their skulls with his fist!  Xeveg’s darting ray of positive energy and Oliver’s greatsword make short work of the remaining skeleton.  After the battle, Xeveg examines the remnants of the skeletons and realizes they were magically conjured from nothingness and were never the bones of an actual corpse.  Inside the vault, he sees the lid to one of the sarcophagi has been pried open and is empty; a plaque on its side reads: “Father Ezakien Tobyn, Honoured Citizen of Sandpoint and Priest of Desna.”  In addition, crumpled up in a corner of the vault is a black robe that Xeveg realizes has some sort of connection to necromancy.  He stuffs it in his backpack.  The group look for a secret door but do not find one.

Oliver discerns that the intruders then went towards a cemetery gate, but he loses their trail once it leads onto a cobblestone road in the town proper.  The adventurers decide to return to the cathedral and confer with Father Zantus about the missing body.  He is distraught at hearing the news that Father Tobyn’s body has been stolen.  He explains that Father Tobyn died in the same fire that burned down Sandpoint’s previous chapel five years previously, and that he was a mentor to many in the community, including Father Zantus himself.  He has no idea why someone would steal the body of a priest.  The adventurers decide to stay for the noon dedication ceremony of the cathedral, which is a much quieter and more intimate affair than the interrupted ceremony planned for the night prior.  After the ceremony, Bey takes the opportunity to ask Mayor Deverin about the request she placed on the Rusty Dragon’s “Help Wanted” board.  Mayor Deverin confirms that one of the wells at Deverin Manor has been befouled by a snake, and that the adventurers would be rewarded if they can remove it.  She says to speak to her groundskeeper for more information.

The adventurers head to Junker’s Edge, a clifftop overlooking the sea and a junk-covered beach below, in order to follow-up on the second goblin spotting that Sheriff Hemlock told them about.  Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Bey mentions to the others that Brodert Quink may have lost his spyglass in the area.  Xeveg and Felix work together to determine the most likely spot on the beach below that a spyglass would end up if it were to have dropped accidentally.  Felix spots a narrow channel down the side of the cliff-face that could provide a safe path down to the beach below, and everyone sets off.  Oliver slips on the way down and crashes into Bey, and both end up with scrapes and bruises.  When everyone reaches the beach, they split up to look for the spyglass.  Bey is poking through various bits of debris when she suddenly hears a shriek right underneath her feet; a goblin had hidden himself in the sand and junk and fallen asleep, and Bey stepped right on him!  His shriek awakens three other goblins hidden nearby, and in moments a fight is on.

Junker's Edge
The goblins are undisciplined, easily distracted combatants.  Nonetheless, Oliver quickly drinks the strange concoction given to him by Madame Mvashti for emergencies and discovers that it is a powerful healing potion; but as he hadn’t yet been wounded, it has little effect.  Bey tussles with one of the goblins only to realize it’s attacking her with a brass spyglass; when Oliver kills it, Felix does a diving leap to catch the spyglass before it crashes into the ground.  Having exhausted his offensive magicks, Xeveg uses a shovel to fight the goblins and nearly decapitates one.  Felix continues to prove himself a master of unarmed fighting and in seconds all of the goblins are dead.  Oliver collects ears for the bounty, and the adventurers espy a burlap sack containing a mixture of rotting garbage and semi-valuable items like a copper necklace and a filthy but workable hand crossbow.  The climb back up the cliff is again perilous, as Xeveg falls twice before being pulled up with a rope lowered by Felix.  As the adventurers catch their breath, they notice a horse-drawn cart arrive with more junk to drop over the side.


The inhabitants of Sandpoint have quickly taken to Bey, Oliver, Xeveg, and Felix, and the local heroes have continued their record of success by uncovering the theft of Father Tobyn’s body and catching four more goblins.  But will their encounter with Lonjiku Kaijitsu come back to haunt them?
--------------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (30/01/2017)

I was really proud of how I role-played the argument between Lonjiku and Ameiko--handling both sides of a shouting match is a challenging thing for a director!  The encounter, which I understand was added to the Anniversary Edition, did an excellent job encapsulating Lonjiku's and Ameiko's relationship.  The PCs *just* missed the Diplomacy DCs to find out what was going on from Bethana (and later, Ameiko).  Of course, nobody expected the encounter to end with old man Lonjiku being slam-tackled!  The player running Oliver is brand new to RPGs and is a little . . . enthusiastic.  Tie in his insistence on running around in a bath robe and his drinking what turned out to be a healing potion while at full health, and you have one strange dude running around Sandpoint.

One of the minor additions I've made to the adventure path that has worked extremely well is posting various items to the Rusty Dragon's "Help Wanted" board.  This has served as an excellent way to introduce minor side-quests and add some character to events happening in the town.  The incident at Junk Beach is taken from the encounter of the same name from the Dark Waters Rising hardcover (collecting the first six issues of the Pathfinder comic).  That comic has proved to be an excellent resource to flesh out Sandpoint and its surroundings.

Next Recap

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Best Served Cold [RPG]

Marcov Draeven

NO-SPOILERS

Best Served Cold is a free, four-part series of fiction in the Pathfinder Tales line (found here) set in the River Kingdoms area of Golarion.  It's a dark tale of murder and vengeance featuring an unlikely but fascinating protagonist.  I recommend it if you're in the mood for grim rather than traditional "heroic" fantasy.

SPOILERS

Marco Draevan, one of the two main characters in the story, is a man haunted (quite physically) by the ghosts of those he was responsible for killing during a battle years ago.  The description of Marco, constantly talking to and being tormented by phantasmal forces, is unlike any other character I've seen before, and is done quite well.  He would make a fascinating PC if a player were given some artistic license.  The story, about several towns being overrun by bandits and undead ostensibly driven by a priest of Calistria, is quite effective as building tension.  This is not a story where everyone finds a happy ending, but that makes it no less interesting.  Best Served Cold serves as a successful audition as far as I'm concerned for its author, Ari Marmell, to be given a novel.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mynock Squadron Recap # 19 [RPG]

[4.7.21]

The members of Gamma Flight arrive in the hangar bay of the The Flourishing after a rousing success on Nishr.  Even Tazo-Rhi offers unrestrained praise!  Max smuggles the vibrorapier he had requisitioned past the distracted eyes of the quartermaster, and the pilots head to the ship’s med-bay so that Keth’s legs, Waric’s face, and Max’s burns can be treated.  The days spent separately in recuperation pass quickly, punctuated only by Max’s angry shouting match with Lt. Tuvolo over the latter’s refusal to let him routinely carry what the Aqualish calls an “antique” weapon on missions, saying it’ll make Mynock the laughingstock of the fleet.

[4.7.25]

Gamma Flight reunites in the ship’s off-duty mess to celebrate their impending R&R.  In addition, Kero and Warik have received good news: they have been promoted to Chief Warrant Officer and Warrant Officer, respectively.  Keth is the last to arrive at the party, and everyone is surprised to see him in a repulsor-chair.  The reticent pilot explains that the severe burns he suffered on the Nishr mission will heal eventually, but for now he’ll be confined to the slow-moving vehicle.  Meanwhile, Max remains somewhat curt with Warik over the ill-timed detonation of explosives outside the prison block.  The pilots speculate about where they’ll be sent on their leave until the Squadron’s logistics officer, Mikaela Sor, arrives with an answer: Theed, the capital city of the planet Naboo.  Having thrown off the yoke of the Empire after the Battle of Endor some months past, the planet is anxious to forge ties with the New Republic and restore tourism despite its infamous status as the birthplace of Senator-turned-Emperer Palpatine.  Kero says that from everything she’s heard, it should be a relaxing and enjoyable trip.

That night, Max is eager to play some Djarik or Sabacc with other members of the ship’s crew, but he can’t find a game with stakes he thinks are worthwhile.  Keth, for his part, spends some time making a few improvements to his repulsor-chair.

[4.7.26]

During the short hyperspace jaunt to Naboo aboard a small shuttle, the pilots discuss whether they should share accommodation.  Max is worried that he doesn’t have enough credits to stay in the mid-scale downtown Theed hotel that Kero has suggested, until Warik thrusts a thousand-credit stick in his hand and tells him to stop whining.  Tazo-Rhi says she is investing her pay in a low-risk savings bond and will thus be staying in budget accommodations elsewhere in the city, but the other four pilots agree to split the cost of rooms.  Kero is anxious to keep the group in contact and out of trouble, even while on R&R, and tells Tazo-Rhi to check in twice a day and, if in trouble, to use the password “mercenary.”  When the shuttle lands at a busy starport, however, Max tries to sneak away from the rest of the group.  Kero spots him and orders him to return, but the group’s newest member shouts that he’s off-duty and disappears into the crowd!  Kero connects to Max’s comlink and leaves a message that indicates she will be most displeased if he doesn’t check in at the planned hotel immediately.  Max does catch an air-taxi to the hotel, but not before going through the bureaucracy necessary to get a permit to carry his vibrorapier openly in the city.  When he arrives, Kero is waiting out front and delivers a tongue-lashing, saying that although the group is on leave, that doesn’t mean Max “gets to run amok” and that “although you have potential, you also have a smart mouth.”  She continues that if he disobeys a direct-order again, she’ll bounce him out of the military and impale him with his own vibroblade!  Max seems to concede the point.

Warik, meanwhile, has gone straight up to his room and started drinking heavily.  Keth, however, has other plans.  He obtains the address of the nearest surgical clinic and persuades Kero to come with him so he can get a “second-opinion” on his legs.  When the two arrive at the small facility, the clinic’s perky receptionist takes an instant interest in the obviously wounded “man in uniform.”  Keth doesn’t openly reciprocate her interest, but Kero surprises him by actively encouraging the receptionist’s affections and gathering the young woman’s comlink frequency.  Keth is rather abashed by the whole incident.  He is the one, however, who delivers the surprise when he and Kero are introduced to the clinic’s director of surgery.  Keth states that he’s interested in cybernetic prosthetic legs!  After a lengthy examination, Keth is told that he is a suitable candidate but that the fee is steep: 5,000 credits.  The young Zabrak is going to have to think about it, as that amount is far above what he can presently afford.

While Keth and Kero are at the clinic, and Warik continues drinking heavily, Max looks for adventure.  He finds a private dueling club that will open the following evening at 21:00 hours, but eager for some excitement now, he finds an air-taxi pilot willing to take him outside the city to an unlicensed swoop- and pod-race circuit.  Max surveys the field of vehicles being prepped for an upcoming race and decides to talk to an owner/mechanic  who is clearly frustrated with the poor performance of his racer.  Max tries to talk the owner, a heavy-set, bewhiskered human in grease-stained overalls, into letting him pilot the swoop, arguing that if the owner doesn’t take a chance on someone new, he’s going to keep losing.  The owner gives his name as Barskal and just about seems convinced, but then shakes his head and says it’s just too risky—if Max were to crash, he might lose everything.  Max is smart however.  He stays to watch the race, and when the owner’s racer comes in last place, Max sidles up and makes his offer again.  This time, Barskal agrees and invites Max to come back at midnight the following night for a moonlight race.

At sundown, the pilots, sans Tazo-Rhi, assemble at the hotel’s trendy roof-top bar.  Kero arrives in a sexy strapless dress, leading Max’s jaw to drop.  She’s in a mood her subordinates have never seen before: out-going, jubilant, and in a mood to party!    Keth resists her repeated suggestions that he comm the clinic’s receptionist for a drink.  In contrast to Kero’s behavior, Warik arrives drunk, disorderly, and rather depressed.  He orders another synthale and sits near the roof’s edge.  When Keth comes over to talk to him, they both notice the same thing on the street below:  Stavros!

The best pilot during their entry trials was discharged from the Squadron due to chronic health problems, but both Keth and Warik are happy to see him.  As they look on and try to get his attention, however, they see a landspeeder roll up next to him.  A trio of heavily-muscled toughs emerge and start pushing Stavros around.  Warik shouts to his companions on the rooftop that they have to do something, and he rushes towards the lifts.  When everyone emerges in the lobby, they see that across the busy street, Stavros has already been ushered into the back of the landspeeder.  Warik sprints, narrowly avoiding being run-over by traffic, and leaps on to the back of the landspeeder!  He screams “I used to be handsome!” and then starts firing his blaster at the rear engine hatch to disable the vehicle.  The thugs, all Gungans, are stunned by the startling and frankly bizarre appearance of the heavily-disfigured and partially-cybernetic Warik.  Their hesitation gives time for Kero to dash across the street as well and she levels her blaster at the thugs, but two of them leap out as she fires while the third puts a knife to Stavros’ throat.  “Yossa the Brick don’t like welchers!” the Gungan shouts.  Warik leaps at one of the thugs and tries to bite his nose off, but gets stabbed in the abdomen.  Max arrives instants later with his vibrorapier in hand and begins dueling another.  Keth, slowed by the repulsor-chair, fires some careful shots from a distance.

After the sudden counter-attack, the landspeeder’s pilot panics and hits the accelerator, but the damaged engine bursts into flames and the vehicle is clipped by another.  Both the Gungan and Stavros are thrown out into the street.  With sirens rapidly approaching, the thugs flee.  Max gives furious chase, but can’t catch up.  As Kero helps the shaken but unharmed Stavros get to his feet, he looks frightened.  “I’ve gotta settle things with Yossa the Brick,” he says.  “Or I’m a dead man!”

---------------------------------------
Director's Commentary (27/01/2017)

Every military-themed campaign needs an R&R session, where the PCs get to let their hair down.  I can't remember why I chose the city of Theed on Naboo (home of the infamous Jar Jar Binks), but it may have had to do with a desire to revisit the gungan bruiser Yossa the Brick, an NPC I only got to use in one encounter in my Clone Wars campaign.  I had obviously planned the "kidnapping of Stavros" storyline, and the combat was really exciting and cinematic.  The highlight of the night, and possibly the campaign, was drunken Warik's complete non-sequiter "I used to be handsome!!!" while jumping on the back of the landspeeder.  We had to stop the session for a while because we were laughing so much, and it still makes me chuckle to this day.  The early part of the session had a lot of free-form improv on my part (like the dueling club and swoop race) and those probably aren't my strong-suits as a GM in a game like Saga Edition or Pathfinder where I know that *everything* has stats.  It's much easier to improvise and be dramatic in games like Buffy where you know pacing and story are more important than crunch.





Thursday, January 26, 2017

Inner Sea Magic [RPG]

Inner Sea Magic is a 64-page entry in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line that contains an impressive amount of information about everything from magical schools to variant types of spellcasting and more.  It's full of new spells, archetypes, and even a couple of prestige classes, and I found myself impressed and intrigued by most of the options presented.  I will say this is another product that seems to blur the division between the Campaign Setting line (intended for GMs) and the Player's Companion line (intended for players), as players will get as much or more use out of this book as GMs.  But in the end that doesn't keep this from being a quality book that is definitely worth getting.

The inside front cover is a map of the Inner Sea region with the location of important magic schools listed.  The inside back cover is a reproduction of the cover without any logos or title.  The contents are divided into five sections:  Magic of the Inner Sea, Variant Magic, Magic Schools, Spellcasters of the Inner Sea, and Spells.

Section 1, Magic of the Inner Sea, is six pages long.  It begins with a brief overview (1 paragraph each) of regions in the Inner Sea that are particularly noteworthy in regards to magic: Geb, Irrisen, Jalmeray, the Mana Wastes, Nex, Nidal, Thuvia, Varisia, and the Worldwound.  The rest of the section is a list of fifty(!) noted spellcasters in the Inner Sea, each with a one-line description, class and level, and a head-shot.  I don't recall seeing anything like this before, but I actually really liked it.  It's basically a "Who's Who" of magical power in known Golarion.  My only suggestion is that it would have been better to use the inside front and inside back covers for this sort of reference information, thus freeing up a couple of pages in the interior for exposition.

Section 2, Variant Magic, is ten pages long and definitely something I'll make use of.  It presents seven variant systems of spellcasting that are tied to a particular region or theme, and are perfect for NPCs or (with GM permission) PCs that hail from that area.  Included in this section is False Divine Magic (Razmiran spellcasters who disguise arcane magic as divine), Fleshwarping (not really a different way of casting spells, but a way to transform creatures), Primal Magic (otherwise known as "wild magic", this section includes rules on primal magic areas, how primal magic events are triggered, and a great table on sample effects that could result); Riffle Scrolls (a slightly different method of scroll-casting that I didn't really get the purpose of, either in the novel Prince of Wolves or here); Shadowcasting (drawing from the plane of shadow; this section includes four new feats); Tattoo Magic (favoured by Varisians), and Thassilonian Magic (basically super-specializing in a school of magic; includes a great picture of the Runelord Sorshen).  The options presented here were quite flavourful but also seemed (without play-testing) mechanically viable.

Section 3, Magic Schools, is ten pages long and presents a full rules sub-system for handling PCs who enroll at a magical school, including the cost, the benefits (socially and mechanically) they gain from their education, what it takes to avoid flunking out, and so forth.  The sub-system is designed to track the students' Fame (which they earn by making Education checks a certain number of times per semester) and Prestige Points (which they earn by completing specific tasks).  Fame is used to track a students' progress and privileges (everything from library access at one end to becoming a full professor and receiving a salary at the other) while Prestige Points can be spent to receive specific favors which vary based on the school, such as gaining an Imp Minion or a discount on the purchase of poisons.  Formally, the system distinguishes between Academies (arcane education), Guilds (item creation), Monasteries (divine instruction), and Secret Societies (hidden goals).  The following schools are detailed, each customized to reflect different entrance fees, tuition costs, exams, extracurricular tasks, and awards:  the Acadamae (Korvosa's school of demonic conjuration), the Arcanamirium (Absalom's school of "practical magic"), the Magaambya (a long-standing school in Nantambu in the Mwangi Expanse), the Kintargo Opera House (bardic college in Cheliax), the Oenopion Fleshforges (fleshwarping laboratory in Nex), the Poisoner's Guild (in the River Kingdoms), the White Grotto (a bardic college in Absalom), Citadel Enferac (Hellknight stronghold in Cheliax), the Harrowed Society (Varisian fortune-tellers in Galduria), and the Crimson Citadel (Red Mantis assassins!).  Monasteries receive a two-page spread that are not geographically specific, but instead lists a faith-specific award that students can spend prestige points on.  Each of the core deities receive one entry.  I think the concept of magic schools, and the system presented, would be fantastic fun to use.  However, I think it probably would require the entire campaign to be centered around the premise, as otherwise most campaigns don't last long enough (in terms of in-game months) to make a semester structure viable.  There is a brief sidebar that suggests a method to cope with this, but I think it could lead to PCs rising from students to Full Professors in the space of what could be only a few months of in-game time, which seems unrealistic.  But then, Pathfinder is full of unrealistic things, so that might not be a problem for most.  Where I see the Magic Schools sub-system receiving the most value is in a "Harry Potter" style campaign where all the PCs attend the same magic school and compete for fame and prestige while handling missions presented by the school (or foiling threats to the school).

Section 4, Spellcasters of the Inner Sea, is a twenty-page section that tries to offer something for everyone.  It's basically a miscellany of everything from new oracle mysteries to new archetypes to new prestige classes.  The two new oracle mysteries are Spellscar (centered around primal magic) and Outer Rifts (related to the incursion of the chaotic evil Abyss into the Material Plane).  Next, the section lists 19(!) new archetypes.  This is already a long review, so I won't list them all here.  The ones I've heard a lot about include Crypt Breaker archetype for alchemists (another attack on poor rogues), the Dawnflower Dervish archetype for bards (doubling the benefits of bardic performance, but limiting their application to the bard), and the Winter Witch archetype for witches (pretty much every spellcaster in Irrisen!).  Most of the archetypes look pretty good, but there are a couple like Mendevian Priest and Oenopion Researcher that I think could have been fleshed out more.  Last, there are two new prestige classes, each with a full two-page spread.  The Cyphermage is an expert in written and runic magic from long study of the famous Cyphergate in Riddleport.  I really like the flavour of this prestige class, but most of the special abilities apply only to scrolls or other magical writing (like runes or symbols), and, at least in the games I'm involved in, I don't know how useful they would really be.  The other prestige class, the Divine Scion, didn't do much for me (apart from a cool picture of Nualia).  This divine-focussed prestige class is pretty bland thematically, as it's basically just a super-worshipper of any faith, and the special abilities consist of getting a low-level spell as a spell-like ability and another miscellaneous bonus (tied to the PCs domains), and some other moderate bonuses based on alignment.  I think it tries too hard to be available to any faith and just comes across as pretty generic.

Last but not least, is Section 5: Spells.  This section starts with a cool picture of the Iconic witch fighting a woolly mammoth with Ice Spears, one of the new spells introduced here.  Spellcasters shouldn't be disappointed, as 39 new spells appear here, with at least a couple of options for every spellcasting class (even Alchemist and Summoner).  The rich get richer, of course, as Clerics and Wizards/Sorcerors get by far the most new options.

Overall, I quite liked Inner Sea Magic.  The sections on Variant Magic and Magic Schools were real highlights, and I could see them adding a lot to the right campaign.  The player-focussed options presented (archetypes, spells, etc.) are more the sort of thing that could be found in any book, and I wish that as a Campaign Setting book this one would have spent more time on material that would be unlikely to appear elsewhere.  Still, all in all this is a solid buy.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Adventurer's Armory [RPG]

Adventurer's Armory was a product completely different than anything that had appeared in Pathfinder's Player Companion line up to that point.  Whereas previous entries in the series has been about specific regions or races and contained far more "fluff" than "crunch", the Adventurer's Armory was almost *all* crunch.  Full of new equipment, weapons, services, and more, the book drastically expanded the amount of stuff that PCs could spend their hard-earned (or stolen) gold on.  It's probably the reason it's the most popular Player's Companion, and (I think) the only one to ever receive a second printing.  Indeed, its continuing popularity is such that it's led to an announced Adventurer's Armory 2 later in 2017, which means Adventurer's Armory is the first product in the line  to receive a direct sequel.

The inside front- and back- covers are tables providing statistics for the new weapons introduced in the book.  The interior is then divided into six sections.

The first section, and by far the longest at 20 pages, is "Weapons, Armor, and Adventuring Gear."  This section is exactly what it sounds like.  There are 45(!) new weapons, including some classics from previous editions of D&D like the bardiche and lasso, as well as many I've never seen before, like the meteor hammer, groaning bullets, and syringe spear.  One new shield (a "madu") and one new armor (parade armor) are introduced.  The section then details dozens of new pieces of miscellaneous adventuring gear, including some that have become extremely common in groups I've played in, such as masterwork backpacks and skeleton keys.  Players interested in alchemy will be happy, as a couple of dozen of substances are introduced, including everything from sneezing powder to bladeguard (for rust monster protection!).  There are then 24 new tool and skill kits, such as portable alchemist's labs, a stretcher, and a portable altar.  Some fun new clothing options are introduced such as tear-away clothing, as well as some eminently sensible choices like hot weather outfits.  Foods and drinks receive descriptions and prices: everything from coffee and tea to Linnorm mead and Mwangi coffee.  Want an animal as a pet or companion?  Dogs, dire rats, stirges (!), and more are priced.  Last, there's a handful of entertainment items (like loaded dice and marked cards) and herbal items.   Perhaps disturbingly, there's even an entry on purchasing different types of slaves.

The second section, "Combat", comes in at two pages and introduces the concept of equipment tricks.  Basically, by taking the Equipment Trick feat, a character can learn to do special things with one particular type of equipment like a rope or a shield.  This section details Heavy Blade Scabbard tricks (like flipping a disarmed weapon into an empty scabbard) and Shield tricks (like throwing your shield to bounce off stuff like Captain America).  I've never used equipment tricks in a game, but some of them actually look pretty fun.

A two-page "Faith" section introduces several new items for divine casters, most of them relating to a cleric's ability to channel energy.

The "Magic" section, also two pages long, focuses on the concept of Alchemical Power Components: basically, using an alchemical item as an added component when casting a spell to boost its power.  Using a flask of alchemist's fire when casting burning hands, for example, means that one target that fails its save catches on fire.  Some of the boosts are quite minor, while others could be extremely useful in the right circumstances, like using a tanglefoot back to allow your black tentacles to reroll grapple checks.

The "Persona" section details an NPC alchemist-for-hire named Arayam Bismut.  Bismut is given an intriguing backstory involving a family curse and could make a decent cohort.  A major thing to keep in mind, however, is that this product came out (I assume) before the Alchemist class became part of the game, so Bismut is statted out as simply a Level 6 Expert.

The final section, oddly labelled "Social", introduces the concept of Equipment Traits: things like having an heirloom weapon or being more skilled than most at using improvised weapons.  Two new feats (Sly Draw and Splash Weapon Mastery) aid rogues who want to feint and bomb-hurlers respectively.

It's hard to imagine a player flipping through this book and *not* finding something useful for their character.  The options provided expand, quite usefully, the understandably limited selection in the Core Rulebook.  On the other hand, as everything apart from the NPC is open content, these items could just as easily be found in the PRD or PFSRD.  Still, I'm confident the upcoming sequel to this book will also sell like hotcakes.

NOTE:  The first printing of this book was apparently full of typos and errors.  I'm operating off the second printing, and most of the problems seem to have been fixed.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rise of the Runelords Session # 1 [RPG]

23 Rova 4707


When the dawn bells ring in Sandpoint, the day holds the promise of clear weather, the excitement of an upcoming festival, and the solemnity of the dedication of a new house of worship. 

Bethana Corwin
 Bey Lin awakens suddenly in her room at the Rusty Dragon just after daybreak, covered in sweat and shouting incoherently about “blood and flame in the streets!”  The ruckus startles Bethana Corwin, an elderly halfling maid at the inn, who had been across the hall serving Xeveg Kishalq freshly-baked bread and tea.  After Bey opens her door to Bethana’s concerned knocking, the adventurer explains matter-of-factly that “the apocalypse is coming soon upon us all, but with luck you may survive.”  A sleepy-eyed Xeveg does not seem impressed, nor does the reptilian bird that perches on his shoulder.

At the nearby Sandpoint Garrison, Oliver Turn awakens to the sound of morning reveille.  He gets dressed and pins a cloth badge to his tabard identifying himself as an auxiliary member of the Town Watch.  As he waits to hear his duty assignment, he sees Sheriff Hemlock receiving upsetting news.  Hemlock motions for Oliver and another freelancer to follow him and they head towards the North Gate, stopping at a relatively new three-story building whose entrance is flanked by a pair of carved deer made from white birch.  Hemlock strides right into the White Deer Inn and starts up the stairs (after speaking briefly with a maid), much to the surprise and anger from the inn’s proprietor, Garridan Viskalai. 

The argument in the hallway between Hemlock and Viskalai is loud enough to wake Felix Bloodrider seconds before there’s loud pounding on his door.  Hemlock, flanked by Oliver and another watchman, with Viskalai looking on angrily, confronts Felix with the news that word quickly spread of his assault on the Magnimarian merchants and their bodyguards last night.  Hemlock says that if the victims hadn’t already fled and could swear out a statement, Felix would already be in a jail cell.  Felix isn’t intimidated in the least by his fellow Shoanti warrior’s imposing presence, and makes the fact clear to Hemlock.  The two look poised for an altercation until Hemlock declares he doesn’t have time to deal with Felix, and appoints Oliver to keep a close eye on him all day to ensure he stays out of trouble.

Mayor Deverin
The Swallowtail Festival starts on time with a series of speeches by town leaders.  Mayor Kendra Deverin thanks everyone for attending and says that the construction of a new church shows that Sandpoint has heart.  Sheriff Hemlock asks for a moment of silence to remember the lives that were lost in the fire that claimed the previous chapel five years earlier.  As Lonjiku Kaijitsu is ill, theatre-proprietor Cyrdak Drokkus takes the stage and tells a few jokes before introducing Father Abstalar Zantus, Priest of Desna.  Father Zantus declares the Swallowtail Festival officially underway.  Attendees scatter for food, games, trinkets, and more.

Xeveg makes the rounds of the local vendors, hoping to stumble across anything of historical interest.  He notices a dull gray ioun stone, but the price is too high for him to afford it.  Felix sticks close to the lemon-berry juice stand run by Garridan Viskalia’s wife and daughters before being asked to escort the youngest daughter, nine-year-old Mantha, to the games area.  There, Felix tries “The Devil Hunt” (firing arrows at a wooden rendering of the legendary Sandpoint Devil) and “Raise the Shipwreck” (hitting a bellows so hard it knocks a bucket full of coins and candy off a pole).  He doesn’t have much luck with either, and grouses about it loudly.  For his part, Oliver keeps a close eye on the festival-goers but doesn’t notice anything suspicious.  Bey shares her matter-of-fact confidence that the day will end in flames and death, leading most people to steer well clear of her.

Father Zantus
At midday, the festival-goers assemble before the Cathedral again, where Father Zantus and his four acolytes have arranged for a covered wagon to be brought into the square.  Father Zantus delivers a parable about how Desna, goddess of luck, beauty, and travel, fell to earth after being defeated by the vicious demon-goddess Lamashtu.  Desna was befriended by a young blind girl who nursed her back to health, and in gratitude the goddess turned the girl into a Swallowtail butterfly so she could see the world of Golarion and explore it for all eternity.  After the story is finished, the cover on the wagon is pulled back to reveal thousands of Swallowtail butterflies; the freed creatures fly up into the sky in a beautiful spiral of color.

Lunch is provided free to all by the proprietors of three local kitchens:  Garridan Viskalai, Shoanti owner of the White Deer Inn; Jargie Quinn, peg-legged owner of the Hagfish; and Ameiko Kaijitsu, well-liked owner of the Rusty Dragon.  Felix and Bey end up sitting next to one another, and Bey shares her belief that the streets will soon run red with blood.  Felix is enthusiastic about the idea.  On the other side of the square, Oliver cleans his nails with his shortsword while Xeveg tries various exotic foods and then plays chess with his familiar, much to the daylight of nearby children.

After lunch, Bey spots her recent companion in battle and asks Oliver how he is feeling.  She observes that one of his wounds seems to be infected, and that although he may die, she hopes he’ll live long enough to join in resisting the doom that will soon befall them.  In turn, Oliver expresses his confidence that he’ll be fine.  The ranger continues to trail Felix at a distance, leading the heavily-muscled Shoanti man to introduce himself.  When asked “what his quest” is, Felix replies “beer, food, and wenches!”  Xeveg continues scouring merchant and junk stalls, and has a stroke of luck: mixed in with a pile of homemade jewellery and old war medals is a medallion depicting a strikingly beautiful but enraged human woman.  Xeveg instantly realizes the medallion is both ancient in creation but relatively unmarked by the passage of time, and that it depicts one of the rulers of old Thassilon, the Runelord Alaznist.  He can’t afford the initial price asked for, but negotiates a deal to buy it at a cheaper price if it hasn’t been sold by the end of the day.  Bey Lin takes a break from the festival and visits Brodert Quink to see if he’s recovered from his wounds; though laid up in bed, Brodert says he’s getting better.  The old sage is annoyed, however, because he’s lost his brass spyglass.

Goblins Attack the Swallowtail Festival!
At sunset, it seems like the whole of Sandpoint has turned out in front of the new cathedral to witness the dedication ceremony.  Father Zantus throws a thunderstone on the ground to get everyone’s attention and starts to speak, but his words are cut off by the sound of a woman’s scream, and then the sudden surge of strange, high-pitched voices chanting a crude song.  The crowd parts as a dog stumbles through, its throat cut from ear to ear and spraying blood everywhere.  Felix and Oliver spot a three-foot tall creature with a scrawny body dwarfed by a wide, ungainly head.  A goblin!  It licks the blood from the blade used to slit the dog’s throat and cackles in obvious glee.  Other goblins are spotted all around, and people begin to panic!

Xeveg reacts instantly, magically blasting a goblin off a nearby cart and into a water trough to drown.  Felix literally punches a hole in the skull of another goblin, while Bey and Oliver corner a goblin in a nearby residence.  The giggling goblin hurls plates and silverware at the adventurers, dodging Oliver’s attempt to catch it in a blanket and Bey’s attempt to magically shatter its weapon.  Seconds later, Felix reaches the scene and, learning that Oliver wants a prisoner to interrogate, gathers the goblin up in a chokehold and slams its forehead into a table and unconsciousness.  Oliver quickly binds the prisoner with fishing line.

But the raid on Sandpoint is far from over!  As shouts and screams and the sound of battle can be heard everywhere, the adventurers realize that a cart full of wood, intended for an evening bonfire, has been set ablaze by another group of goblins.  They’re so busy dancing and singing that they don’t even realize they’re being watched, which gives the adventurers a chance to advance.  Xeveg slips into the tent holding the Thassilonian medallion and stuffs it into his pocket; he starts to run away, but then changes his mind and returns to the battle. He and Bey work together to stop an emerging threat: one of the goblins has grabbed a brand from the blazing wagon and is trying to set the new cathedral on fire!  Xeveg conjures ice and Bey conjures water to put out the goblin’s torch.  The ensuing fight is a difficult one, as Felix and Oliver get surrounded by goblins and their warchanter before turning the tide and emerging victorious.

Goblin Commando
There’s scant time for celebration, however, as one last challenge remains.  To the north of the cathedral, near the city gates and the White Deer Inn, a nobleman has been cornered by a goblin commando mounted on a goblin dog.  Three goblins who had been hiding emerge from cover to cheer and caper as the commando decapitates a dog.  Oliver fires a crossbow bolt into the commando’s leg, distracting the attacker long enough for Bey to run into position and use her bardiche to defend the nobleman.  She’s left fighting the commando one-on-one for several moments as the other goblins charge Felix, Oliver, and Xeveg.  Xeveg gets stabbed in an unfortunate place by a goblin “dogslicer” and drops to the ground, bleeding.  But Felix is a one-man army, using elbow smashes, jump kicks, and roundhouse punches to quickly fell the attackers.  He and Oliver then run to join Bey in fending off the commando.  Felix does a flying double-elbow strike to dismount the commando, and Oliver’s greatsword takes off his head!  Bey Lin sees to everyone’s wounds, and Xeveg regains consciousness.

Aldern Foxglove
The cowering nobleman, who gives his name as Aldern Foxglove of Magnimar, thanks the adventurers profusely.  He says he’ll be staying in Sandpoint at the Rusty Dragon for a few days and he’ll reward them for saving his life if they come by before he departs for his townhouse in the city.

As the adventurers head south back into Sandpoint, they see that the goblin raid is over, with the attackers having been killed, captured, or driven off.  The Swallowtail Festival has come to a perilous end and most residents of Sandpoint have locked themselves in their homes.  The Town Watch now patrols in force.  Ameiko Kaitjitsu is seen cleaning her rapier of blood, and when she sees the adventurers, she praises them on their heroism in driving off the raiders and offers them a week’s free stay at the Rusty Dragon.

For a new group of adventurers forged in bloodshed, questions still remain: how could such chaotic creatures have mounted a coordinated raid?  What were they hoping to achieve?  Is Sandpoint truly out of danger?  The coming days promise answers and dangers alike.

--------------------------------------------

Director's Commentary (22/01/2017)

I always try to put a lot of thought into how a campaign begins: I want it to be organic, interesting, and memorable.  Apart from "everyone is in town for the festival," the adventure path didn't provide a lot of information so I tried to work every character into the session and trusted that the heat of combat would provide the needed bond.

I used material from the official forums to flesh out the speeches at the beginning of the festival and for the games.  The PCs didn't make much use of the games, but I was glad they were there.  I wanted the festival to be more than just something that passes by in a couple of lines of narrative, so I had each player tell me at least one thing their character was doing in the morning, and then again for the afternoon, and we role-played it out.

You get a glimpse of Bey's personality as an Oracle with the Apocalypse mystery: it comes across as almost bizarrely calm.  The person running Oliver was brand new to gaming (not just Pathfinder), and we'll soon see how much fun that is.


The battles against the goblins went quite well and the PCs were impressive (especially Felix as a Level 1 brawler, tearing everything up).  Poor Xeveg got caught with a crit and fell into negatives, but wasn't seriously close to death.

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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 . . .

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