Double Proficiency

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Character options! Improved backgrounds! Magic item creation rules! New spells! Myriad of traps!

If 5E D&D was lacking something, it was definitely more options. Devised as a system with a new player-friendly learning curve, it didn’t overwhelm with choices. For someone like me, who spent their games mostly in Pathfinder or Shadowrun, it was rather underwhelming in this regards. The current edition’s publishing strategy, focusing on campaigns and adventures, has made life of many (mostly first-time) GMs easier, and this is definitely a good thing.

However, not being a first-time GM and loving making choices, I was struggling for a long time with fifth edition. I felt it’s too constricting and too vague at the same time.

And then cue Xanathar.

The greedy, conceited, rich, and powerful beholder (and his goldfish) has collected some of the best lore and items and for whatever reason is happy to share it.

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It’s not that I’m forced to write about Critical Role all the time, but it somehow seems like the most enjoyable part of the RPG world these days. And they’ve just announced that the artbook will be available on 9 November, and the campaign’s over, and the comic book is just brilliant.

Second issue of the Origins comic book is available since today on Darkhorse and everywhere else where you can get digital comic books. I got mine this morning od Darkhorse’s website, and then spent several hours at work, not really being able to read it yet. Exercises in patience are a terrible thing, especially when you’re a proud owner of three-second patience window.

The book – again, 27 pages – takes us on a road parallel to the one travelled before. Namely, to the path of Scanlan Shorthalt and Grog Strongjaw (and the rest of their adventuring party), as they’re raiding and looting an ancient temple, somewhere in the swamp. That, quite cleverly, sets the characters on the road that will surely get them to Vax and Vex, as they’re clearly doing the same quest, just from another end. (Tiberius and Keyleth are heading in the same direction!)

Future Grand Poobah and Bard Extraordinaire are a part of an adventuring group, comprising them, a wizard named Vash, a knight and a cleric. A bunch of assholes, according to Scanlan. After clearing the shark-men temple and recovering relics, they get back to Stilben, and visit an alchemist shop (yes, the same as featured in issue one). An assassination attempt later (looks like Vax was right about that), they visit the tavern. The end.

Well, no. Surprisingly – one would expect a lot of action and shenanigans from the main duo – half of the issue is a series of social encounters. Intriguing? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. Tense, surprising and randomly changing directions? Definitely. It requires a talent to write the action scenes, but even greater to write – and draw! – long conversations in comics so they captivate the reader entirely. Here’s the thing: a big round of applause for Olivia Samson for drawing the seemingly static, repetitive panels with talking characters with such intelligent, subtle twist, that I haven’t even noticed them in the first read.

Scanlan’s chat with Tiberius takes up four pages, and almost all of the panels look like this:

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Just half of a goliath, a gnome and a dragonborn by the bar, chatting, barely moving. And then you’ve got the bartender, who basically goes through all stages of grief in the background. It’s easy to miss when you concentrate on the dialogue (sparkling!), and the scene has a very cinematographic feel of a one, long take with almost no cuts whatsoever, but the stillness and repetitiveness basically forces your mind to look for the details that make the images different. And boy, they are delightful.

The second issue is great. As the first one was based on action and investigation, this one is calmer; combat encounters are quick and deadly, and character interactions take up much more space. Maybe because the twins were quite in sync, maybe because it’s sort of expected when the main character is a charismatic gnomish minstrel.

In any case,

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Disclaimer: I’m a big fan of the show. I’ve joined the bandwagon around episode 30 (or rather: they got to episode 30, when I started watching the first one), and spent many work hours with a small Youtube window pinned in the corner of my screen. Now, after 114 episodes and emotional, heroic finale to the campaign, I’m left awed, amazed, and a bit sad. Would be probably sadder, if not for the sheer amount of Perc’Ahlia fanfictions found and read in the last week.

Anyway.

The internet sensation of Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role has swept the nations and brought thousands of new players to the gaming tables. The incredible talents of Matt Mercer, DM of the group, and his voice-actor players, inspired masses of people to give RPGs a try – even if they don’t feel like doing all the funny voices.

As the game is (was! And will be, when they start a new campaign in the new year) set in the homebrewed world of Exandria, it was only logical that with the success of the show came the call for the proper description of the setting. And so, Green Ronin got to publish a book (cowritten by Matthew Mercer and James Haeck) that became an instant bestseller (technically, I suppose, it will be a fastseller, but let’s not be picky), forcing the publisher to close the pre-order phase ahead of time and prepare for the reprint even before the first run left the printing press.

Thanks to the great pre-order deal, it was possible to place an order for a physical copy and receive the PDF version for a small fee right on the spot. Which is exactly why, even though the physical copy has only been delivered to us last week, we’ve already managed to find a willing DM, play six sessions, and get quite accustomed to Westruun.

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Lost Mine of Phandelver

Author: Rich Baker

Released: 15 July 2014

Levels: 1-5

Theme: Fighting goblinoids for the control of an ancient mine and its riches.

Plot summary: Centuries-old mine, previously held by dwarves and gnomes, and destroyed due to orc invasion, has been rediscovered. A trio of dwarves who stumbled across it is not the only party interested in re-opening the mine and seizing it’s riches. Players will be asked to escort some supplies but will quickly find themselves right in the middle of the power struggle. The winner will take the Wave Echo Cave and all the magic it has to offer.

What to expect: Goblins and orcs being used heavily by a mysterious villain known as the Black Spider. First fights are relatively easy but will help new players to understand how the combat mechanics work. Although, it’s worth remembering that first-level characters are squishy, and a well-placed critical hit from a goblin can take them straight to the death’s doors. Storyline is quite straightforward, and might be boring for experienced players. There is enough place for NPC interaction in the town of Phandalin, selling and procuring any mundane equipment should not be a problem. After removing some miscreants from the town, players will spend some time looking for clues and following rumours in search of the Black Spider, and then delve into the final dungeon.

Bosses: bugbear, drow wizard, green young dragon.

Common monsters: adventurer, bandit, bugbear, cultist, doppelganger, flameskull, ghoul, giant spider, goblin, grick, hobgoblin, nothic, ochre jelly, ogre, orc, owlbear, skeleton, spectator, stirge, thug, twig blight, wolf, wraith, zombie.

Notable magical items: Boots of Striding and Springing, Gauntlets of Ogre Power, Spider Staff, Staff of Defense, Hew (+1 battleaxe).

Extras in the book: Info on running the adventures for first-time DMs, adventure hooks, pre-generated characters (included in the starter set), introduction to Forgotten Realms setting, descriptions & stats of all monsters and magical items encountered (no need to buy Monster Manual or Dungeon Master’s Guide to run this module), new monster: Ash Zombie (p. 31).

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Tiny Dungeon

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With only three days to the end of of it’s campaign, Tiny Dungeon 2nd edition definitely deserves a mention. This amazingly easy to play game allows you to turn an RPG session into a party game. Little to no rules, only D6s needed, and all the happiness of a dungeon crawl in a small package of a micro-setting.

 

Forbidden Lands

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After Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis and Tales from the Loop, Swedish Free League team brings to the RPG table another visually stunning piece. Again, they can and will take our money. Forbidden Lands has an amazing feel of the 70s/80s fantasy land, based on modern mechanics, and paired with incredible art. With only 350 SEK  ($44 / €37 / £32) for a physical copy of the boxes set (including a large map, PDF version of the set available as early-access , and PDF versions of all stretch goals), it’s a bargain. Stretch goals look promising, the quality seems great as usual, and there’s little reason to skip this one of you have some gold pieces to spare.

 

Numenera 2: Discover and Destiny

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Just to clarify: it’s not a second edition. It’s a set of two new corebooks that will replace the current rulebook as it goes out of print. Discover is a straight-up replacement of the core book, covering the rules (not much changed), and still mostly compatible with existing books. Destiny, on the other hand, is supposed to enable the characters to play a part in actually shaping the world around them and influence its future. Sadly, it’s a bit pricy, with $120 for both books in print (includes PDFs, slipcase and some extras).

 

Starfinder Masterclass Miniatures

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Not an RPG in itself, this Kickstarter brings us a much needed set of miniatures for the brand-new Starfinder RPG. If you prefer playing outside the theatre of the mind, as I do, the availability of high quality and affordable minis is always an important factor. While Starfinder can be played without them, using some tokens, drawings, Paizo’s pawns, or just scrapping the map altogether, I wouldn’t say no to some Space Goblins.

You know how to role-plan an elf. You know how to role-play a dwarf. An innkeeper. A king. A guard. A mercenary. But pray tell me, do you know how to role-play a woman? Read More

The Zweihänder RPG is finally here. After a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign (fully funded within 6 hours! Guess people really did miss Warhammer Fantasy RPG) and slightly delayed dispatch (a year or so – but for a good reason), the parcel was delivered and unceremoniously opened by a committee.

PDF, which was provided to the Kickstarter backers some time ago, looked promising – astonishingly detailed, with a clean, easily understood mechanic, and good artwork. Not Degenesis level, but pleasantly befitting the stylistic choices of the grim and perilous RPG. In print, I must admit, it looks even better.

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Last week I happened to review for you Jared Blando’s book on hand-drawing fantasy maps. This time we’ll go further – just in case you feel more confident in digital drawing or are just looking for some generators. Read More

If by off chance you’ve missed the online phenomenon that is Critical Role, please look here to start your journey with the adventuring party of Vox Machina. Highly recommended.

Anyway.

As much as I love Critical Role, I was always missing some kind of visual enhancement. True, Matthew Mercer’s descriptions of the world are impeccable, imaginative and incredible, but my brain is extremely visually-oriented. (Thank Critters for fanart!)

First issue of Critical Role comic book, Vox Machina: Origins is just a godsend. Written by Matt Colville and Matt Mercer (well, mostly the former), and brilliantly illustrated by Olivia Samson, it’s not only a great addition to the universe – it actually makes an amazing standalone project. Tested on a innocent bystander who’d never seen the show.

First issue covers a beginning of a quest undertaken by Vex’ahlia and her twin brother Vax’ildan, two half-elves trying to survive on the unfriendly streets and swamps of Stilben. A curse has befallen the poor folk of the shanty town, affecting mostly their newborns. Vex and Vax more or less enthusiastically are looking into possible causes, going from heart-wrenching story on one page of the story, through bitter cynicism on the second, familial bickering on the third, and full-on adrenaline-punched action on another. And yet, it’s still consistent and engaging.

Twins are intelligent, likable and beliveable, to the point of the brain auto-dubbing the dialogue with the proper voices. Conversations are sparkling. It’s actually quite interesting to see the quasi-starting point for the character development. Vax is hopeful, empathetic, considerate and not afraid of looking ridiculous in front of his sister. Vex is bitter, mixing self-confidence with inferiority complex, prone to violence, and (of course) better looking than her twin. Keyleth is as good, pure and innocent as it’s virtually possible. (Which makes me want to rewatch the episodes with Keyleth/Raishan confrontations.)

Art is beautiful, colour palette (courtesy of Chris Northop) is amazing (nothing says murky swamp more than these shades of cyan and malachite), cover art (by Deborah Hauber) should be printed in a large scale as posters. At least I know I’d love to have art like that on my wall, not just my phone wallpaper.

Admittedly, I expected more of this comic – that is, more than 27 pages. (And more than just one shot of Percy.) I’m not used to reading comic books in issues, I’m more of a collected (and collectors’) edition type of a person. Which doesn’t change a fact that there was no way I could wait until next Spring to get my fix of Vox Machina backstory. And after this issue, I only expect the next ones to get better.

You’re just starting a new campaign. Your last party got killed and disbanded, you managed to find a new Game Master, or maybe you’re just bored of role-playing the tank. Time for a change!

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Sure you want to draw a map for your campaign. Or your universe. I won’t be surprised if creating a map is where you actually want to start creating your world. Thankfully, there’s a book for that.

71im2hw7QNLWell, theoretically there’s also an app for that (kind of), but first, let me tell you about this amazing book I’ve got. It’s called How to Draw Fantasy Art & RPG Maps by Jared Blando (published in 2015 by Impact Books), and its contents are pretty much what the cover says. As the publisher was so nice as to supply us with trailer for the book, take a look:

Inside this 128-page book you’ll find tips and tricks that will help you with hand-drawing your map – even if you’ve never tried it before. The entry level for this tutorial is fairly low; the whole process is split into small, easy to understand parts. The most complicated things – like border ornamentation, compasses, and heraldry are discussed in highly-detailed step-by-step tutorial. And after spending some time with the book, following the instructions, you’ll actually winish with a good map drawn all by yourself! It could, for example look like this:

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I know the Internet is overflowing with free and paid tutorials for mapmaking; but there is a reason to give this book a chance. If not for the sake of having a book about fantasy cartography, then for the sake of having  a complete, well-written, aesthetically-pleasing manual covering all of the important topics in the field. Just look at the table of contents:

  • Building Your World
  • Mountains, Forests, Rivers and Water
  • Town and City Icons
  • Typography
  • Landmarks
  • Iconography
  • Heraldry and Shields
  • Political Boundaries
  • Backgrounds
  • Painting Techniques
  • Putting It All Together

It’s the only complete manual for hand-drawn cartography, fantasy or not, that doesn’t give you this kind of meme-worthy instruction:

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But what if I don’t want to draw my map with crayons?

So, you’re looking for an app. Sure, there are some.We’ll get to it next week, shall we?

So, as the Warlord Games announced today the release of The Battle for Xilos, I can finally share with you what I was working on for the last couple of months. And boy, what fun it was!

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Beyond the Gates of Antares or with wargaming in general. I happen to work as a graphic designer for Warlord Games, one of the biggest companies in historical and science-fiction wargaming. The miniatures range from Ancient Greece, through Thirty Years War, Napoleonic Wars, and World War II – up to s-f world of Antares. You’ll find it all here: http://www.warlordgames.com.

And now the new stuff: in June Warlord Games releases The Battle for Xilos, a campaign supplement about the discovery, exploration and conquest of Xilos, the mysterious planet that defies all former knowledge of all factions. I had a pleasure of creating the layout for the book, editing it, proofreading, and even creating maps, planet views, and other illustrations. You cannot probably fathom how proud I am seeing it finally out for publishing.

As it’s still at printers I cannot tell you much except of informing you of it being an absolutely cool thing; you may as well check it out and then join me (and lots of other people) at the gaming table.