Double Proficiency

At least for a historian. Seriously, those guys will raid your garbage bin and steal your receipts. And the humanity will be grateful. After a while. I’ve just put my hands on the last (well, fourth out of five, they weren’t delivered in the right order) volume of History of Private Life. It’s probably one of the best series about history ever written, especially if you’re interested in social changes, not the fates of battles and wars. And if there’s some study area I’d love more than social and cultural history, I haven’t found it yet.

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Mordekainen’s back! Everybody’s favourite wizard brings us world lore, racial lore, and a nice selection of monsters to charm and slaughter (or die of, to be honest).

The book looks pretty much standard for the fifth edition: hardcover, gloss varnish, pretty artwork. I actually like the cover art of the standard edition (by Jason Rainville) more than the special edition by Vance Kelly.

So, what’s inside the book that promises that we’ll discover the truth about the great conflicts of the universe?

There are six chapters full of goodies, and the review will discuss them all, because that’s more fun:

  1. The Blood War: description of the eternal war between devils and demons;
  2. Elves: sub-races, gods, day-to-day living;
  3. Dwarves and Duergar: the war, dwarven and duergar ways of living, duergar characters;
  4. Gith and Their Endless War: long-awaited lore and rules for Githyanki and Githzerai;
  5. Halflings and Gnomes: lots of lore about the small races;
  6. Bestiary: 140 monster stat blocks, with the emphasis on demonic and devilish creatures.

TL;DR: A quality supplement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the racial lore, as I’m a bit sentimental about the amount of write-up that used to accompany bestiary entries in AD&D. I like the new monsters, especially those above CR10 – it’s always nice to have something that will challenge players who got too cocky.

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I’m a bit behind on the reviews but… Oh my, this comic book is everything I’ve ever wanted (until the animated series comes out, and then the 10-season live action TV series).

Ending the last issue on a high note, with “roll initiative” in the air, Matt Colville decided to throw the characters under the bus. The villain is deadly, intelligent, and doesn’t care at all that the protagonists would very much like to loot her afterwards, thank you very much. I cannot wait to read more about her, and her compatriots.

The story progresses just like it should, seeing as we’re 66% into the story arc – there’s a party to be assembled, and the main characters must go through the hardships and tribulations to achieve their final goals in issue six. And yet, even though it’s classic story composition, it still feels natural and fresh. Vex is incredible and believable (she made such progress during the campaign!), Keyleth has the best facial expressions, and Scanlan is the most genre-savvy character I’ve seen in a long time.

But the story needs more Percy.

I’m going to leave you with my favourite snippet of this issue: Tiberius being awesome.Opera Zdjęcie_2018-02-06_202254_digital.darkhorse.com.png

I got my latest Kickstarter package delivered – a pack of Common (or Garden) Gnomes from Midlam Miniatures. Why did I need them? No reason whatsoever. But I am a big fan of this tiny UK-based company and their metal minis, and I make it a point to support all their Kickstarter campaigns. They keep creating original, less “popular” designs, filling several niches: beastfolk, halflings, civilians, Lovecraftian cultists, female characters in sensible clothing.

The minis are standard 28mm scale, but being gnomes they’re only 28mm when you measure them up to the top of the pointy hat. Here’s the size comparison of the male and female gnomes with a human woman (from Midlam’s Winter Adventurers set):

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I got absolutely zero need for those gnomes. Even if I get to play a gnome one day, they won’t be wearing pointy hats (unless they’re a wizard, I guess). But the minis are so sweet, well cast (little to no lines, no flashes, no rips, no miscasts) and detailed that they’re already on my painting short list.

As for gnomes they’re quite diverse – just another nice thing about Midlam’s minis. Out of 14 models in a set, there are four women (a mage, shown above, a flower girl, an unarmoured woman with an axe, and a leather-clad one with a sword), all of them in practical dresses (as far as practical dresses go). The other ten are male – or at least bearded, part of them armoured, part of them unarmoured, some with swords, some with axes, and some with wheelbarrows or angry gestures. The wizard has an owl familiar, so everything is good in the universe.

Anyway, guys from Midlam have just put a new Kickstarter campaign out there, with the Ghosts of Midlam Manor. If you ever need a dwarven or a halfling ghost, check them out.

There’s a lot of plot threads sort of converging in this scene. Usually when that happens not everyone survives.

Why write reviews when you can just quote Scanlan?

So, the third volume came out today, and though I have next to no time whatsoever for writing a blog lately (toy business is kind of hectic before Christmas), I couldn’t skip this one. Writen, as before, by the illustrious Matt Colville, the third issue takes on the incredibly heavy duty of bringing all of the characters together. As might have been expected – with paranoid twins, prone to anger Grog and generally detached Scanlan – this does not go smoothly.

Ab ovo, though. Drawn by Olivia Samson and coloured by Chris Northrop, this is still one of the prettiest things I’m reading these days. But what stood out even more this time for me is the amazing work of Chris Kawagiwa, who was expertly handling the layouts. I do not know who decided to use the grid to show the placement of the character (especially those behind the secret doors), but it’s genius.

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The beginning of the story covers the poisoned swamp plot from the third side, as Keyleth and Tiberius (plus their party) are working for the Clasp to uncover the reasons why the mob is losing their profits. Which doesn’t actually go exactly as one might anticipated. Anyway, the Clasp is evil (in case somebody thinks that thieves’ guilds are full of bleeding-heart Robin Hoods), shaking down your employer may not be the best idea, and the race goes to the most motivated. I can’t wait to see how it goes in the next issue.

To not spoil to much, we cut to bickering twins in the sewers, amazing idea of disguising ourselves as ourselves, but poorer, Kiki rolling well on Perception (Keen Senses), Tiberius having the most amazing conversation with a dog, and Scanlan being an incredible bard.

The amount of puns, jokes, and splendid interpretations of usefulness of a bard in a fight (oh, boy. I need more of this), make this comic book worth every minute spent on reading and re-reading. The plot brings together all of the characters (minus Pike and Percy, which is a still a disappointment), playing off various strengths and weaknesses, and finally introducing the villain to the PCs.

In short, I’m seriously impressed. Third issue is great, even if slightly darker than the previous ones (although the series started with an infant sacrifice…). I thought it might be just sentiment for the Critical Role, but then it became apparent it’s just a quality piece of entertainment.

Let me just finish off with this golden piece of Scanlan:

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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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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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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.

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?