Kickstarter Alert: Critical Role Miniatures!

News

Yesterday the RPG world has been stunned into silence (for like a second, before the cheering started) by the announcement that on 26/06 20:00GMT launches the Kickstarter for Critical Role Miniatures. And so it did.

There was a fair amount of speculation whether this will happen ever since in January 2018 Russ Charles, an incredibly talented miniatures sculptor (well know known for his previous work for Privateer Press, Warlord Games and other wargaming companies) started posting on Twitter 3D renders of his renditions of the Mighty Nine, player characters from the Critical Role’s second campaign. As everybody might have guessed, that was met with applause and ‘Shut up and take my money’ gifs.

So, when yesterday folks at Critical Role have announced that they will launch a Kickstarter with the minis (produced by UK-based Steamforged Games), I wasn’t particularly surprised but ecstatic nonetheless.

The Kickstarter was fully funded in about 4 minutes. True, the goal wasn’t too high (only £20.000), but nobody can say that it didn’t deserve the attention. The minis are beautifully rendered, detailed, characterful, with believable proportions and great design. And they’re dirt cheap.

This Kickstarter is rather unique: there is only one pledge level (take all), no stretch goals, and the set of 22 minis costs only £45. They’re plastic, which vastly reduces the price when the production reaches a certain scale, and come pre-assembled and ready to be painted or just played with. As six of the minis are marked ‘Kickstarter exclusive’, I suppose the rest will be available later via Critical Role / Steamforged Games website.

Even if you’re not a fan of the series (after all, it is a considerable time commitment to watch it all), the models are still worth buying: scaled for standard RPG purposes (28mm), with a good mix of genders, races and classes, and with an armoured bear. And for £2 per mini, so no reason not to get those.

The Kickstarter only lasts until 6 July, though, so get them ASAP!

Vox Machina: Origins, issue 4 – The story goes dark

Reviews

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

Vox Machina: Origins, issue 3 – The plot thickens

Reviews

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.

Zrzut ekranu 2017-11-29 21.09.44.png

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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Vox Machina: Origins, issue 2 – Somehow even funnier

Reviews

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:

Vox Machina Origins Vol2 03.png

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,

Vox Machina Origins Vol2 02.png

Review: Critical Role Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting

Reviews

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.

 

Technicalities

It’s pretty. Hardback cover features beautiful artpiece by Aaron Riley:

It’s only fitting that the Vox Machina should fight Raishan there. With no offence to Vecna and Briarwoods, she was by far the most interesting opponent (if not straight up villain) on their path, partially due to the screen time. The only thing that could make this art better is selfie-style Scanlan’s face in one of the corners.

The cover is protected by two types of varnish, with the art being matt and the black and burgundy vignettes made glossy. Unnecessary, possibly, but appreciated. The pages (all 144 of them) seem well bound and properly glued, with no obvious risk of becoming loose.

Internal artwork is exactly what could be expected – slightly uneven, as it’s done by several different artists, but great overall. Sharper, more digital illustrations coexist there with more traditional (or rather, traditional-looking) pieces, and though I personally favour the latter, the former are nothing to scowl at.

Kudos for including a proper fould-out map of the continent – it’s pretty, well drawn, includes scale reference (I’m looking at you, Legend of the Five Rings), and looks great on the wall. As it’s author, Andrew Law, was so kind as to write a great post on the creation process, just go there and read up. It would be slightly better if the poster map was folded with art inside, as the rubber glue used to keep it attached to the book leaves a bit of a dark spot on the artwork. It’s not very visible, but visible nonetheless.

The map (at least the most important part of it) is also featured on the inner cover, which is definitely a nice touch for quick reference.

Using the book is easy; between full-page content list, three-page index and just 144 pages of the book, it’s impossible to get lost.

It’s divided into four main sections: overview of the setting (history, religion, races, and factions), gazeteer (descriptions of geographical areas with corresponding plot hooks), character options (feats, class options, backgrounds, and magical items), and the bestiary.

 

Setting overview

 

History of Exandria is not complicated, and it’s fairly short. Though described only by a couple of the most cataclysmic events, it gives enough ideas for relics, legends and rumours, that extrapolating on it should not be a problem. It does, however, play an important role in the world. With the artefacts being literally Vestiges of Divergence, leftovers from the times when the gods were present on the Material Plane, it’s hard not to be interested in the times past. History of Tal’Dorei, one of the kingdoms of Exandria, not only shows off the hero of the land, Zan Tal’Dorei, and her influence on the world, but also delves into description of the events as seen on the show – the exploits of Vox Machina.

Quite clever thing is the section on The Secrets of Tal’Dorei – concise description of the pieces that make this setting unique. It is – I think nobody tried to tell people otherwise – a fairly generic fantasy setting, that will give casual D&D players no troubles to get accustomed to. Putting into one place all the things that define the setting – like the imprisoned gods or the start of the republican system – makes it easy to catch up on the most important deviations from the generic, and run the game without too much preparation.

The pantheon is based mostly on D&D/Pathfinder deities, with different names (licenced) and some tweaks here and there. It’s clearly written and concise, with useful commandments of each god. From my gaming experience, there’s never no god more fun than the Moonweaver (trickery/deception/illusions). She sure made my bard/warlock quite a delight – believing that her Archfey patron is actually a goddess is an easy way to get mixed in some stupid mess.

The chapter on races brings mostly some adjustments in the lore, not mechanics; the only exception being the Ravenites – tailless subrace of the Dragonborn.

The factions and societies bring a whole bunch of ideas, short NPC descriptions, and plot hooks hidden in the descriptions of the goals and relationships. From magical quasi-guild to the cultists of Vecna, there’s enough to keep the players busy.

 

Gazeteer

The longest and most important part of the book, the Gazeteer is a travel guide to Tal’Dorei. Each geographical region is described in more or less detail, and contains plot hooks for the adventures. It’s easy to use that as sandbox – truth is, wherever the players will go, there’s something interesting to see. Plot hooks range from melted cows to cataclysms to rescue parties to ancient cities overrun with ghosts. Again, perfect for the sandbox. However, if the party is travelling by foot and the DM is not a fan of telling them “two weeks of rather uneventful travel later you arrive at your destination”, there are some gaps that need filling. There’s a lot of empty plains and long roads. Obviously, Vox Machina haven’t visited all of Tal’Dorei, and it’s quite easy to see which parts of the kingdom were therefore detailed in author’s notes, and which were just outlined.

Even so, for such short book (and production process), Gazeteer is worth reading. The plot hooks are easily transferable to other settings, if preferred, and they work well enough to create an interesting world. It’s up to DM to pick, choose and adapt them into a proper story – on their own, they’re just sandbox-y ideas for the adventure, not full adventures.

 

Character options

My favourite part of all the D&D supplements is quite decent – definitely better than official D&D 5E Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide which is a huge disappointment and I would thoroughly roast it if I had two weeks to spare.

We’re getting a Blood Domain for clerics, mostly based on enchantments – sadly, there’re no actual blood-themed spells in D&D 5E, but this domain makes sense nonetheless. It reminds me of the bloodbending in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and it’s not an unpleasant thought. Think more of “puppeteer” than “blood sacrifices”.

There’s also Path of the Juggernaut for barbarians, Runechild sorcerous origin, and Way of the Cobalt Soul – a monastic tradition for monks. I have a bit of a trouble with the last one: it allows players to learn aspects of their opponent in the fight: AC, vulnerabilities, saving throws etc. While I understand the “fluff” as it’s nothing we haven’t seen in martial arts films, it still have an aftertaste of metagaming, and it’s something I don’t like. It’s one thing to let players know that the lightning bolt doesn’t seem to affect their enemy, and another to tell them straight up: “immune to lightning, fear, poison and prone condition”. But, it’s just my opinion, and I’m sure there will be players and DMs who will embrace this ability.

Tal’Dorei also brings us new backgrounds: Clasp Member (criminal spin-off), Lyceum Student (privileged arcane student), Ashari (really, think Avatar: The Last Airbender), Recovered Cultist (acolyte with a twist), and Fate-Touched (DM’s way of putting a character in the spotlight).

New feats allow for long-awaited potion-drinking in bonus action (because come on, it’s just a small vial of liquid; it shouldn’t take a whole action), improved spellcasting (two spells in one round, yay!), and ability to attune to four items instead of four. I need them all for my brand-new cleric. Apart from those, there’s Cruel, Dual-Focused (two concentration spells at the same time!), Flash Recall, Gambler, Mending Affinity, and Thrown Arms Master. Fun!

What I definitely like the most, are the Vestiges of Divergence. Artifacts that can be handed out early in the campaign, scaling up with the character development, and becoming a true part of the character, not just a random piece of gear in the treasure hoard found when killing seventeenth dragon? Count me in, and give me the Spire of Conflux.

Couple extra pages covers the rules for accelerated downtime and ressurrection rituals (as the show proved, it’s so much better when there’s a chance of permanent death).

 

Allies and Adversaries

Oh, boy. Two things: descriptions of the different monster (or rather non-player) races place them well in the setting, giving each the context and some twists to better fit the world; stat blocks are pretty cool. I’m happy to see the stats for Ashari tribesfolk, and the Clasp members are definitely useful in this setting and outside of it. But there’s also a rideable celestial goat, and my World of Warcraft-loving heart cannot stress this enough. Next time I’m playing in this setting, I’m going to be a Kraghammer Goat-Knight. Add to that Vecna’s cultists and pumped-up orcs/goblins, and you’ve got a party.

 

In general

It’s a very nice book. There’s a lot of interesting places to visit in Tal’Dorei, and all the plot hooks can be used as a base for a sandbox play, but – of course – it’s not a campaign. There’s no storyline, and it’s up for DM to create one. It’s also up to them to fill in gaps in this a bit sparsely populated world. I’m not entirely sure if this setting would work without the Critical Role show to support it – while definitely a work of love, it’s not entirely unique. It’s engaging, well written, descriptive and inspiring – but I think there’s more magic in Matt Mercer’s DM-ing than there is in the book itself. It’s a great read for the fans of the show, and could definitely be a stand-alone setting – but with at least twice the amount of pages.

Vox Machina: Origins, issue 1 – The best so far

Reviews

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.