Friday, April 18, 2014

Cosmo-Joe's Magic Missile Dice

I have a soft spot in my heart for strange dice. I think its the inherent collector inside me, wanting to find new and unusual dice to add to my collection. These definitely fit that bill perfectly. Andy "Cosmo-Joe" Watkins has started a kickstarter to fund the creation of special "magic missile" dice. These dice look like your average d4, but the results already include the initial +1 bonus granted by magic missile

While adding the relatively small bonuses associated with magic missile has never really been that much of a hassle, these would be fun to use at the table and would make for an interesting conversation piece. If you're interested in donating to the project, click HERE

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "Echoes of Glory" by Ralph Horsley

((Click HERE to go to Ralph Horsley's DeviantArt page))
Last year when I started this series, one of the first artists I featured was Ralph Horsley. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Horsley is mostly known the work he's done for Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Talisman, and World of Warcraft.

The above piece is the cover for the Pathfinder Player Companion Taldor: Echoes of Glory. The picture depicts two different battalions from the empire of Taldor clashing as the sun slowly sets over the horizon. I love how Horsley has captured the chaotic nature of battle, seeing the two knights clashing over the bodies of their fallen comrades while numerous cavaliers and warriors fight in the background. I love how the knights' tabards are tattered  and their armor and weapons are stained in blood, showing how brutal this conflict has been. It really does capture the internal struggles of Taldor and the empire's slow decline. 

Question Time: What is your favorite Ralph Horsley piece?  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Random Thoughts on Material Components

I've always loved material spell components as a thematic element in my games. The idea of a spellcaster carrying around all of these weird bits and bobbles that might look incredibly strange to the magical layman has always been an interesting one to me.

However, trying to represent material components mechanically has always been problematic. While they add a certain flavor to spellcasting that I like, trying to actually keep track of these weird items just adds a lot of unnecessary bookkeeping to a game that doesn't need another layer of complication.

With that in mind, I've been toying with a few ideas on how to handle material components at the table while keeping the amount of additional bookkeeping relatively minimal. While that might sound like an impossible task, I think I've come up with three potential ways to approach this situation.

The easiest approach is to just handwave material components that lack a listed price and only track the ones that do. You wouldn't worry about the rhubarb leaf and the adder's stomach needed to cast acid arrow and would only focus on the diamond worth 10,000 gold pieces needed to perform resurrection. Essentially this is the cop-out option.

The second option would make material components something that enhances a spell instead of being something necessary to cast the spell. For example, adding a red dragon scale to the preparation a fireball spell might add an additional 1d6 to the spell's damage or adding a phoenix's feather to a cure light wounds allows you to heal more damage. I find this option rather attractive because those who don't want to fiddle with material components won't have to, but those who choose to use them can and will only have to track those they plan on actually using. This idea is actually based off the Metamagic Components variant from Unearthed Arcana.

The final idea was inspired by Dungeon World and is a little more abstract than the other two. With this variant, spellcasters would have a spell component pouch that possesses a number of "component charges". When preparing your spells, you spend these charges to "pull" the necessary components out of your pouch. When you run out of charges, you have run out of components. You may replace these charges by either using a combination of Knowledge (Arcana)/Survival to forage them or spend a number of gold pieces equal to the maximum number of challenges the spell component pouch actually has. Every time a character obtains a new level, the maximum charges increases. This option would allow for the possibility of you actually running out of components during an adventure and having to figure out a way around that and makes the bookkeeping rather simple.

Personally, I feel like the second option might be the way to go. Creating the effects material components might have on spells is relatively simple and I could always use the metamagic component variant if I decided to be lazy. Also, it would be cool to see wizards taking weird body parts with the hope of enhancing their spells. However, the third option might be interesting as well. Unfortunately, it might be a little too abstract and weird to use at the table. I guess I'm just going to have to wait and see how they actually work.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: The Hedge Knight (1998)

Originally published as part of Robert Silverberg's Legends anthology, The Hedge Knight is a 160-page novella written by George R. R. Martin, set in the land of Westeros and taking place roughly 90 years before the events of his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The Hedge Knight relates the adventures of Dunk, a young hedge knight who grew up on the streets of King's Landing. After the death of his mentor, Dunk decides to enter a tourney behind held at Ashford. On the way, meets up with a strange boy known simply as "Egg" who later becomes his squire. When he finally arrives at the tourney, Dunk slights a Targaryen prince and must submit to a trial by combat to prove his innocence. However, this is no ordinary trial by combat. Instead of fighting just the prince, Dunk might find six champions to stand by his side. Will he be able to find brave knights to take up his cause, or will he be found guilty of his crime and pay the ultimate price?

I've mentioned before that I have a complicated relationship with George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. I love the world that he's created, the interesting characters that inhabited it, and how the plot can keep me on the edge of my seat. However, I feel like Martin is sometimes better at coming up with cool ideas then he is at actually executing them and his writing can be somewhat problematic the less focused it is.

Thankfully, The Hedge Knight's shorter format and smaller focus really allows Martin to shine as a writer. While the story itself is a relatively simple affair, the characters at what makes it really stand out. Like Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, Dunk is something of an outcast. A former street rat who has lived a hard life, Dunk just wants to be a honorable knight. However, he is constantly seen as a lesser individual by those of nobility and constant examples of those who happen to be true knights acting in very dishonorable ways. While he might not be the brightest individual, he does have a good heart and tries to do the right thing, even if it might end with his possible death. Dunk is incredibly likable and you want to see him succeed.

Like A Song of Ice and Fire, the majority of The Hedge Knight's cast is interesting. Because its set before Robert's Rebellion, we get a chance to see what the Targaryen's were like while they were still in power. Although some of them are similar to the Targaryens we have seen, we also see they weren't all bad. Specifically Prince Baelor is incredibly honorable and Prince Daeron has easily the best line in the book. If you enjoyed the myriad of characters within A Song of Ice and Fire, you will not be disappointed with The Hedge Knight.

I feel like The Hedge Knight would be a perfect starting point for those who are interested in giving Martin's work a try, but don't feel like reading the large tomes that make up his main series. For those who are already fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hedge Knight gives you a different look at Westeros and allows us to see what it was like before the fall of the Targaryens.

While some might criticize the simplistic nature of the story, I found it enjoyable and thought the characters were the main selling point of the novella. Sometimes, you don't need a overtly complicated tale with numerous twists and turns. Sometimes you just want a short, little story about a young man who wants to be a knight.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Archetype - The Dervish

Art by Alexey Aparin
In the arid desert, no enemy is as feared as the whirling dervish. Most individuals only see the flash of a blade and a quick blur before their blood splatters across the sands. These spinning warriors prefer to wear light or no armor and wield scimitars with deadly precision, dancing throughout the battlefield to deliver devastating blow after devastating blow.

The dervish is an archetype for the swashbuckler class. The dervish receives the following abilities:

Weapon Finesse (Ex): Like the base swashbuckler, the dervish receives Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat at 1st level. However, the dervish receives the benefits of the feat when wielding a scimitar.

Deeds: The dervish swaps three of the normal swashbuckler deeds for the following deeds:

Desert Stride: At 7th level, as long as the dervish has at least 1 panache point, he can move through 10 feet of difficult terrain as if it were normal terrain. This ability replaces the Swashbuckler's Grace deed.

Rapid Attack: At 11th level, a dervish can spend 1 panache point to combine a full attack with a single move. He must forgo the attack at his highest bonus but may take the remaining attacks at any point during his movement. This movement provokes attacks of opportunity as normal. This ability replaces the Bleeding Wound deed.

Lighting Strike: At 15th level, as part of a full attack, the dervish can spend 2 panache point to make one additional attack. This attack is at the dervish's highest attack bonus. This ability replaces the Dizzying Display deed.

Fast Movement (Ex): Starting at 2nd level, the dervish increases his base speed by 10 feet. Every four levels beyond 2nd, his speed increases by an additional 10 feet. This ability replaces Agile.

((For those of you who are very astute readers, you should realize this archetype is based on the Dawnflower Dervish archetype from the Inner Sea Primer. I always liked the archetype, felt like it would be a perfect fit for my swashbuckler, and decided to adapt it. I hope you all like it.))

Game of Thrones Reviews: "The Lion and the Rose"

This wedding doesn't seem very purple to me...
As the War of the Five Kings slowly begins to fade away, the wedding between Joffrey and Margery finally takes place in King's Landing. However, the actions of the king and his choice of entertainment rubs many of the guests the wrong way. Meanwhile, Bronn begins to train Jaime to fight with only one hand, Bran receives a strange vision that might possibly help him on his journey, Stannis loses patience with Davos while burning his brother in law at the stake, and Ramsey Snow continues to torture the helpless Theon, now known simply as "Reek".

Unlike the previous episode, "The Lion and the Rose" gives us a glimpse to what Stannis and Bran are currently doing and what has happened to everyone's favorite punching bag Theon. One of Game of Thrones strong points is its wide scope, focusing less on the happening's of King's Landing and visiting those other plot points is rather nice.

As always, the acting is solid. Jack Gleeson continues to play the utterly despicable Joffrey perfectly, making the final moments of this episode all the much sweeter, and Peter Dinklage is fantastic as always. However, Sophie Turner did an absolutely amazing job in this episode. The looks she gives when watching the "comedic" reenactment of the War of the Five Kings is simply heartbreaking. With that being said, I wished this episode had more for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to do than his quick scene with Bronn and his rather boring pissing match with Loras. 

The writing and directing for this episode were top notch as well. George R.R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series which the show is based upon, is the writer this time around and Alex Graves, who shot two episodes last season, is in the directing chair. While I have my own quibbles with Martin's writing, I felt he did an excellent job keeping this episode's narrative rather tight, which is only enhanced by Grave's directing, using the visuals to enhance the story and keep things interesting to watch. 

"The Lion and the Rose" is a much better episode then the previous "Two Swords", having a much more focused narrative with superb acting and directing. While I feel it could have given some of its cast more more to do, I really enjoyed what I got and the ending where we finally get what many have waited three seasons for is incredibly cathartic. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Heroes of Sandpoint: Burnt Offerings

Art by Wayne Reynolds
Our Cast of Characters
  • Alfgeir Stannisson, an Ulfen Cleric of Gorum who has traveled from the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, hoping to become a great hero like his ancestors. 
  • Fiona of Sandpoint, a Varisian Rogue who has spent most of her life on the streets of the coastal town, doing whatever she can to survive. 
  • Jon Silverbow, an Elf Ranger who hails from the Mierani Forest of northern Varisia who has a deep hatred for goblinoids. 
  • Ongar, a Half-Orc Paladin who has dedicated his life to the goddess Sarenrae and hopes to spread her redeeming light wherever he goes. 
  • Theoian Daleborn, a Half-Elf Investigator who joined the group on the behest of Belor Hemlock, Sandpoint's current sheriff. 
  • Tywin, a Half-Elf Sorcerer from the shadowy realm of Nidal who has traveled far and wide in search of vengeance against someone who has wronged him.

A week has passed since the heroes traveled to the Devil's Platter and foiled the derro's nefarious schemes. Needing to take a rest from their harrowing adventures, the party decided to attend Sandpoint's annual Swallowtail Festival.  

Sadly, their day of relaxation was cut short when a goblin horde invaded the town, singing their demented songs, setting fire to numerous buildings, and attempting to kill everyone in sight. Acting quickly, the heroes engaged these sadistic monsters in battle, hoping to prevent more death and destruction. After a long and arduous battle, the heroes managed to defeat the goblins while the town guard ran the remaining invaders out of town and tried to put the fires out. 

Wondering what the cause of this sudden attack might be, the heroes and the town's mayor Kendra Deverin interrogate one of the goblins they managed to take prisoner. After some words and careful intimidation, the heroes manages to coax some information out of the goblin. This horde was sent by a white-haired woman as a distraction so she could sneak into the Sandpoint Boneyard and extract the corpse of the town's former high priest for a ritual that will turn her into a demon. After retrieving what they came for, the remaining goblins returned to their headquarters near the Nettlewood. 

Wanting to stop this mysterious woman from performing this ritual and causing more problems along the Lost Coast, Mayor Deverin hires the heroes to travel to the Nettlewood and put an end to this menace. After getting a good night's sleep and directions from the local ranger Shalelu Androsana, the party headed northeast to the area known as Thistletop. 

While they were slowed down by a goblin patrol and their owlbear companion, they managed to reach their destination as the sun was slowly setting behind the horizon. After a number of brutal fights with numerous goblins, the party managed to make their way down to the white-haired woman's chamber, interrupting her while she was starting the ritual. Before the battle began, the characters learned this woman was an aasimar named Nualia, whose tragic past drove her into the arms of the evil goddess Lamashtu. She was the one who burned down Sandpoint's previous cathedral, accidentally killing Fiona's parents. Hoping to stop her from completing the ritual, the heroes attacked and the two sides met in a vicious conflict. 

Although things seemed grim for the heroes, with most of them unconscious or bleeding out, Ongar managed to land the blow that brought the fight to an end. Instead of delivering the final blow to kill Nualia, the party decided to bring her back to town so she could be brought to justice. 

The trip back to town was rather uneventful and Nualia was placed within the town's garrison. After a few days, Fiona and Ongar were contacted by a guard, who said Nualia requested to talk to them. Feeling that her goddess had abandoned her, she begged Fiona to just end it. However, before the rogue could plunge her dagger into the aasimar's gut, Ongar stopped her. After revealing that he too had come from a rather rough background and did something horrible, he managed to find redemption and believes she can too. Listening to the half-orc's speech and seeing the dark path she could be heading down, Fiona decided to forgo her vengeance and leave with her friend. 

((I used a heavily modified version of the  Burnt Offerings adventure for this session. Also, while I know some people would believe that Nualia was beyond redemption, I'm glad the session went that direction because the scene with Fiona, Ongar, and has become one of my favorite roleplaying moments ever)).