Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Musings on the Rogue

Art by Wayne Reynolds
If you were to walk up to a random Pathfinder player and ask them which class they believed to be the weakest one in the game, they will most likely reply with the Rogue.

While I don't believe its completely useless like some players do, I would be lying if I said the Rogue was a perfect class. Many of its features are somewhat lackluster, most of its useful abilities are situation-based, and other classes do the same things much better than the Rogue. Want to be a combat Rogue? Pick the Ninja, the Slayer, or the Vivisectionist Alchemist instead. Want to play more of a skill monkey? Pick the Bard and choose the Archaeologist archetype. 

Since I'm a fan of the Rogue and have always liked the concept, I've been toying with a few ways to enhance the class. Most of these changes are minor alterations with a few additions that will hopefully enhance the abilities they already have. These additions and changes haven't been tested yet. They are simply ideas that might make the Rogue a stronger class.

First, we need to help the Rogue live up to its role as a skill monkey. With that in mind, I'm thinking that we could replace Trapfinding with an ability called "Skill Expertise". The ability would look like this:
Skill Expertise: The Rogue, through trial and tribulation, has become particularly deft with a small number of skills. She selects a number of skills equal to 3 + her Intelligence modifier. The Rogue adds 1/2 her level (minimum +1) when making a skill check with one of her chosen skills. At 4th level, and every four levels thereafter, the Rogue chooses an additional skill to receive the benefits of this ability. 
Secondly, we should probably enhance their ability in combat. While some believe the Rogue should have the good Base Attack Bonus progression (the bonus equal's the character's level), but I don't belong to that camp. Instead, I'm thinking about adding an additional ability at 1st level called "Dirty Tactics". This ability is inspired by Trailblazer and looks like this:
Dirty Tactics: The Rogue is a master at fighting dirty, taking advantage of their opponent's weaknesses and striking them when they least suspect it. When fighting an opponent who is denied their Dexterity modifier to their AC (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not), or when flanking her target, the Rogue receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls against the target. At 5th level, and every four level thereafter,  this bonus increases by +1.
Next, let's focus on Rogue Talents. The most obvious change I would make is allowing the Rogue to take certain Talents multiple times. The Ninja can do it and the Rogue should be able to do it as well. Now, the Rogue can take the following traits multiple times: Combat Trick (must choose a different combat feat each time its taken), Major Magic (must choose a different 1st level spell each time its taken), Minor Magic (much choose a different cantrip each time its taken and opens up the choice for a second Major Magic), Ninja Trick (must choose a different Ninja Trick each time its taken), and Weapon Training (must choose a different weapon to apply Weapon Focus to each time its taken).

Let's also add a few new Rogue Talents and change one that already exists. First, let's rework the Ki Pool Rogue Talent to use her Intelligence modifier instead of her Wisdom modifier. We'll also add three new Rogue Talents, which will hopefully enhance some of their weaknesses and make ranged Rogues more feasible:
Canny Defense (Ex): While wearing light or no armor and not using a shield, a Rogue adds 1 point of her Intelligence bonus (if any) per Rogue level as a dodge bonus to her Armor Class. If a Rogue is caught flat-footed or otherwise denied her Dexterity bonus, she also loses this bonus. 
Deadly Range (Ex): A Rogue with this talent increases the range at which she can deal sneak attack damage by 10 feet and lowers the penalty they take to Stealth for sniping by 5. This talent can be taken multiple times, increasing the range by 10 feet (maximum 30 feet) and lowering the sniping penalty by 5 (maximum -15). (This is a modified version of a Slayer Talent from the Advanced Class Guide playtest). 
Finesse Expert (Ex): While wielding a light weapon, rapier, whip, or spiked chain made for a creature of the Rogue's size category, she may add 1 point of her Dexterity bonus (if any) per Rogue level to her damage roll with said weapon. The Rogue must have Weapon Finesse to take this talent. 
I have a few, more serious changes floating around in my mind as well. However, I only want to utilize them if these minor additions and alterations don't do the trick. One of those changes is to grant the Rogue a ki pool-like ability called "Guile". They'd receive it at 2nd level and it would allow them some special cool bonuses and they'd receive a few Talents that required the spending of Guile points. However, that would be a major reworking of the class and my final resort.

Question Time: What are some changes you'd make to the Rogue to make it a stronger class? Would they be minor changes or major ones? 

Tabletop Season 3 IndieGoGo Campaign: Fund it Now!

Saying "I love Tabletop" might be an understatement. It's easily one of my favorite series on Youtube and I never get tired of watching the different episodes numerous times. While roleplaying games are where my heart lies, I'm an avid board gamer as well and I've always found watching people play these games entertaining. 

Recently, an IndieGoGo campaign was started for the 3rd season of Tabletop. While they have already bypassed their original goal and will be making next season five episodes longer due to hitting their stretch goals, I really want to see this hit $1,000,000. If the campaign can reach that amount, they will create a second series focused solely on roleplaying games. Unlike the Dragon Age episode, the series will spotlight a group of reoccurring people playing through a season long campaign. I really want to see that become a reality. 

The campaign only has eleven more days to reach that amount, so if you want to help make that dream come true, you better donate now. If you'd like to contribute, click HERE. If you haven't watched Tabletop, you can watch the first episode HERE.

*UPDATE* The IndieGoGo campaign managed to hit the $1,000,000 mark with just eight days to go. Looks like we're getting the Tabletop RPG show.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: The Illusionist (2011)

((For those of you who are curious, I've decided to make this series and its sister series bi-weekly affairs. That gives me more time to read and prepare for each))

Every week for the past few years, Paizo has published numerous works of short fiction on their website. These stories take place in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting and are written by numerous authors, some more well known than others.

"The Illusionist" by Elaine Cunningham is an epistolary short story about Bonali, a student of wizardry from the Mwangi Expanse who has traveled to the Varisian city of Korvosa to learn the secret of magic at the prestigious Acadamae. Although he prepared for cultural differences, no training could have prepared Bonali for life alongside his new roommate Jamang Kira, whose pride and cunning may lead both students to an early grave.

While it's easily one of the shortest stories to ever be featured on Paizo's website, "The Illusionist" leaves a lasting impression due to the quality of the writing and its interesting characters.

Told in the form of a letter to his former mentor at his previous school, "The Illusionist" is tightly written and shows why Cunningham is one of the best writers of game-related fiction. The pacing is perfect and it was thoroughly entertaining. From someone who utilizes the Pathfinder Campaign Setting for most of his Pathfinder campaigns, its interesting to see what such a legendary magic school is actually like and the differences between the magic of Korvosa and the magic practiced in the Mwangi Expanse. Those little touches really bring a setting like this to life and make you want to learn more.

The characters takes this story from just good to great. Bonali is a fish out of water, a wizard from a strange land who has to adapt to the secrets and intrigue of the Acadamae. While he is a good person and initially decides to trust his roommate, its interesting to see him grow throughout the story and you believe the choices he makes towards the end of the tale. Jamang is also a perfect foil for Bonali, someone who is used to the intrigue of Korvosa and will gladly manipulate and lie to get what he wants.

My only complaint with "The Illusionist" is that it's too short. I would love to read an entire book about Bonali and his time at the Acadamae and the city of Korvosa. Hell, I'd love to see him return to his homeland and get a glimpse of the magical academy located there known as the Magaambya. If Paizo were to commission Cunningham to write a Bonali novel, I would purchase it in a heart beat.

For those of you who are interested in reading "The Illusionist", you may do so for free right HERE. It's easily one of the best pieces of short fiction they've put out so far and is a great place to start for those who are interested in reading fiction set in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Game of Thrones Reviews: "Oathkeeper"

Kit Harrington, looking confused as usual.
Daenerys finally seizes the city of Meereen and vows to meet injustice with justice. Meanwhile, Jaime continues to struggle with his loyalties and tasks Brienne to find and protect Sansa Stark. In the North, Jon rallies together a number of volunteers for his assault on the mutineers who currently hold Craster's Keep while Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor find themselves in serious trouble.

"Oathkeeper", like most of the episodes we've seen so far this season, spends most of its time setting up for things to come in the hopefully near future. However, this is easily one of the tightest episodes of this season so far due to the running theme of loyalty and justice that seems to be present throughout the different segments. The episode moves at a brisk pace that moves the story elements forward while keeping the viewer enthralled. 

The acting continues to be as solid as ever. While everyone does an excellent job, I was particularly impressed with Gwendoline Christie and Natalie Dormer's performances as Margaery Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth. Like many of the actors and actresses on Game of Thrones, Christie and Dormer embody their characters perfectly. Dormer knows how to capture the elements that make us like Margaery, but also question her ultimate motives and wonder what she's really up to. While she is only on screen for two short scenes, Christie easily makes the most out of that small amount of time by capturing Brienne's nobility and continues to have excellent chemistry with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

However, "Oathkeeper" falters due to the long shadow cast by the controversy surrounding last week's "Breaker of Chains". Many viewers, myself included, wondered if Game of Thrones would actually show the repercussions of Jaime's rape of Cersei last episode. While their scene this episode shows tension between the two, it feels like the same tension that's been presence since "Two Swords". While I liked the rest of Jaime's scenes this episode, his actions in "Breaker of Chains" continued to rear their ugly heads and prevented me from fully enjoying them. Based on Graves' comments about the rape scene, I feel like I will have to pretend that scene didn't happen. 

Although the episode is somewhat weakened by the extremely problematic elements from the previous one, "Oathkeeper is still a solid episode that possesses a brisk pace and keeps the audience entertained. While it isn't as strong as "The Lion and the Rose", its easily one of the best episodes this season. Hopefully, the remaining six are at least this good. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: First Impressions

I'm the one you can barely see. Handsome bloke, aren't I?
Last year, Paizo released the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game onto the world. I've been dying to play it since I first heard about it. However, due to my usual status as someone who doesn't even have a penny to his name, I haven't had the ability to shell out the sixty or so bucks for the Rise of the Runelords Base Set.

Thankfully, while visiting my local FLGS (Halflings Hideaway) with three friends, I had the opportunity to finally give this card game a try and I'm happy to say that it was definitely worth the wait.

For those of you who haven't played the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, I'll give you an overview of the rules. The cooperative card game allows you to play a somewhat abstract version of a regular Pathfinder adventure. Each player has a specific character (I played Valeros the iconic fighter) which is defined by a small deck of cards that represent the character's weapons, armor, items, allies, spells, etc. During the adventure, your character can go to different locations and "explore" them, fighting monsters and collecting items. Winning the game requires you to defeat the main villain of the adventure before a certain amount of rounds occur.

Our group played the Brigadoom adventure and we unfortunately failed to find and defeat the wily Jubrayl Vhiski (who actually was a NPC in my Heroes of Sandpoint campaign). Even though our group didn't complete the adventure, I at least had a fun time playing the game. The rules are actually pretty easy to grasp while allowing for some interesting strategy. For example, my character had the ability to "recharge" weapon cards, allowing me to place them onto the bottom of my deck instead of discarding them, which is nice when most of the weapons you have grant bonuses when you discard them.

I also generally love cooperative games where I actually get to work with the people sitting around me, trying to complete some goal. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy playing competitive games just as much as the next guy (Munchkin is one of my favorite board games for a reason). However, I enjoy being able to team up with other players and combine our efforts so we have a better chance of succeeding.

The only thing that did annoy me was how long it took us to set up the game. I usually like to play games that can be set up rather quickly so we can either play more games throughout the night or multiple sessions of the same game. Its one of the reasons I'm rather fond of card games like Fluxx or Love Letter. However, the long set up time might have more to due with the fact that most of the people at that table were new to the game and the owner of said game had to explain the rules to us than anything else.

I honestly really enjoyed playing the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. The rules were easy to understand, the game allowed for a lot of strategy between players, and has a lot of replace value due to the cards and the fact that you can modify the base set with expansions. While the game's base set has a rather hefty price tag, I think it would definitely be worth it in the end and its going on my list of things to buy once I have a steady source of income.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Musings on Alignment Abuse

Look in your heart, you know it to be true...
Last year, I wrote a short post about the alignment system present in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder (which you can find HERE). In that post, I mentioned how I'm rather fond of the alignment system as a concept and like how it gives the player a starting point for their character's personality and personal philosophy. I also like the idea that forces of absolute chaos, good, evil, and law exist within these fictional settings and how mortals who might not meet up to those same standards might interact and align themselves with them.

With that being said, I understand why some people would love to set the alignment system on fire so they can just watch it burn. Alignment is one of the most easily abused systems in D&D and Pathfinder. I've heard numerous horror stories about the Lawful Stupid paladin forcing the party to play a certain way or the Chaotic Evil douchebag who does terrible things and uses the classic excuse: "I'm just playing my character."

While there are a few ways one can try and prevent these problems from occurring, I believe it usually boils down to two different approaches. The first approach is to simply remove alignment from the game. This would include removing any spell or effect that deals with alignment, probably banning the paladin class, reworking certain elements of the cleric class. While it might seem like a daunting task, its actually relatively easy to accomplish if you set your mind to it.

The second and most likely easier approach is to just sit your players down at the beginning of a campaign and have a quick discussion about alignment with them. In this discussion, you would present your view of alignment and allow the players to do the same. After a few minutes of back and forth, you would come to a definition that both of you can agree to during the game. Due to my already mentioned fondness of alignment, I generally prefer this option.

However, both of these options assume you aren't playing with dicks. An asshole will ruin a game, whether alignment exists or not. I know this is probably really obvious, deciding to not play with dicks can make your entire gaming experience a lot better. Before dealing with any problem, you should first look at your group and see if you have a dick in your mist. If you do, you should probably remove him as soon as possible. Trust me, its for the best.

Alignment can be an interesting starting point for a cool character or it can be a straight jacket that you struggle against. Its all based on how you perceive them and actually handle them at the table.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Game of Thrones Reviews: "Breaker of Chains"

I will never get tired of seeing Joffrey dead. Does that make me weird?
After being accused of the murder of King Joffrey, Tyrion is thrown into the dungeon and wonders if anyone will help him prove his innocence. Meanwhile, Tywinn offers Oberyn Martell a deal if he helps judge his son at his trial; Sam takes Gilly to Mole's Town with the hope of keeping her safe; The Hound continues to show Arya the darker side of life; and Daenerys arrives outside the walls of Meeren and gives a proclamation to the city's slaves. 

Like the season premiere, "Breaker of Chains" spends most of its time setting up things to come in later episodes and possesses a slower pace because of that. However, I feel like "Breaker of Chains" did a better job balancing the multiple plots and keeping the narrative enjoyable to watch. 

While I liked the episode, there was a certain element that really got under my skin and kept me from enjoying it as much as the previous episode. The scene with Jaime forcing himself onto Cersei while their dead son is laying on the altar next to them really bothered me. If I recall, this scene is much more ambiguous in the books. However, its hard to call this anything but rape and I feel it kind of goes against the character development Jaime received last season and it feels like it was added to try and make Cersei more sympathetic. Deciding the best way to make a character more sympathetic is to rape her instead of simply writing her better is kind of problematic. Now, I know someone is going to cry, "But this is an adaptation!" That's true, but that hasn't stopped them from changing scenes and reworking character dynamics before. If they really wanted to make her more sympathetic, they could have easily done that through the writing. 

Putting that one scene aside, the episode just falls short of the previous episode in the quality department. The directing is solid and the acting great as usual. Oberyn Martell continues to prove why he's such a cool character and I actually didn't mind Daenerys' scenes this time. That one scene just kept me from fully embracing it. 

While the previous episode was definitely better, "Breaker of Chains" is a solid episode that really only falls short of "The Lion and the Rose" for me due to the scene between Cersei and Jaime. If it wasn't for that one scene, I would like have liked this episode a lot more. I know some people might not agree, but this is about me giving my opinion, so that's what I'm going to do. 

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 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)). 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "Earth Astride Mars" by Adam C. Moore

((Click HERE to go to Adam C. Moore's DeviantArt page))
Have I ever mentioned how much I love John Carter of Mars? My first exposure to Edgar Rice Burrough's Barsoom was the 2012 film John Carter, which inspired me to hunt down A Princess of Mars and read it. While certain elements of the stories haven't aged particularly well (the overt racism being the most obvious example), I loved this strange world that Burrough's created and enjoyed reading about Carter's adventures on a dying world.

The above piece by cartoonist/illustrator Adam C. Moore (also known as Laemeur) depicts the displaced Earthling fighting two Tharks while another pair watches, with the one in the chair most likely being the notorious Tars Tarkas. I love the pulp/comic book feel of the piece, making me think it would be right at home as the illustration for a Barsoom story. I like the depiction of the Tharks, loving how Moore manages to balance the alien and humanoid features of the Green Martians. I also like how Carter looks so small compared to his two opponents, showing us how brave and strong the former Confederate soldier is. Finally, the piece possesses a nice flow to it, with the twisting of the Thark's body as Carter rears back to punch him while his comrade quickly approaches, reaching for his two blades.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Extraordinary Materials

Special materials have always had a presence within fantasy stories. For example, Middle-Earth has mithril and Westeros has Valyrian steel. While Dungeons & Dragons and its close cousins possess numerous special materials, I'm going to focus on something a little different today: extraordinary materials.

I guess I should define my terms so you can understand what I'm talking about. Extraordinary materials are materials that possess qualities that border on the supernatural. In game terms, this means that weapons crafted from the extraordinary material possess certain abilities equal to magical armor and weapon enchantments.

We'll use Valyrian steel as an example for how to handle extraordinary materials. In game terms, weapons crafted from Valyrian steel would receive the benefits of the keen weapon enchantment due to how sharp weapons made from the material tend to be.

As I mentioned above, extraordinary materials might grant different abilities depending on the type of item being made. For example, there is a rare material known as blue ice that happens to be just as strong and durable as steel. When used for weapons, blue steel grants the benefits of the frost weapon enchantment. However, when the material is used for armor, it grants the wearer a resistance against cold damage.

I've mentioned before that I like magic items that are more unique and mystical. Basically, this is just another attempt to achieve that affect. It also helps add a little more of the fantastical to the game without having to always resort to magic. While you could use this for high magic campaigns, I think would shine best in more low magic settings (especially E6 games if you want to use the d20 system). Just make the materials rare to explain why they aren't showing up everywhere and it gives you adventure hooks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: Demon Knights, Vol. 1 (2011)

Currently, DC and I have a very complicated relationship. I love DC's characters and preferred its fictional universe to Marvel's for the most part. Unfortunately, the New 52 happened and the company started to do some questionable things (like the abuse of their creative staff, the mishandling of numerous characters, generally bad decisions, etc.). Eventually, I ended up jumping ship and hopped onto the Marvel bandwagon. 

While I have some very strong opinions about the New 52, I would be lying if I said nothing good came of it. There were a number of titles from the first and second waves that I absolutely loved. Demon Knights was one of those titles. 

Initially written by Paul Cornell with art by Diogenes Neves, Demon Knights is set during Medieval times after the fall of Camelot. Jason Blood (Etrigan the Demon's human host) and the powerful sorceress Madame Xanadu arrive in a small village that just so happens to be the next target for an evil queen's vicious horde. Hoping to defend the town from these invaders, Blood and Xanadu team up with a more barbaric Vandal Savage, Sir Ystin the Shining Knight, a Middle Eastern fighter and tactician named Al Jabar, the mysterious rider known simply as the "Horsewoman", and the Amazon warrior Exoristos. Can this ragtag ban of adventurers save this village from a horrible fate, or will they become the newest victims of the Questing Queen's forces? 

Demon Knights is an uncomplicated, incredibly entertaining title that focused on lesser known DC characters. Within this volume, we have Vandal Savage (before becoming a villain) fighting magically enhanced dinosaurs, ripping their heads off with his bare hands and talking about how tasty they are. How could that be anything but awesome? While it has its darker and more serious moments, Demon Knights always managed to balance it with humor and a good sense of fun. 

The characters are also fantastic. We have the aforementioned Vandal Savage, who is less sophisticated than his modern version and truly lives up to the "Savage" part in his name. However, we also have the relationship between Jason Blood and Xanadu, wondering if her feelings for him are true or does she really love Etrigan. There's also the Celtic knight Sir Ystin, who happens to be transgender and from a much older version of Camelot (long story made short: there are multiple Camelots in DC's history) and Exoristos, who left Themyscira for reasons that remain a mystery and make you want to learn more about them. Each member of this team is unique and interesting, which is a bonus for this kind of book. 

 Unfortunately, Demon Knights ended its run last August due low sells. There are probably a few factors that led to this. Generally, straight fantasy stories generally don't fair so well within the comic industry. Secondly, the concept is kind of strange and I can understand a lot of normal readers being hesitant to pick it up. Finally, I also wasn't a fan of it connecting to the modern day stories with Demon Knights being the ancestors to the Stormwatch, but that's just a nitpick because I preferred Demon Knights as its own, separate entity. 

Even though the comic series has ended, you can still pick up the trade collections. While I don't like the idea about supporting DC at the moment, I have to so more people can read an awesome series like this. If you love fantasy, superheroes, and fun adventures stories, you'll love Demon Knights

Monday, April 7, 2014

Game of Thrones Reviews: "Two Swords"

There's nothing more relaxing than sitting beside a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon.
Like previous premiere episodes, "Two Swords" does its best to quickly catch us up on the multiple plots and what these characters have been up to since we've last seen them. We find Tyrion welcoming guests from the lands of Dorne for the royal wedding, fearing that one of them might be here for something else entirely. Meanwhile, Jon has recovered from the wounds he received from Ygritte and tries to warn the Night's Watch superiors about the King Beyond the Wall's planned attack. We also see Jaime struggling to find his place in the capital, Arya avenging a lost friend, and Daenerys marching towards the slave city of Meereen. 

"Two Swords" felt somewhat unfocused, which caused the plot to meander at times. This was most likely due to the nature of the show and the numerous plots we need to check up on and see what's changed since the 3rd season. While most of the scenes work and are entertaining to watch, they didn't really work all that well together. This is definitely one of those episodes where the pieces are greater than the whole. 

Thankfully, the acting continues to be top notch. Peter Dinklage is still one of the best performers on the show, even though Tyrion seems to be much more reserved at the moment. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does a fantastic job portraying the much more troubled Jaime and newcomer Pedro Pascal captures the awesomeness that is Oberyn Martell perfectly. 

Now, there was one stumbling block when it came to the cast. As most people know, the role of Daario Naharis was recast due to the previous actor backing out to work on another project. As you would expect, some fans are outraged by the change. I think I prefer Michiel Huisman's take on the character, possessing an air of confidence and charm the previous actor lacked. However, I would be lying if I said it wasing something jarring. 

Although its definitely not as strong as previous season premieres due to the unfocused nature of its plot, "Two Swords" does have its moments and the performances are just as solid as they always have been. While the episode could have been worse, it could have been a lot better as well.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Super-Science & Sorcery: Magic Items as Technology

I know its not everyone's cup of tea, but I've always loved a little bit of science fiction mixed into my fantasy. I enjoy the idea of characters living in a seemingly medieval setting interacting with advanced technology and creatures from beyond the stars. Its the reason why I love Paizo's Distant Wolrds supplement and can't wait for the Iron Gods adventure path.

However, when dealing with advanced technology within a fantasy setting, you have to figure out how to actually handle it mechanically. There are a few ways to do this, such as actually creating the items from scratch or trying to adapt them from other game systems, but I feel like there's an easier way: reskinning magic items.

Reskinning is one of the most useful techniques for any game master, allowing you to use existing mechanics for your ideas instead of trying to build it from scratch. Reskinning magic items as advanced technology is relatively simple, but you should consider few things beforehand: 1) The origins of this item and 2) how the item works within the game.

The most common origins for advanced technology in medieval settings are aliens who either A) crash-landed sometime in the past or B) visited the world sometime in the past, or the item is an artifact from an ancient civilization that was more advanced technologically then the current one. Each one brings there own unique elements to a setting (Where were the aliens going when they crash-landed? Why did they visit this world? How did this advanced civilization fall?) that could lead to some interesting plot points in the future. You don't have to answer these questions, but you should give them a quick thought.

The much easier question to answer is how the magic item works within the game. You already know how what its basic mechanical effect is due to it already existing within the game. All you have to do is figure out how it works within the game world.

For example, let's say that I'm going to reskin a wand of scorching ray as a laser pistol. The origin of this pistol is that it happens to be an artifact from the ancient Vraal Empire that was brought low by the aboleths thousands of years ago. The wand becomes a sleek, futuristic pistol that shoots a scorching ray at its target as a ranged touch attack and deals 4d6 points of fire damage with a range of 30 feet. Instead of magical charges, the pistol possesses a energy cell that allows the wielder to make 50 shots before being depleted.

Now, I know this entire concept isn't a revolutionary one. I'm not the first one to bring it up (Paizo even mentions it in the Inner Sea World Guide), but I thought it would be fun to actually delve a little deeper into it and see it in action.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fantasy Art Thursday: "A Song of Ice and Fire" by Andrew Hou

((Click HERE to go to Andrew Hou's DeviantArt page))
I have a strange relationship with George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. Part of me loves the series, loving the characters and the world of Westeros. However, I'm not so infatuated with it that I can't see the series flaws and there are certain characters and plotlines that I really hate (*cough*Daenerys Targaryen*cough*). In the end, I would rather live in a world where A Song of Ice and Fire was a thing then in a world where Martin had never written it. 

In honor of the 4th season of Game of Thrones premiering this Sunday, I thought I'd post some related artwork. The above piece by Andrew Hou (a.k.a nJoo on DeviantArt) depicts the famous Battle of the Trident during Robert's Rebellion against the Mad King Aerys II. We see Robert Baratheon with his stag helmet and warhammer meeting the prince Rhaegar Targaryen in single combat. 

I love how Hou has placed a discarded sword and helm into the river, giving us the idea this battle has already claimed a few lives. I also like how we can see the battle between the Rebel and Royal armies raging in the background. Fans of the series know the Battle of the Trident was an important moment in Robert's Rebellion and due to the way Robert appears to be an imposing figure when compared to Rhaegar, you get the feeling this will not end well for the prince (trying to remain spoiler free). No wonder this was the cover for Green Ronin's A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game for a time. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Halflings Hideaway: First Impressions

For most of my life, I've lived in an area that wasn't very accommodating to those of a more geeky persuasion. Recently, however, this has started to change. In the last year, a number of comic/game shops have opened in the East Texas area. There's Three Suns Unlimited and The Nerd Cave in Longview, Geek World in Tyler, RC Comics in Kilgore, and Dungeon Crawl Games in Mt. Pleasant. Yesterday, another store opened in my hometown of Gilmer: Halflings Hideaway.

Located along the edge of town, Halflings Hideaway Games is a store that focuses on board, card, and roleplaying games. Although I've only been there once so far, I already like the atmosphere of  the place. One thing that can ruin any game store is an unwelcoming atmosphere. Thankfully, the owners of Halflings Hideaway seem very friendly and welcoming. I actually played a short game of Dixit with one of them and had a blast. 

The store also has a very large floor space, which is always nice for a game store. I love how the placed the tables between the wooden counters, allowing those who are using that table to have their own little area to work with. They also have a good amount of product, especially in the board game department. While I wish they had a few more roleplaying game products in stock, they items they did have were rather varied and weren't just Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder (which is always nice and helps show people there are more games out there). Also, this store just opened and will probably gain more product as time goes on.  

If you ever find yourself in the Gilmer area, drop by Halflings Hideaway. Pick up some games, play some games, and support this store. Also, for those of you who might be in the area this Friday and Saturday, they will be hosting a gaming event in honor of International Tabletop Day. It will last from 12 pm on Friday to 12 am on Saturday. They'll be demoing numerous games during that time period. One of those games will be the Pathfinder Beginner Box, which I'll be GMing from 6 to 9 each day. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: Saga (2012)

Brian K. Vaughan has quickly become on of my favorite writers currently working in the comic industry. Runaways is still one of my favorite things that Marvel ever published and I really enjoyed Y: The Last Man. With that in mind, it should be obvious that I really love one of his most recent works: Saga

Based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent, Saga is a science fantasy comic that depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel. Will they finally find a place where they can live happily ever after, or will they be captured by those who want them dead? 

Like Vaughan's other works, Saga is filled to the brim with creativity. While heavily influenced by Star Wars, Saga takes a very simple story and sets it in an interesting galaxy inhabited by equally interesting creatures. For example, we have a race where each individual has a unique set of wings and they happen to be governed by a TV-headed robots. 

The characters are excellent as well. Vaughan has done a fantastic job at making Alana and Marko feel like a real couple with how they act with each other, how they handle situations, and the things they say to one another. Because they feel like a real couple, you care about these two and want to see them succeed in their endeavors. You also have characters like The Will, a mercenary hired by Marko's race to hunt down the pair, the ghost girl Izabel who is bound to Hazel and acts as a nanny of sorts, the cyclops romance novelist D. Oswald Heist, and a lot more. 

While I wasn't too found of it at first, Fiona Staples' art quickly won me over and I have grown to love it. The sketchy nature of the images threw me off at first, but Staples' work perfectly captures this story and I can't really imagine what it might look like if another artist was at the helm. The art is fluid and lively and helps tell the story beautifully. 

Although the story is kind of simple when you break it down (two lovers running away from two sides who wish to break them up), Saga is still one of the best comics currently being published due to its excellent writing, great art, interesting characters, and the amount of creativity it possesses. I highly recommend you go to your closest comic shop, find the first collected tradeback, and pay the 10 bucks for it. You will not be disappointed.