Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If I were to sum up my impression of Eberron in one word, that word would be "juicy"

In this post, I will talk about our "regular" D&D game, the one that we play at a friend's house with people we know rather than the pick-up Encounters games we play at the game store.

We started the campaign in Fallcrest, which is set in the default D&D setting (which may or may not still be called Greyhawk, I'm not totally clear on this). We fought some kobolds, slew a dragon, and got a magical sword as loot. It was all very straightforward D&D stuff. The next adventure we ran was set in Eberron, where things turned out to be somewhat more... juicy.

First, I should take a moment to talk about our campaign, and how we went from Greyhawk to Fallcrest. Our Dungeon Master (who plays Jarvix in my other campaign) has set up his world as a mix of every Dungeons and Dragons setting. People in various parts of the world believe in various pantheons, and depending on how people see the world, the world itself manifests in different ways. At least, that's the way I interpret it.

This feels a lot more real to me than the normal D&D approach, where a campaign setting has a strictly delineated pantheon of gods, who each have their distinct areas of influence. This feels too neat and tidy for my tastes. I like the idea that the gods are sort of trying to scratch out an area of influence while competing with similar gods from neighboring countries.

In any case, we got to Eberron and things seemed pretty normal. We had a bit of a laugh at the place names, as we were in the Darkswamp at the edge of the Blacktree Forest or something like that. The town we were investigating was populated mostly by humans, orcs, and half-orcs. That was a bit weird, but not totally unknown in a setting like Forgotten Realms.

But things got really weird when we entered the inevitable nearby monster-filled cave. We started things off by fighting cultists with eyes growing all over their bodies, who were led by an eyeless, psychic, tentacular horror. Meanwhile, an eye growing out of the wall tried to take over our minds.

Things got even weirder as we descended into Khyber, which is apparently Eberron's version of the underworld. Here we met monsters without heads but with two mouths, formed by evil wizards who had magically fused two goblins. At one point, the DM mentioned that the monsters' eyes were looking for us, and someone asked a question that you should probably avoid asking in Eberron: "But without a head, where are its eyes?" In this case, the DM deadpanned, "Oh, all over." (For those wondering about the mouths, they're on the shoulders.)

The deeper we get into the Khyber, the softer the walls get, and in our current room the walls are distinctly fleshy. I joked that, if we poked them, they'd probably bleed, but I'm in no hurry to test that. Let's just say that the floor has mouths.

I'm not one to get all squeamish, and part of me thinks that this stuff is pretty cool. I'm just glad that, when I run my Dark Sun, things are going to be decidedly drier.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We Killed It and Took Its Stuff

I have not one, but TWO D&D sessions to recount, as these seem to be fairly popular (meaning one person has commented asking for more). I'll discuss our D&D Encounter from last Wednesday in this post, then post later about the game I played on Sunday.

Our intrepid party found their way into a canyon, where we found a rare fruit tree, covered in ripe, juicy fruit. The non-kreen in the group assured me that the fruit was delicious and succulent. I naturally had little interest in something so repulsive, though I pointed out that, as my companions ate the fruit, their own nutritional value was increasing. I was just trying to make conversation, but apparently my comment made them nervous. I will never understand non-kreen.

Suddenly, we found ourselves under attack from some nearby boulders. Goblin-types bristled at the top of some twenty-foot rocks, peeking out from among the brambles. It soon became obvious that the creatures could happily dodge among the brambles, but when we climbed the rocks, we found ourselves getting slashed and entangled.

One of our party members, Phye, found a rope dangling from the cliff, attached to some provisions. She climbed the rope, only to find a drake tied to the other end. She was soon fighting for her life against the goblins, though the drake itself was too busy trying to break free of its bonds to fight Phye. Yuka climbed up the rock face to help her, but they both suffered a huge blow when, upon defeating one of the goblins, a curse-bleeder (or whatever they were called) made its dying body explode so that it badly damaged both Phye and Yuka.

The most dangerous creatures were spellcasters who threw their own blood at us to curse us, which hurt us and made us more vulnerable to attack. Meanwhile, two snipers with magical rocket boots flew from rock to rock, peppering us with arrows along the way. I half-jumped, half-climbed up after them, then used my natural Thri-Kreen jumping to try to keep up with them. Phye had succeeded in loosing the drake, but its wingbeats did not dislodge the goblins as she had hoped. She needed my help, so I jumped over to her rock as she was dropped by some goblins.

Jarvix, meanwhile, was so engrossed in his fruit that he was nearly taken down before he could put up a fight. Soon he, too, was down for the count, leaving me, the stalwart Yuka and a cowardly Barcan the only ones still fighting, as Castri was MIA. While Yuka held them off, I fed Phye the magical healing fruit I had picked up from the caravan in the first encounter, and she helped us fight off the goblins while the drake lazily flapped away.

Yuka flung several goblins from the rock, where Barcan cleaned them up with chicken-hearted efficiency. We then got Jarvix back on his feet as we took out the last goblin, expecting it to explode again. We were all rather disappointed when it just fell.

This was the second fight so far where closing to melee range meant taking ongoing damage. In the first fight, it was the sandstorm that dealt 5 points of damage to any player outside the tents. In the third fight, it was the brambles. This feels like lazy scenario design to me. The designers figured that the Defenders fight in close range and can soak up a lot of damage, so they design the fights so that close range fighters always have to take ongoing damage.

Another gripe I have is that the enemies keep coming from all sides, making it impossible to set up a unified battle line. I have several abilities that depend on getting several party members "stuck in" to fight the enemy in close combat, and so far I haven't been able to make good use of them.

I'm not trying to say that every fight has to be tailored to allow the player characters to shine, and I'm definitely still having a great time.

One thing I should make note of is that last Wednesday's session was the first D&D Encounter in which we got genuine loot. We had picked up some healing fruit in the first encounter, but in the third we got a magic weapon (which went to Yuka, who had recklessly broken his beloved rope-axe weapon in an earlier fight) and a shrunken head made of wood (made, we were told, from a slightly larger wooden head!)

It felt a bit weird so far to go through two encounters without seeing a single gold coin for our trouble, so it's nice to get some loot, finally... even if I didn't get any of it myself, and thri-kreen don't understand the way money works.

See you in Athas!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

O, to be a psychic, four-armed bug-man!

Our D&D Encounters group had our second game last week, and tomorrow's the next game. The second game was even more fun than the first, which is really saying something. The players seemed more relaxed, and the DM was really getting into it. He would take simple rolls and actions and describe them in epic terms.

In one particularly memorable moment, one of the characters, a Mul (half-dwarf) ex-gladiator was wrestling with a giant beetle that held him in its pincers. The beetle opened a secondary mouth and jabbed a needle-sharp proboscis into the Mul's chest, poisoning him. Not one to be taken down lightly, the Mul broke free of the beetle's grasp and used an ability that let him end the "poisoned" condition. The DM enthusiastically described how the character out-wrestled the beetle, then used his diaphragm to pump out the venom from his chest. If you can, try to picture someone holding an imaginary beetle's pincers in his hands while pantomiming pumping poison from your chest with your diaphragm. He had us in stitches, and the moment will probably live forever in my memories of D&D.

My character so far has been reliable and I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of tanking (though I probably could be using my offensive abilities better). Still, I feel like I'm getting the hang on this character, and hopefully I'll be more on top of things in tomorrow's session. We'll see if maybe I can even get such a legendary moment of greatness!

If any of you are still wondering why I'm so stoked about playing a thri-kreen, check out this picture. Some thri-kreen art looks pretty terrible, as they can look like lumpy beetle-people, but this is the way I picture my guy:

Though my current character has a stone, three-bladed halberd, orangish markings, and a mangled arm.

See you in Athas!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Watch some awesome trailers for The Old Republic

I can guarantee that The Old Republic won't be as awesome as these cinematics. Plus it's an MMO, so in reality the Sith would be named Darth Bauls. So let's just watch the videos several times each and bask in awesome Star Wars action.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Watch this brutal Mortal Kombat reboot video

(WARNING: NSFW, contains violence and disturbing imagery)

I find the trend toward making comic book and video game stories more realistic to be fascinating, and one of the best examples I've seen is the Mortal Kombat: Rebirth trailer. According to Wikipedia, the video was used to pitch the concept of a Mortal Kombat reboot to see if the director could get a studio interested. Here's hoping somebody bites, because this project is way too awesome not to happen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Let's Geek Out on Athas

Every week, Wizards of the Coast sponsors a night of Dungeons and Dragons at your local gaming store. They provide the the campaign and the characters, the store supplies the DM, and you bring your dice, some snacks, and all the enthusiasm you can cram into your exoskeleton. What's not to love?

I didn't play in the previous D&D Encounters "season," because the setting didn't feel sun-bleached and barbaric enough for me. Well, no worries there, because this current season is set in Dark Sun, D&D's barbaric sand world, with the look designed by none other than BROM:

I'd always been intrigued by the Dark Sun setting, but somehow the fact that my favorite fantasy artist was the principal designer of the look of the setting had escaped my notice until I started looking into it in preparation for D&D Encounters.

So my friend Kage and I headed over to Eudemonia, one of our local gaming stores, and sat down. I was almost late since I had to get dinner after work, so I ended up devouring my ramen at an alarming speed and leaving my wife at the ramen place to dash over to the game store.

I made it just in time, as in a few more minutes they would have given my spot to someone else. As it was, they had to turn away almost as many players as got to play. I heard that they were hoping to find a second DM for the next week so that more people could play.

I got to play my character of choice, Shikirr, a Thri-Kreen. Now I'm not going to say that I've wanted to play a Thri-Kreen since I saw a Thri-Kreen card in our collection of AD&D 2nd Edition trading cards, but if I did say that, it wouldn't be inaccurate.

I don't know how you spent your past Wednesday, but I spent it as a psionic, four-armed mantis-person. Kyle played as a Tiefling psionicist, while I was technically a Battlemind. This worked out very well, as I tanked the heavy hitters while Kyle brought the damage. Speaking of damage, our DM shone when it came time to describe the grisly deaths our enemies suffered. You'd think that psionic death would be pretty boring, as essentially you kill the other person's mind, but our DM described with relish how blood flowed from our surprised enemies' noses, mouths, and ears. Disgusting. I love it.

My dice rolling left something to be desired, as only one attack hit, but Kage seemingly could do no wrong. When the encounter started, none of our enemies had had their heads popped by psionics before. Kage made sure that, by the time the encounter ended, this was no longer the case. Though I only landed one attack, it was an amplified attack that both did a lot of damage and blinded my opponent. The DM described how I swung my weapon in front of my enemy's eyes, and the enemy just started laughing when the wind of my attack popped his eyeballs. Yuss.

I thought that Wizards did a great job of coming up with a scenario that threw together players who had never gamed before and got them to join up. Just like the players, some of the characters did not know each other and some did. The whole party got thrown together when we were the only survivors of a mysterious shower of obsidian boulders. The players all had name cards with their character's portrait and name, which made it easy to remember who was playing who and broke the ice. We had no choice but to rely on each other, and we found ourselves grabbing supplies as we came under attack from opportunistic lizard people.

The lizard people had the drop on us and were about to be reinforced, so we had to grab supplies as the fight soon went from "kill the lizard people" to "escape with our lives." To complicate things, we were in the middle of a vicious sandstorm that did not bother the lizard people but slowly chipped away at our health whenever we were out in the open, giving us another reason to escape as soon as possible.

The players were almost all completely chill and easy to play with, and the DM brought us all together with enthusiasm. He plowed right into things, minimizing the amount of social interaction we nerds had to do before we got down to doing what we do best: throwing dice and geeking out.

My only complaint was that Wizards of the Coast really dropped the ball on the character sheets. They were plagued with typos, the character art did not match the character descriptions, and from what I've read, the stats were also calculated wrong. But to be honest, these were small gripes and did not take away from my enjoyment of the evening.

In case you're not already insanely jealous, I got some cool loot.

It's a foam drink koozie, and reads as follows:

Athasian Sleeve of Refreshment Level 1
This obsidian-black sheath fits snugly around your favorite drink, shielding it from the warming effects common to the Sea of Silt, the Ivory Triangle, and your gaming table.

Wondrous ItemD&D Encounters
Property: When fitted around a standard can or bottle, this insulating koozie protects your hand from suffering any ill effects that may be caused by holding a frosty beverage, while keeping your drink refreshingly cold.
Special: You can probably get away with not using a coaster.
TM & © 2010 Wizards of the Coast, LLC.

Totally awesome. See you in Athas!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

RPG Item: Toss-Dog

The assassin paused beneath the low window, crouching in the shadows and listening to the guards talking within.

"He's only one man. Stay sharp. He won't get past us."

The black-garbed man knew that there was truth in the guards' words. The visiting duke was asleep in his room, but to get there, the assassin had to cross the guards' room. Not without a diversion.

He unslung the bundle he wore over his back. It was a complicated series of bars and gears on a wooden framework. He pulled a cord free and the thing began ticking. Taking a few deep breaths to steady himself, he hurled the bundle through the window into the room. A series of loud snaps and clangs came from the room, accompanied by the surprised shouts of the guards.

The assassin leaped over the windowsill as a shape unfolded in the room and began to bound around, snapping at the guards and causing enough confusion for the assassin to dart through the room and into the duke's chamber.

Image by nancynismo

A toss-dog is a device built to be easily transported in its deactivated state that turns into a vicious attack hound when activated. The device itself is built of metal and wood by the most skilled artificers. The toss-dog is about the size of a backpack when folded up, and the size of a medium-sized dog when active.

In its folded up state, the toss-dog is very resilient and can be hurled long distances onto hard surfaces. There have been occasions where toss-dogs were fired into enemy fortifications using catapults. When unfolded, the toss-dog is somewhat more fragile, as its delicate internal components are more exposed. Nevertheless, its high speed and agility ensure that a toss-dog often causes maximum mayhem before being disabled or running down.

A toss-dog can fight for about five minutes (one encounter) before its internal mechanisms wind down. At this point, the toss-dog must be folded up and re-wound, a process that takes about five minutes for a technically savvy user, or fifteen minutes for the average person. Someone who has no experience with machines is incapable of winding and folding a toss-dog at all.

The parts of a toss-dog are readily available, but they must be very carefully constructed. Some magic is required as well, and a jewel costing at least 3,000 gp must be imprinted with a living dog's mind in order to give the toss-dog life. This imprinting can be performed by any reasonably skilled ritualist, and it causes no harm to the living dog. Rich nobles often commission one or more toss-dogs to be imprinted with the mind of their favorite hunting hound, and a powerful monarch can have an entire hunting pack of toss-dogs modeled on their prize pooch. A necromancer can imprint a dead canine's mind onto a toss-dog.

Though they started out as pets to nobles, toss-dogs came into their own when they were picked up by underworld figures. They were first developed by Iovar Varagundsun, who envisioned them as caravan escorts that could be packed along with the goods and activated if the caravans came under attack. The toss-dogs never really caught on as caravan escorts, but they went through a period when they were extremely fashionable among the wealthy. On Iovar's death, the ownership of the toss-dog workshop was contested between Iovar's protege and his main financier. Both men hired shady characters to help them take over the company, but the cut-throats and thieves preferred to keep the toss-dogs for themselves, finding them incredibly useful for assassinations, burglaries, and jailbreaks.

Most modern toss-dogs are either patched-up originals created by Iovar Varagundsun or cheaper knockoffs commissioned by underworld bosses. A well-repaired Varagundsun original is worth a small fortune, while the cheaper ones are much more reasonable. You'll get what you pay for, though. Many cut-rate toss-dogs will fall apart or run down after activating, or fail to activate at all. Also be sure that the person selling you the toss-dog doesn't have any reason to harm you, or you may find your new "best friend" going for your throat instead of your enemy's.