Thursday, July 10, 2014

Revisiting Vornheim

I wrote this review of Zak Smith's Vornheim back in April of 2011 and little has changed, except that I know Zak a little better than I did then, I've run a few games of some D&D variants since, and I have a new coffee table. I've changed the link to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess shop in the final paragraph as the original hardback is no longer available, although I am told a reprint is in the works.

It's worth mentioning that in the three years since I wrote the original review I have done some minor work for LotFP, but at the time I was but a customer. Not that my association with the company would change my opinion of the book; I still think it's innovative and inspirational.

(Now, cue Wayne's World wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey flashback effect as we head back to the space year 2011.)

Player: Fluffy the half-golem needs repairs! Where's the nearest alchemist?

GM: Err... [flips through three hundred pages of text] hang on, it's here somewhere...

Player: I'll put the kettle on.

A proper old-school GM cares not one jot for detailed maps of every street of every district of the City of Genericfantasyburg, because the old-school GM will just roll on a random table to discover what's round that corner or behind that door. I don't know him aside from his blog persona, but Zak S. -- it stands for Sabbath or Smith depending on which hat he's wearing that day -- seems to prefer this philosophy of generating random data and trying to sort it out at the table, but with Vornheim he suggests that even random tables aren't quite fun enough.

Vornheim also represents an explicit dissatisfaction with the rpg book as a format, that as game books, they're perhaps a bit too bookish and aren't nearly gamey enough. Zak wants them to be more than just containers for text -- this is reflected, consciously or not, within the city itself, where snakes are the medium of choice -- and as such Vornheim is a thing to be used, a bundle of mechanics and tools, a -- you knew it was coming -- kit that only takes the shape of a book, for lack of a better format.

Imagine I want to generate a city location, so in order to do so, I use the front cover of the book. I adore this. It's the author saying "I don't want the cover to just be the thing you stick the title and a pretty picture on, even if I am an artist; I want you to be able to get an actual use from the cover." The idea is to maximise game utility, because the prettiest painted cover image is of about as much use as a chocolate fire guard if your players want to know what's behind that green copper door.

So, I want to generate the location. I get a d4 and I roll it -- this only works with the pointy types; my fancy twelve-siders just roll right off the book, off the table and into the dark corners of the room, where the spiders dwell -- onto the cover of the book itself.

Vornheim is a city of towers, so let's generate one of those. The 14 to the right of -- and almost obscured by -- the die tells us that the tower has fourteen storeys, and the 2 below the die tells us that the tower has two bridges linking it to other towers. The number rolled, a 1, tells us how many entrances the tower has. This takes about a minute, start to finish, more if you faff about trying to find your dice bag.

It's not just cute and fun -- though it is that too -- as this kind of innovation is also there to make the generation of game data more useful and efficient; the exact same roll gives us a fighter with an Armour Class of 18 or 2 -- depending on D&D version -- of second level, and wielding a sword. The same chart can also generate an animal, monster, thief, wizard, group of city guards, inn, two types of internal room, two types of magical attack, and a poison. There's another very similar chart on the back cover, and the book contains a number of different pages that operate along similar lines.

Not all the material in the book follows the same format. There's some prose description, maps, a couple of keyed map adventures, and more than a few random tables, but these are all infused with the same sense of trying to do more with such tools, to not fall back on what is expected of a city-based rpg sourcebook. This informs and supports the general approach of describing Vornheim through examples, rather than present an encyclopaedia of every street, house and citizen.

That said, the GM is given the tools to generate such elements as and when they are needed, and more importantly perhaps, to make them interesting and dynamic when they do come up; Vornheim rejects the mundane, conventional and boring, and this attitude is apparent on every page. The stated goal of the book is not only to allow a GM to create a city on the fly, but to make it interesting, memorable and fun, and I would argue that it more than succeeds in that task.

It is rather D&D-centric and I don't run D&D, but that's not the fault of the book and it's not as if Zak's blog title doesn't make it very clear what his game of choice is. It's not a huge problem by any means, as the book uses so few actual statistics and rules that it's easy enough to convert to one's chosen system, and besides, my key interest was in how Zak pushed the boundaries of rpg sourcebook presentation, and that's something one can appreciate irrespective of the game system.

The book could have done with another editing pass perhaps, as there are some glitches here and there, such as missing table headers and a couple of cases of repeated and redundant information. In places, there's also some repeated and redundant information. Even so, these glitches are few and none of them have any negative effect on the utility of the book, and that's what counts at the end of the day.

To compare Vornheim to the perennial Best City Book Ever nominee Ptolus is perhaps not fair -- although I sort of just do that, oops -- as they're very different products with very different intentions, and to say that one is better than the other seems a bit pointless. Let it be said then that I prefer Vornheim, even as an infrequent fantasy GM, because it strives to be more useful than exhaustive, and because I admire and support the genuine attempts to do something different within the format of the rpg sourcebook.

Vornheim is a sixty-four page A5ish pdf, more or less compatible with most versions of D&D -- even the Unmentionable -- and is available from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess shop for 6.20€. It's well worth every whatever-pennies-are-called-in-the-Euro-is-it-cents-I-don't-know.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Oiling the Bone Sword

Last time the player-characters made a daring raid on the Archmage's floating prison Highrock in order to rescue the famed pirate captain Morgan -- oh dear -- who turned out to be a medusa. Still, a legendary sailor is a legendary sailor whether or not they have snakes for hair and can turn you to stone with a glance, so the team started planning their voyage into the uncharted east to search for Jordan Young's great treasure. Before they could set out there was the small matter of a brewing conflict between the Elf Queen and the Three, dragon overlords of ultimate evil.

The party were asked to investigate an abandoned abbey thought to be a nesting site used by the dragons and destroy any eggs found there, in an attempt to dissuade the Three from further attacks against the elves. Amras the elf wizard, always more of a politician than a warrior, decided that instead they would capture the eggs and hold them as insurance, which seemed to everyone to be a much more sensible idea.

Why were the dragons hiding out in an abbey? Well, because it tied into the players' relationship dice rolls from the previous session but as they made no attempt to research the place -- this lot would be terrible at Shadowrun -- and sneaked in by a secret entrance they didn't really engage with any of it.

As an aside, there's an interesting tension here. The Icon relationship rolls are supposed to drive story and to tell the GM what sort of elements will come up in a session, but if the players wander off and don't interact with the rolls, is it better to let them miss out if that's their choice or have the rolls impact the game anyway? I'm inclined toward the former and that's how I played it -- so among other things they never met the travelling cleric who was looking for a saint's bones -- but the game itself seems to suggest that the Icon rolls are treated as a sort of Quantum Ogre, and so the cleric -- or someone else associated with the Priestess -- should have popped up anyway. This is part of the game that's worth further thought I, er, think.

The abbey, its grounds, and the saint's remains were borrowed stolen from "A Box of Old Bones" from White Dwarf #71. I stuck it on the little island to the east of the Spider Wood on the 13th Age map as that seemed like a nice place close to both the Elf Queen's wood and the Three's headquarters in Drakkenhall, and it gave the player-characters an excuse to use their brand new sailing vessel. Along the way there was a brief argument between the party and their new captain over who was in charge of the ship and as a result they demoted Morgan to first mate. Attentive readers will remember that Morgan was the only one who could take them to the island on which the precious treasure was hidden, and was also a medusa, so that's not going to come back and bite them at all.

They spotted an obscured cave at the base of the island and decided to investigate it as a potential entry point to the abbey. Leaving "first mate" Morgan in charge they rowed over to the island -- in broad daylight! -- and then chucked a couple of light spells into the cave, alerting the guards to their presence and setting off all the alarms. If you're thinking "well gosh, this doesn't seem to be a very stealthy approach" then you would be correct. I'm still not sure what the plan was but so be it; it allowed me to have some fun with kobolds.

Kobolds in 13th Age are a great laugh. They're the same low-level humanoid sword fodder of other D&D variants but they also get a wonderful bonus ability; if a kobold rolls over an opponent's Wisdom score with an attack roll then they also activate a hidden trap -- generated on a random table -- that causes a little bit of extra damage and sometimes a minor negative effect. It's not much but it adds a little bit of fun unpredictability to the little dragon-dog things and guess which set of player-characters chose Wisdom as their dump stat? Yes, there is an element of the Quantum Qobold about all this as the traps don't exist until they're triggered but I was having too much time to care. The resulting battle in the caves beneath the abbey was one part Viet Cong and one part Road Runner and it was ace; I have now fallen in love with kobolds and my players fear them so all is well in the 13th Age.

Moving on to the crypts beneath the abbey the player-characters ran into some black dragonspawn who mimicked Sartheen the Red's sneaky backstabbing abilities, and after killing them -- responding to the sound of something pounding on a door nearby -- set free one of the former abbots, who had turned into a ghoul at some point in the preceding decades. They found the bones of a saint and looted the tomb of a famous warrior -- both would have tied into relationship rolls if they had pursued the matter -- coming away with a pair of fancy duelling swords, a set of magic gloves and some magic oil. Even with all his knowledge of magic Amras couldn't discover any particular use for the oil but the party's enchanted items began to cry out to be slathered in the strange glowing liquid, a clamouring that continued until Jordan Young doused his bone blade in the oil, the sword letting out a contented sigh.

A set of narrow spiral stairs led up to an impressive but ruined church and three blue dragons who looked on with much amusement as the player-characters placed all their attention on the ground and never once looked up until it was too late. Not that the element of surprise mattered much as this party seems to have quite the aptitude for killing dragons. After a bit more exploration and some more Tom and Jerry kobolds the player-characters found the central courtyard of the abbey and around thirty dragon eggs, there for the taking; Sartheen, Jordan, and Rarity stepped out into the open and with a loud "POP!" vanished into thin air, leaving the two spellcasters alone with an unknown number of kobolds, dragonkin, and dragons lurking nearby.

Amras and Ne-0n then engaged in some Olympic level faffery as they tried everything they could think of to avoid leaving the relative safety of their building, thinking that the other three had been disintegrated. They did manage to confirm that the dragon eggs were in fact a powerful illusion but that didn't help them solve the more pressing problem of what to do next.

Meanwhile the others had not been turned into a cloud of fizzy atoms but instead had been transported a hundred miles or so south to Drakkenhall where they found themselves in a large hall and face-to-face with an enormous blue dragon. This was of course the Blue herself, who explained that she had come to an agreement with the Elf Queen; if Sartheen was delivered to the Blue, then all hostilities between the two Icons would cease. This was because the Blue was very interested in studying Sartheen -- the only red dragonspawn in the entire world -- although Sartheen got the distinct impression that "studying" in this context meant "dissecting".

The elf and the robot turned up at this point -- having summoned up the courage to step into the teleportation effect -- and Amras attempted to negotiate with the Icon, although his terms seemed to revolve around leaving the red dragonkin behind while the rest of the party returned to the abbey. With things getting desperate Sartheen's player traded in his relationship die with the Prince of Shadows to have Sartheen recall a time when he was in Shadow Port -- hive of scum and villainy, city of thieves, etcetera -- and saw an unusual pyramidic box that contained -- or so he was told -- the geas that bound the Blue to the Emperor's service and kept her off the path of evil. Sartheen could get this box for the Blue, he said, if she let them all go.

Clever little dragonspawn.

The Blue accepted the terms and with the wave of one enormous clawed hand slapped a geas of her own on Sartheen, and with the wave of another opened another portal, this time to Shadow Port.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Rocket Review

Marvel UK's Transformers comic is known for -- among other things -- Simon Furman writing a toy advert like it was a proper story with proper characters, Geoff Senior's amazing art, and the introduction of Death's Head yes? Although it was called Transformers it was more or less an anthology title; the first third was a reprint of part of a US Transformers comic -- the British version came out each week so they had to split the stories to avoid catching up with the monthly US title -- the middle section was a home-grown story, and the last third was a reprint from elsewhere. In the early days of the comic the UK and US stories took turns in the first half and the reprint made up the second half but that's not relevant to my point, if indeed I have one.

In that second-slash-third slot we'd see all sorts of stuff. The comic was sold as a tie-in to a line of science fiction robot toys so the reprint tended to tick at least one of those boxes and we'd get bumf like Inhumanoids and Robotix, but we'd also get Barry Windsor-Smith's beautiful Machine Man mini series and Hercules: Prince of Power in which Herc slept with alien women, rode horses through space and got Galactus so drunk he took off his helmet. For years I thought this was what Hercules was like all the time.

I think Strikeforce: Morituri was in there too but that may have been in Marvel UK's Thundercats comic. Either way it was a bit grim for kids, that one.

What was in there was Rocket Raccoon, a bizarre mix of Saturday morning cartoon, cosmic science fiction, and what can only be described as horror; this image stayed with me for years.


Thank you, Mike Mignola.

That series has always been a favourite of mine; many years ago there was a magazine called Comics International and this magazine had a message board and on that message board some posters proposed a new Avengers team. I suggested that Rocket Raccoon be included and then drew this when we decided on the full line-up



What is Rocket standing on? No idea.

It's been a funny few years as this somewhat obscure character has risen in prominence, reappearing in comics decades after his first appearance, popping up in video games and TV shows and even appearing in a summer blockbuster film that I'm so excited about I may just scream.

Oh and he's got a new ongoing comic all to himself too.

It's written and drawn by Skottie Young, who is a bit of a genius with the pens and brushes. I first encountered his work during Marvel's somewhat wobbly Mangaverse event back in the dim and distant early days of the 21st Century and I've followed him on and off ever since. His art is bold and full of character and movement -- what I would call -- "cartoony" in my more naïve reviewing days -- and is a perfect fit for a bouncy, kinetic character like Rocket. Young's lines are more loose and scratchy here than in some of his previous work and I'm reminded a little of Doug Tennapel's Earthworm Jim; that's no bad thing.


I would be happy enough with one of my favourite comic artists drawing one of my favourite comic characters but Young also does a good job with the writing. This isn't dense or ground-breaking science fiction like Brandon Graham's Prophet but it is fast and funny; the characters have distinctive personalities -- as may be expected, Rocket himself comes over as the most defined -- and Young manages to sketch out a broad setting and set the main plot in motion all in the first issue. As a result it's light and breezy but I'm not expecting anything else from the character; the Rocket Raccoon and Groot mini series from a couple of years ago slapped on multiple layers of angst and tried to make the character Very Serious™ and it all seemed a bit misjudged. Young's approach seems much more true to Rocket's swashbuckling origins.


Rocket Raccoon #1 looks brilliant and is fun to read. It's not Safe Area Goražde but if you want that then you can always read Safe Area Goražde; and I recommend doing so if you want hard-hitting comics journalism about modern European war zones. If you want a talking raccoon flying through space blowing stuff up with plasma pistols then Rocket Raccoon is for you. Except...

I don't know if Bill Mantlo is getting anything from this series. I doubt it as he doesn't even get a "Special thanks" credit, let alone a "Created by" and that's a bit crappy because even if he did create the character for Marvel he still created the character. So if you buy and enjoy Rocket Raccoon #1 then please consider a donation to Mantlo's continued medical care because without him the comic wouldn't exist. Thank you.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Advanced Hero War Dwarf King's Quest

by Kevain25460 via Wikimedia Commons
HeroQuest was ace, but is out of print. Advanced HeroQuest was ace, but is out of print. Warhammer Quest was ace, but is out of print.

For a while now Mantic has been playing Games Workshop at its own, er, game by releasing the sort of products that GW did before Warhammer took over everything. As well as two wargames, Mantic has also done its own broad analogues of Blood Bowl, Necromunda, and Space Hulk, so it is perhaps no surprise that the company has just announced Dwarf King's Quest:
We always intended to do the typical adventurers’ party version, and Jake has always been very keen on putting his mark on this type of game. However, at the time we just didn’t have the resources, or in some cases the knowhow (such as one-piece miniatures with great detail) to deliver the vision that we had for this type of game. However, with the passing of time all that has changed… :)

Secondly, there are certainly a few great dungeon games out there, but they are all quite different from what we want to make. There are a couple from the light-hearted end of the spectrum – such as Super Dungeon Explore - and others that are intense and deep, such as Descent. But none of those are really in exactly the space we want to occupy.

We want to do a grave and dangerous dungeon miniatures game, set in our fantasy setting, with all the opportunity that gives us to develop the back story and flesh out the world. It will have very strong narrative, based around the main protagonists. This will really bring to life a whole new story arc in the world and highlight some of the big characters for further development. It will also give us a few great sculpts and some heroes for Kings of War armies too.
Mantic has a lot to prove by taking on not only the classics of the genre but also the well-regarded newcomers. I've been impressed by Mantic's output in the past so I'm intrigued, bordering on excited, by this news. Fire of wrath!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Highrock, Prison in the Sky

Here is a pdf of my game notes for the flying prison of Highrock; it's written for 13th Age because that's what I've been playing for the past few weeks but the notes are light on mechanics and should be easy to convert to other game systems. In my game the player-characters went there to break out the notorious pirate Captain Morgan -- oh dear -- so that she could help them find a mysterious island to the east, where it was rumoured that a great treasure was hidden.

Through his connection to the Prince of Shadows Sartheen the Red knew that one of the wizard-judges of the city of Horizon was involved in some dubious activity involving an orphanage run by vampires -- that's player-driven storytelling in action! -- and so the party blackmailed said wizard into giving them the amulet they required to access the floating island and bypass the guards upon it.

They didn't explore much of the complex, in part because 13th Age doesn't reward exploration in the same way that older editions of D&D do, in part because they were focussed on the mission, and in part because they got beaten up by a squad of flying robots on the second level and wanted to get away as soon as they could. The latter was the result of robot sorcerer Ne-0n's attempt to interface with the island's local code -- he perceives reality as strings of data and can manipulate that data to a certain extent -- going a little wrong and alerting the guards instead of providing the location of Morgan's cell. Oops.

They also had some trouble with the Archmage's quarters, blundering into the fireball trap over and over again, but were rewarded with a fair bit of loot once they staggered past, all blackened and blasted like Warner Brothers cartoon characters; most of the players converted their relationship dice results into items at this point and as a result the Archmage's study held a plethora of magical stuff.

Morgan was freed and the party also let prisoner #666 -- the demon Zeddas -- free while binding him to Amras the elf wizard's service. Or so they think, anyway. They decided not to explore the third level, having been warned by the wizard-judge that death awaited them, and jumped on their waiting air taxi -- another relationship die traded in -- for a quick escape. With their navigator secured the player-characters were ready to go after their treasure, but first the Elf Queen had a job for them: to raid a nesting site used by the Three and destroy the unhatched eggs found there.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Blowing One's Trumpet

I'm not comfortable with self-promotion so forgive me -- ho ho -- for taking advantage of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess snow sale to plug my adventure Forgive Us. Since its release back in March the adventure has been bought by far more people than I would ever have expected and has received some positive reviews.

Diehard GameFAN said Forgive Us "is definitely worth the current sticker price attached to it, and it serves as a great introduction to the mood and themes LotFP likes to present to its audience."

John Arendt of Dreams in the Lich House thought the adventure would "make a fine addition to your horror themed D&D game."

Bryce Lynch of tenfootpole didn't like it as much, which is a shame as I thought I'd done the sort of things he liked in D&D adventures. Maybe next time.

Doc Schott called it "a One-Page Dungeon (or rather, a series of them) writ large, by a master of the form." The adventure did start out as an idea for my third One Page Dungeon entry so I'm happy with that.

Zak Smith said "Make More Adventures Like 'Forgive Us' By Kelvin Green" and he's a tough critic so I'm more than pleased with that.

Imaginary Enterprises thought that the adventure was "another gem from the LotFP camp", which puts it among good company, although I wouldn't say it's anywhere as good as Vornheim, Qelong, or Death Frost Doom.

Pookie at Reviews From R'lyeh said that the adventure "presents a mysterious malodorous situation in a quietly entertaining fashion, punctuated by some short sharp shocks that work all the better for the scenario’s very ordinary setting."

Ramanan Sivaranjan said "I really like Kelvin Green’s Forgive Us." That's good enough for me.

Claw Carver said that Forgive Us was "bloody brilliant" and I'm happy with that.

Forgive Us was my first published adventure so more than anything I was hoping that people would like it and that it wasn't rubbish. I'm glad that they probably do and that it probably isn't. If you'd like to get physical copy without paying postage all you have to do is buy a t-shirt before 5pm Finnish time tomorrow.

Now I feel a bit embarrassed so that's enough capitalism from me. Expect something frivolous about robots soon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shiny

This is not me bragging about my miniature painting skills, for the simple reason that I have none; put a paint brush in my hand and I lose any coordination I may have had, my hands turning into chunks of unresponsive meat.

No, this post is about the exciting world of varnishing. All of these Rogue Trader era Dark Reapers were painted in the same haphazard fashion but were varnished in different ways.

(Click to see all big and stuff.)


As I am a lazy and incompetent painter I thought that dipping seemed like a good idea as it would not only cut out the shading stage but would also varnish the miniature; it does indeed do both of those things although the dip itself -- I used Army Painter Quickshade -- is thick and difficult to control, resulting in some patchy shading, although it does produce a nice shiny finish. Mr Blotchy on the left was shaded and varnished in this way.

The middle miniature was washed with Army Painter Strong Tone ink -- I am told that it is a close match for the popular but discontinued Citadel Devlan Mud wash -- then varnished with Citadel 'Ardcoat. The shading isn't as patchy although the result is more dull overall and you'd probably want to apply a few quick highlights after the ink wash. The 'Ardcoat is easy to apply but varnishing an entire army with it is going to be expensive.

The Reaper on the right was also washed with the Army Painter ink and varnished with Pledge Multi-Surface Wax, which as the name suggests is for household use but seems to work for miniatures too. It's quite thin and not very waxy so I gave the figure two coats to get the same sort of finish, but you do get 750ml for £3.15 -- in Sainsbury's at least; other suppliers may differ -- whereas the 'Ardcoat costs £2.40 for 12ml. You can find out more about the Pledge -- including local variants -- here.

I am far from an expert on miniature painting -- exhibits A, B, and C above, your honour -- so I wouldn't expect anyone to take my word as anywhere near authoritative but it seems to me that a combination of ink washing and the Pledge Multi-Surface Wax is a much better -- albeit slower -- approach than the dipping I was using before.

Monday, May 26, 2014

They Keep Killing the Dragons

Despite the relative negativity of my previous post about 13th Age my group and I have been playing it each week since then, give or take a couple of breaks due to player absences. The starting adventure is a mess but the central conflict between the Three -- a triumvirate of powerful dragons -- and the Elf Queen -- er, the queen of the elves -- has given us a good spine for the campaign, as the players find themselves embroiled in a cold war between the Icons that may about to tip over into something a bit warmer. This has led to something of a mission-based structure as the player-characters zip about the map on black ops, er, operations for the elves, although the last couple of sessions have seen a bit of a digression as they have been pursuing a plot thread about a treasure buried on a distant island.

The party consists of Jordan Young, a bard and former pirate and the instigator of the treasure quest; Sartheen, knife-chucking rogue and the only red dragonspawn in the world; Rarity, a tiefling barbarian who remembers legends everyone else has forgotten; Ne-0n, a robotic sorcerer who is able to perceive the underlying structure of reality itself; and Amras, an elf wizard who is the reincarnation of the Devil.

The way I've been running the campaign is to use the player-characters' One Unique Things as the ongoing background plots -- Sartheen's background in particular ties in well with the aforementioned cold war -- and in the first few sessions I was using their Icon relationship rolls to give me an idea of what sort of things may occur and which non-player-characters may be involved in each session. I am still doing that but as we've got more used to the game the players are becoming more confident in claiming those Icon rolls themselves and using them to shape the narrative; in our most recent session Sartheen's player Stuart used his Prince of Shadows relationship result to tell us all that Sartheen knew of a smugglers' hideout nearby and that the smugglers there -- being part of the Prince's network -- would be able to assist the party in outfitting a ship with the crew and equipment needed to go sailing after this mysterious treasure.

I don't know if it's necessary to have this kind of thing built into the rules mechanics but it's quite fun being surprised when the players roll their relationship dice and then I have to find a way to involve their Icons in the next session. It's sort of a random encounter roll for the GM and I'm sure it's sharpening my improvisation skills.

Anyway, in the first adventure -- the dodgy one from the rulebook -- the player-characters witnessed an attack on an elven fortress by a blue dragon and other minions of the Three; although the party's cleric was half-eaten during the fight -- and the other half was later consumed by Sartheen as a "sign of respect" -- the party did kill the dragon and they were welcomed into the Elf Queen's court as heroes. A bit of nudging from the Diabolist -- as a result of Amras' relationship roll -- led to the party speaking out in support of retaliation against the Three and so they were sent to a town under the dragons' control to assassinate the mayor, who just happened to be a white dragon.

They laid out an elaborate plan reminiscent of my old Shadowrun days -- and as I don't get to play Shadowrun any more this was quite a welcome piece of nostalgia -- and infiltrated the town, killing the mayor and half of his hobgoblin bodyguards while disguised as undead minions of the Lich King, hoping to implicate Old Boney in the assassination. After that they returned to the elven court and waited around for a bit before deciding to follow up on Jordan's stories of treasure, their first stop a series of elven ruins on the coast and the ships rumoured to be hidden there.

Over the next couple of sessions they found and explored the ruins and the secret underground harbours beneath them, fought some banshees and skeletal dragonspawn and a giant psychic crab, discovered a magical helmet that seems to allow communication with a temple in the Three's capital city, and befriended a gang of sahoowagin sawaugin sahuagin, in a scene that I found familiar.



The player-characters now have an ancient elven ship and a somewhat reluctant crew who will only sail with them into the uncharted east if they can find the infamous Captain Morgan -- oh dear -- to lead the expedition. The only problem with that is that Morgan is said to be under lock and key in Highrock, the Archmage's flying prison island. I hope there are no dragons up there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Take Cover!

The cover designs for Dungeons and Dragons 5 have been announced and there has been much discussion of them. I won't go into much detail here as I'm not that interested but they look fine to me; there's nothing stunning about them but nor are they ugly. Out of all the commentary on the new covers my favourite has been +Matt D's observation that the new logo seems to have been borrowed from somewhere else:



The news prompted me and my gaming comrades to discuss our favourite D&D covers. It turns out that we all rather like the cover of the 1983 basic set.


I've never owned or played it but I nonetheless have a nostalgic fondness for the 1983 set -- a fondness I have banged on about before -- due to it being advertised on every single Marvel comic of my youth. This image defines D&D for me but it's not my favourite D&D cover; for that you have to look to another game I've never played.

I don't know if I'll ever play first edition AD&D but I love the cover designs of the revised core books. There's an attractive simplicity to the way they take a painting of some fantasy scene and then place a stark white logo over the top. It's a much more effective approach than the busy and complicated designs of later eras -- even the blue and red trim on the logos of the AD&D2 core books is a step too far -- and while each of the core books looks great my favourite is the Dungeon Masters Guide, so much so that I bought a copy just for the cover.


No really, I've had it for about a year and never read it.

Discussion moved on to other games and I think there may be a bit of a Call of Cthulhu itch waiting to be scratched in my group as Stuart mentioned the Games Workshop edition as one of his favourite game book covers, just days after picking the game as his top choice for a desert island rpg. The Games Workshop version of third edition CoC is a pretty book -- the internal colour plates are lovely -- but my favourite cover is that of fifth edition:


I adore this piece -- again it's a simple design of a basic white logo over a painting -- and I've been trying to convince artist Lee Gibbons to release it as a print; no luck yet but I am confident that it may happen before the Stars Are Right.

Call of Cthulhu 5 is probably my favourite rpg cover but sometimes even that mighty work of art is too fiddly for my tastes and on those days there's only one piece that will do:



They could have put all manner of spaceships and planets and aliens on the cover of Traveller but instead they went with a stripped down and simple design that encourages the reader to use their imagination which, of course, is what it's all about.