Category Archives: RPG

Murder in Baldurs Gate: reviewed

I’m going to take you back. Back to the interregnum. The time last year when 4e was being wound down, and the playtest for 5e was underway. It was a big transition for D&D, one that continues today. It was also a time when the D&D fan didn’t really know what to look for on the shelves. WotC experimented a bit, and this is one of those offerings.

It’s an adventure, for levels 1-3, and it’s set in Baldurs Gate in the Forgotten Realms. Now, I’m a real novice when it comes to all things Realmsian, but I’m led to believe that Baldurs Gate has a lot of traction in the wider hobby, what with those new fangled computer game things. This adventure is subtitled as being part of an ‘event’ called The Sundering. Not sure what that is, but like comics, it’s safe to assume there’s always some meta plot going on in the background, probably to allow for crossovers, into novels etc. so that’s fine. The intro says it’s set in the years following 1479, when the gods designate mortals to be their Chosen with a capital C.

It’s written by Ed Greenwood (Realms creator), Steve Winter (TSR alumni) and Matt Sernett (who I last saw writing for 4e) so there’s a spread of talent right there. Steve Winter ended up at Kobold Press who delivered the less than stellar Hoard of the Dragon Queen for 5e. Hmmm.

A word on format. The adventure itself is a 32pp magazine style offering. It’s accompanied by a 64pp city/campaign guide, and the whole shebang comes wrapped in a custom 4 panel, landscape, DMs screen, plus paper sleeve. I love that. It reminds me of the old school 1e adventures that came with the card covers that doubled as screens. Photos of all this below.

Plot wise, this is a murder story, and not a dungeon or hex crawl. It’s designed to be one where the DM is forced to improv along the way, and pursue factional agendas which the characters interact with throughout. It’s flagged up as experiential rather than a straight down the line mission. I’m down with all that, because it’s laid out early so there’s no surprises. Even the stats will need a DMs intervention, because this one is written with no edition in mind. The stats for 3.5, 4 and Next are available online to be plugged in. Even the number of foes is malleable. I’m not convinced that 4e especially will be well served by this approach, but we will see.

Ok, I’m excited by this set up, and the materials are enticing. I’ll set to spoilers next time out and let’s see if it lives up to its initial billing. Here are those shots.

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen reviewed: the final chapter

Ok, let’s round this sucker up. Ultimate spoilage. The Cult have made a somewhat unlikely alliance.

There’s this Cloud Giant, and he flies around in an ice castle powered by his dead wife’s spirit right? The Cult use his castle and hospitality to ferry the hoard to the Well of Souls so they can bring Tiamat back from Hell. There’s a pair of Red Wizards in tow also, and they… Well, I don’t know what they’re really doing there to be honest. Anyway, the castle has an army of ogres garrisoned there, they look after the ballistas and try to stay away from the vampire who patrols the place after dark. Oh yeah, there’s some Stone Giants too, but they don’t like the plan. And then there’s old Rezmir the half black dragon, who’s all tooled up and locked in her room sulking waiting to be murdered. She’ll have the last laugh though as her treasure somehow teleports away when she dies. Ha! Oh, and there’s a big white dragon guarding the hoard at the centre of the flying iceberg that castle is built on.

You read that right. Now, at this stage the only thing to do with this whole adventure is smile, and stop trying to take it too seriously. The authors didn’t. This is right up there with the best/worst of D&Ds crazy menageries like White Plume Mountain. Seriously, I hate/love it! It’s bonkers/brilliant. It makes zero sense. There’s a door that has DC 70 to open. Some walls disappear when you touch them just like in video games. There’s a chamber you can’t get to, but if you do you have to work hard to get inside a sarcophagus, and it’s empty. There’s a kitchen full of kobolds, and they are led by a griffon.

I’m barely scratching the surface of the madness you can find in this episode. And that’s not mentioning the bit before you get into the castle where you have to talk to the strange eyed villagers and their incorrectly numbered map. You might get a free Wyvern flight out if it though.

And nothing you do actually matters. This castle has one destination, no matter what approach you take. It doesn’t work. Nothing you can do. Actually maybe that’s for the best, because if you’ve been busy keeping tabs on the regional map during this epic overland crawl you’ll find that the proper destination for the adventures conclusion is a stones throw from it’s starting point. Yep, a massive circuitous route, almost entirely back to day one. Brilliant!

As you can probably tell, I’ve started to lose the plot a little by now (and I’m not alone in that). Sorry.

Let’s sum up.

This series of adventures tries ever so hard to not make the mistakes of 4e adventures. It does that by being hard to follow, vague about its contents, and over emphasises the possibilities of non-combat without backing that up with anything solid. It’s an epic plot, albeit one that could be said in one sentence, and then it gets smudged together with faceless factions and ludicrous situations. It’s been edited in the dark by someone who had more pressing things to concentrate on. It’s been packaged beyond its station. It’s simply not cohesive, coherent or competent in any form.

For the flagship game in the hobby, as it’s opening salvo from the ‘story first’ cannon, it’s a wet, rushed, wobbly, underachieving squib of a product.

If you get quality gaming out of this, bow down before your DM and thank them from the bottom of you heart. They spent good cash on this, and through the power of imagination, improvisation, and sheer bloody mindedness, they delivered you a great experience, in spite of the shoddy tool they had to work with.

Shameful. And it’s only part 1 of 2.

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My favourite RPG

For me there can only be one answer. Drum roll please. It’s…

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Not really.

It’s Dungeons & Dragons.

They say your first love is the one you’ll never forget. And so it is. From the earliest experiences of opening up the biggest rulebook to a game I’d ever seen, to finding out there was no board, no winner, and no end, I was hooked. Even then I knew it was bonkers, that it made little sense at best even when it was trying so hard to be accurate. But it was the only game in town. The other choices were Tunnels & Trolls (I was way too serious for that), Traveller (couldn’t get a handle on it) or Runequest (same). AD&D made it easy, because that was what everybody had played, and it was in stores, and even normals had heard of it.

I loved D&D.

She became my best friend and confidant. She was a little older than me, and sophisticated to my eyes, even though I already knew some people thought she was a bit silly. Gauche even.

Over the decades she had always been there, sometimes only at high days and holidays, where I politely enquired after her health and asked what she was up to. Sometimes she looked a bit sad, a bit down at heel. I hugely regret leaving her behind in the 90s to take a gap decade. Sure, I travelled, I met interesting new things, and some of them turned into extended relationships, but they never lasted. I knew I was searching, questing, and I never thought to look so close to home, to that crazy, sassy, clever girl I’d put back on my shelf in 88.

It took the end of a millennia for me to realise what I’d missed. I saw her then, and she had never looked better. She had a new style, but it was still her underneath all that modern glamour. She spoke sense, and warmth, and she had ideas. She was an inspiration, and I fell into her embrace, abandoning all others.

It was a whirl. I’d never felt so alive. I was crazed with creativity, working all hours on little creations to make her happy. I wasn’t alone. She had so many suitors. But she always looked at me with her own special way, one meant only for me, and I knew that.

They say things have to change, that nothing can stay the same for ever, and they’re right. But when she changed, so did I. I was ready. She got a bit intense for a while and started being more picky and demanding of her friends. I was fine with that. Screw them. I had to defend her honour many times, sometimes making an idiot of myself in the process. I didn’t care. She was worth it.

Now she and I have that kind of relationship where we can just exist together in comfortable silence. We don’t have to try so hard. We still have amazing times, and always will, but usually we just sit and smile, and reminisce. We decided it a long time ago, we were going to grow very old, and very happy together.

My name is Baz, and I fucking love Dungeons & Dragons.

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French letters

A while back I wrote an adventure supplement for 13th Age. It was a great experience, and people have been very generous in their feedback.

Turns out there’s a sizeable 13th Age community in France, and they’ve done me the enormous honour of asking if they could translate and promote my work.

“Oui d’accord!”

And here it is: http://leshoggoth.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/du-materiel-pour-le-13eme-age-en-francais/

Which makes me an internationally published author. Or, smug in two languages. Your choice!

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Rise of the Runelords stopped in its tracks

It’s been a long ride, but Valeros, Seelah and Harsk finally reached the ultimate encounter and put the villain to the sword. Well, I say sword, really it was a runeforged punch backed up by a pair of charmed red dragons, a swipe spell and a bunch of fervent praying for blessings. 20 on 5d10? Bring it.

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Hoard of the Dragon Queen review: ep5 Construction Ahead

Just a short episode, and this one is the ‘espionage’ one, clocking in at only three pages plus art.

Spoil… Oh you know the rest…

So the caravan stops at Waterdeep for a day giving the party a chance to stake out the baddies and plan next steps. There’s some Realms exposition here: the road north has been succumbing to the expanding marshes, but the new boss of Neverwinter has been pushing to build new roads. So, work parties and equipment regularly leave Waterdeep to get to the road-head. This is the parties ‘in’ to get on board the latest leg of the haul to the as yet undisclosed final stop of the loot train.

The single location for the bulk of this episode is a reclaimed roadhouse, run by a ‘burly half-Orc’ called Bog Luck (still not going overboard on characterisation then. Not even an illo). This is where the caravan stops and unloads for the duration, giving the party the chance to put the whole operation under surveillance.

The goods are taken through a secret tunnel by lizardfolk allies at night. That’s the secret, and the info that the party needs.

The episode assumes that this will be done by stealth, with eavesdropping, burglary and ninja skills. Maybe I’m just a jaded old DM but, as with the last episode, I have a feeling you’ll be rolling initiative before too long. In fact, one of the cultists aggressively pursues a showdown at one point. I’m still not sure what it is that’s stopping the whole thing turning into a massacre. To be honest it might be one of those occasions where the DM just has to break the fourth wall and say ‘listen guys, you need to approach this one quietly, just trust me.’ Shame, but there it is.

This episode doesn’t result in a level up, as it’s potentially quite short. That said, it’s also potentially a great session if everyone gets into the right frame of mind and action. It’s probably going to involve some characters more than others, but in the hands of an agile DM this could be a tight and interesting session. I approve.

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Dead tree contains wisdom

Just to see what it looks like, I printed my Conventional Wisdom PDF to a booklet. It looks and feels amazing! Sure, it needs illustrations, more layout skills, and a heavier colour cover, but right now none of that matters.

I’m ridiculously pleased with this.

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