Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness CoverThe 1980’s saw a lot of the odd and weird. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an underground comic that sadly was made into a kids cartoon. That really altered people’s perception of the property and was probably the death of the RPG. I found quotes online that suggest the sales of the game plummeted after the cartoon came out yet the supplements kept coming out for many years.

People enjoy the cartoons and movies to various degrees but I always concentrated more on the comic. I never read them all but the general feel and theme is how we did our TMNT games. The most important part of the title that I think got lost in the other mediums is “and Other Strangeness.”

The game does a great job of giving a lot of options for mutant animals. It has an old school method of random determination and that can be part of the fun. Not all the animals are created equally so the random determination helps this. The way the character was mutated also leads to how the character skills and starting equipment are determined. These are randomly generated and some are better than others. There is a large chance of becoming a ninja. That is one of the flaws in the character generation but it had a simple fix for us. There is another Palladium game book called Ninjas and Superspies that has a great variety of hand to hand martial art options. When someone rolled the Ninja option we just had them pick or the GM pick a different style of martial art. This really helped make the characters feel and fight differently.

The comic was darker than the cartoon and that was what really made the game shine. It was built more based on the comic and that was fun. There was plenty of silliness and mutant animal death in our games. Most of the characters were experiments of some organization. Which on the table on happened 40% of the time, but for us it created a much more interesting backstory then accidently walking into some oozy mutagen.

The game of course is not perfect. The combat system can be a mess with when to dodge or parry, the physical prowess attribute being way too powerful as it applies to so much in combat, and all in all just too many dice rolls that slowed the game down. The skill system is not any better. It is a flat percentage system which is not that bad. But there are just way too many skills and many of the additional books just kept adding skills to the game.

Of the additional books I found After the Bomb to be the most useful. It gave us a setting that was filled with conflict and helped explain why there were so many mutant animals around. For character creation it had a better mutant background table and offered a wider variety of options that fit the setting. Pairing that with Road Hogs that explored the western USA in the After the Bomb setting is a must. These books offer some great adventure ideas and lots of little setting pieces.

TMNT is back in the spot light with the new movie in theaters. I have not seen it but anything that gives an excuse to talk about an old game no one probably plays anymore is a good thing. I like the idea of playing it again but the system is very old school and not always in the good way. It is clunky at times so a new system that keeps the randomness of character generation would be great.

Anyone else ever play the game? I don’t know if people would have even kept the books after all this time. Most of the books I have for it now I found at half priced book store recently.


Knight versus DragonBilly Bean traded for Jon Lester to give the A’s a chance to win the World Series. Over the past few years the Athletics using Billy Bean’s system had been divisional winners but just had not been able to win it all. Billy Bean is one of the first general managers in Major League Baseball to use a different approach to building a team now called Sabermetrics. It is a possible revolutionary approach to assembling a team. Not everyone is convinced it will work but it very interesting to see a new approach to a sport that is too attached to its past.

What the hell does that have to do with RPGs? A similar new approach has been happening in gaming and unlike Baseball it does not help the game. We used to call it power gamers and munchkins and now they call themselves optimizers. It’s still the same people that want to break the games and think they can win it. It is nothing new but the internet has allowed it to grow and be overly represented. It has become a plague on the house of gaming. I read threads on boards about people that restrict what others in the group can play just because it is not powerful enough. If you don’t have at least an 18 in your prime attribute then you best go game at a different table. You are not welcome here. These might be extreme examples but they both appeared in different places online within the past week.

When it first happened in 3e D&D it was actually something interesting. People were being creative and finding rules exploits. But now the creativity is gone. People just go on line and copy other people’s work. It takes no skill and no game mastery to be able to do it. It is so common place that people might think it is acceptable. Characters are created not a build. They are more than just trying to be great at one thing and useless at everything else. The worst thing about it is how boring the characters are. It seems that gone are the days RPG players enjoyed a challenge. Now they just want to break the system and have an easy time walking through everything. It’s like turning on god mode in a video game.

One reason I dislike it is that it turns the game into an adversarial relationship between PCs and DMs. It tries to make the game into something that can be won. The thing is that the DM can never lose. He controls everything that is not the PCs. He controls the environment, the monsters, the allies, the food, and water – everything. It is easy to kill off PCs with that kind of ability. It doesn’t matter what type of damage or magic the PCs control. The rules allow the DM to counter and negate it all if he so chooses. The DM doesn’t even have to be creative about it. He can just create an NPC using the same rules exploits of the PCs and just make it a level or two higher or add in a couple more NPCs. This type of power gaming and one upping is silly and stupid and needs to end.

I’ve heard some gamers say they can’t help themselves like a moth drown to a flame. It always reminded me of that old joke. A man walks into his doctor’s office and says “My Arm hurts when I do this” and then proceeds to move his arm in a very unnatural and unorthodox way. The doctor replies “Then stop doing that!” It really is that simple.

A new aspect has grown out of this and that is the Game Designer Monday Morning Quarterback. It is people analyzing to death the rules and criticizing them. This is mostly without even playing the game. If one has to use excel to show that two different attack options are unequal over the course of a thousand rolls then I really think you are missing the point of the game. If it takes that much effort to show that some things are not equal then maybe they are equal enough. Besides – when has the game become making the most optimized choices at all times. The best gaming stories always involve failure and characters going up against a real challenge. Gaming stories that become “I did 500 points of damage in the surprise round killing the BBEG” are uninteresting and the only thing worse would be having that type of player at the table.

One other aspect of gaming I am seeing is the idea that some sub-par choices are traps. I think this comes from the Magic the Gathering and other similar games in which the game designers there purposefully make cards that are not as good. I can understand that mindset in competitive games. But in games with a DM no character will be useless. That’s the huge advantage of RPGs over video games. The DM gets to tailor the game to the table and find ways to challenge characters no matter what they are.

It makes me wonder about the underlying cause to all of this. Are people that afraid to create a character that is not great mechanically? Are people worried that not doing as much damage as the other players at the table is going to make them not enjoy the game? What kind of insecurities have lead us done this path? It would be a great psych paper but other than that it just seems that people probably don’t know why they have to be this way.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

A Look At 5e So Far…

DND_5e_LogoPerhaps the only thing on the net to rival all the talk of Johnny Football is conversations on 5e D&D. They have a lot in common with people speculating on if they are good or bad without a game being played. At least in the case of Johnny Football we have tape of him in college. With 5e we just have previous editions. But with the new game of D&D just like the NFL the rules are changed in ways that make it tough to judge them before the first snap or die is rolled.

When looking at 5e D&D I do so through my own eyes. I am not going to talk about or be concerned with it the Starter Set does its job to allow new gamers to understand and be attracted to the game. I am also not interested in the started adventure except to say it should have included Aleena and Bargle in it. I also will not look at every aspect of the new game that is out. There are some things that just don’t interest me to write about. I do hope to get everything correct but it is always possible I get a rule wrong as this is a new game.

I don’t like the way it is being released with little nuggets at a time and lack of solid information. I am not sure it will help the game. Gamers will be taking what little info they have and making guesses about the rest. These guesses will become assumptions that will be harder to disprove and we all know few people ever fully read the rules to correct themselves. There will be a lot if inaccurate information that Wizards will have to overcome.

The game is D&D so it is of no surprise that the six attributes remain the same. It is interesting to see random attribute generation is back and encouraged. I was never a fan of that but then point buy came along and showed me there is something worse. I think it will be challenging for players of previous editions to accept that these lower attributes in this game are going to be adequate. To aid in that I think Wizards should have gotten rid of the numbers and just left the modifiers. Having a 14 in an attribute doesn’t mean much and the 14 is never used. The game uses the modifiers one has to look up on a chart to get. They should have gotten rid of that chart and those numbers and just left the modifier. This is not a new idea True 20 did it and it worked great there.

The proficiency bonus is going to be interesting. With everyone having the same bonus it means that characters that want to do something everyone can do better than them like fighters with weapons of rogues with certain skills will have to get those extra bonuses in the class. I like the idea of the proficiency bonus has the same number being added to saves, skills, and attacks. I hope we see more uses in the game that takes advantage of this system.

I like the idea of a few core races and with many of them having sub races. It should make things a little easier than having every sub race be its own race entry. Of course this could make tons of sub races happen and there could be an issue with should something be a race or a subrace. There will be a Dragonborn race at some point and I would prefer it being a subrace to each class that some of them change into a Dragonborn like in the 3e book that had them. I liked that a lot better than a race of humanoid dragons when we already have kobolds in the game.

With classes I can see a similar problem. What makes a Sorcerer so different that it will be its own class separate from the Wizard? With also the Warlock and Bard class all arcane spellcasters there will need to be more mechanical differences to make them stand out.   Even the Druid could be made an archetype of the Cleric or the Paladin a version of the Fighter or Cleric. Most of the D&D games continually had too many classes and options that were not well thought out. I do like the options that can be built upon to help shape the characters. I hope we see many options that used to be feats become part of the archetype system. I also like that the game moves in some way away from the Vancian magic. The versatility of the spells is also a nice improvement. Spells that can be cast at a higher spell level is also a good addition. It will hopefully keep the spell lists smaller and I cannot wait to see some creativity in the higher spell slot system. It can be used for better things then just rolling more dice.

The advantage and disadvantage system is a great addition, though it is going to matter on less than fifty percent of those rolls. People have done the math on line of course but even if it does affect less than half the rolls that use it. It will be easier to remember to roll a second d20 than to add all those damned small bonuses that plagued some of the earlier games.

Magical items look pretty good so far. I hope to see wands and staffs that have spells that can be used by anyone. If people want to weaken casters open up spell casting to all characters just don’t make them as good at it. I do like that the charged items regain random charges each day. When they run out of charges though the chance of the items destruction needs to be greater than five percent. I would like to see some items that have the possibility of losing charges per day do there is no guarantee. Say an item that gets back a d6-3 charges per day. Items that have to attune with the owner are also interesting. Hopefully a person can only attune with a few items at once. I am also hoping cursed items have the ability to attune with their owner taking up an attunement slot but still being useful in some way. The best cursed items are the ones that have a negative that does not completely overshadow their positive.

August will be a good month to learn more. Cleveland plays four preseason games that month and we should see Johnny Football some in each of those games. For D&D the Player’s Handbook comes out and it will fill in a lot of blanks and hopefully end much of the speculation.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

RPGs as Reading Material

Stack of BooksI’m not sure if these two game lines bring much comparison these days as they are separated by a decade or so between their heydays. Also, this is a very specific aspect for both games I’m comparing and how I use them. It very well may not apply to all gamers and fans of these games. I am also happy to sneak the occasional World of Darkness writings onto my friend’s old school focused blog.

Old, or now referred to as Classic (like Coke I guess), World of Darkness consisted of a number of intertwined games. The Vampire books would reference Werewolf stuff occasionally and the Mage books would talk about Vampires and there was a feeling they might all work in the same world but not really. The rule sets were close enough to make it seem that way, but honestly I never saw it work well at the gaming table. While it was not as fun to play the game that used it all, it was enjoyable to me to read about them.

I like to read the classic World of Darkness books, and their meta-plot made it even better. For a game the meta-plot, a plot that advanced in the world and was occasionally updated in some of the supplements, did not always work well. Sometimes in the game we ran, actions prevented the next wave of the meta-plot to work well or at all. Especially when we killed important NPCs that were supposed to do things later in the plot. But again it made them fun to read.

I don’t have a large collection of old World of Darkness books anymore. I kept my Changeling books because I love me some Changeling and some of the historical books and lines for other games like Dark Ages Vampire and the Sorcerer’s Crusade. They are also fun to read at times, though not as enjoyable as the other modern day lines were. Plus when those product lines ended White Wolf published books that gave different ways for the games to end.  I really enjoyed reading through those if only one or two were something that I would ever use.

I never got to play a lot of World of Darkness but the books were fun stories and ideas to read. Now that seems to be what I am using the Pathfinder setting of Golarian for. We have had campaigns set there but only for adventure paths so far. While the current game is Pathfinder RPG it is in my home brew world so the setting books are not of much use. But they are fun to read. The countries are very different and offer lots of interesting inspiration. The books that delve into the setting offer some great detail and rich history. It is really my main use for them these days. I enjoy reading the Adventure Paths that I have and then reading the setting books surrounding those APs and imagine how great they would be to enhance the campaigns.

Not all the books in either line were great reads. I tend to enjoy the story and setting ones a lot more than the rule oriented books. I do really enjoy the monsters revisited line of books. That was one of the more brilliant ideas for a series of simple books I have come across. I just picked up the Mystery Monsters one today and it doesn’t just present new takes on some monsters but also presents a great new way to use monsters that I had not seem in fantasy games.

This whole idea came today when I bought a small pile of Pathfinder books at a used book store. I then went home and read them or the ones that seemed the most interesting. I used to do that with the old World of Darkness books buy them knowing the most use I would get out of them was to read them. I’m sure some ideas from all these books slip into my games and characters but rarely anymore do I directly reference them.

So, am I crazy? Do other people just buy RPG books to read more then to use in a game? What games books do you find the most enjoyable to read?

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Review: D&D Starter Set

D&D Starter Set Cover

Review by Guest Blogger Kelly Davis

The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Box (MSRP $19.99, Preorder Amazon $12.65 at time of this review) is worth the price for groups wishing to try the new version of D&D.  I would recommend only one box purchased per group, as the Basic Dungeons and Dragons rules are available as free download from the WOTC website.

The large starter box is mostly filled with air, but your printed copy of the basic rules might help fill the empty space. Inside, you will find a 32 page rulebook, a 64 page adventure book, 5 pregenerated characters, one blank character sheet (intended for use in the D&D Encounters organized play program) and a set of polyhedral dice.   The rest of the space is taken up by a cardstock spacer.

The rulebook covers what you would expect. A brief introduction to the hobby of roleplaying, dice conventions and a brief introduction to all the rules, equipment and spells that the players would ever need to complete the 4 adventures in the other booklet.

The Adventure booklet contains 4 linked smaller adventures, each probably playable in two 4 hour sessions depending on how your group operates. They are written to help the new DM, with hints at enemy tactics, hooks on getting your characters into the adventure proper, and the back of the book features a mini-monster manual for any creatures found in the adventures. The four adventures are designed to take a group of 4-5 characters from 1st to 5th level.

The adventures are decent. They give the characters options, it’s not simply a set of encounters done one after the other (like 4E published adventures seemed to be). There are consequences for actions – perhaps being too noisy alerts the enemy, or catching them by surprise allows for some tactical advantages.

The game comes with 5 pregens. 2 very different fighters, a dwarven cleric, an elven wizard and a halfling thief. Each character has a few sentences that describe their personality, background and some character flaws that, if roleplayed, gain minor advantages later on. The reverse side of the character sheets feature info on the race and class  of the given character and the pre-selected improvements that occur with each new level. This takes a lot of the guess work out and allows people to play without even looking at the basic rules or the forthcoming Players Handbook.

I really like these pregens! They are likable characters who are well thought out. Some of your players may want to keep them rather than build their own once you get into the Basic rules.  There is also one single sided blank character sheet with a blurb about the Encounters program on the other side. With the popularity of Living Campaigns and Pathfinder Society, can you blame WOTC for starting 5E’s organized play program before the Player’s Handbook is out?

The dice are nice, too. They are a marbled blue with white inking. They are slightly more ‘precision edge’ than your typical rounded/polished dice, although they are very light – perhaps made of a cheaper plastic?

All of this in a study box (like the old days!) for a small price.  What could have been added? Maybe some stand up cardboard minis?  Sure, but the new approach to D&D makes ‘theater of the mind” OK again, so don’t want to send the wrong message.   I would have liked the two booklets to have more substantial, cardstock covers , too.

So, I recommend this as a purchase for your group. Everyone doesn’t need one. Only one box – for the DM of your group , should be fine.

Kelly Davis has been playing roleplaying games for most of his 40 something years. Most of that time has been spent as a game master.  He works as a contract system analyst for General Motors and is happily married with two creative kids who he is hoping will take up his hobbies.  His favorite games include D&D (all editions), Gamma World, Savage Worlds and Dungeonslayers!

Firefly Board Game

firefly_board_game_coverThere has been a ton of board games based on licenses in the past few years. I have been reluctant to try them as the few I have tried have not always been good. The few standouts have been games like Battlestar Galactica and the X-Wings miniature game. Most seem to try to cash in on the name with a game that does not always make sense and may have been rushed to production. I was leery with Firefly. I had heard a few good things about it on the net but nothing from a trusted source. I have not played it as often as I would like but so far I have been rather pleased with the game.

Firefly Board game is a game for one to four people (it does have rules for solo play) that plays in about two to three hours. Each player starts with their own Firefly, chooses a captain, and a place on the board to start. Each captain is different and offers its own advantages. As one prepares the game for set up it seems a lot more complicated than it really is.

The game takes up a bit of space. The board itself is good sized but one also needs room for many different decks of cards and their discard piles. The base game has thirteen different decks. Five of the decks represent different jobs that the Firefly captains can get from different contacts like Badger or Patience. Five other decks represent the different items and crew that can be acquired at different locations like the Space Bizarre or Regina. Two decks show movement one for inside Alliance space and the other for Border space where the Reavers are. The last deck is the misbehaving deck and this deck is used to complete some of the jobs and requirements to win the game.

Each captain starts with some fuel, a few spare parts, and a little cash. They are free to travel around to different places to get jobs or shop and try to find crew. There is a balance that has to be done as getting money from jobs is great but does not always lead one to victory. Finding the best crew and items is always great but again rarely will it in itself lead to victory.

I will admit when we first set up the game and saw all the components and decks it was really a little frightening. About half way through the first game when we started to see all the elements click together and it felt like a Firefly game that we knew we were really going to like this game.

There are Story cards that determine the win condition of the game. There are too few Storycards in the game and even with expansion there still does not feel like there are enough to that they have much variety. I like the concept of the cards and I just hope that someone finds a way to really make some cool scenarios be it the company or some fans. Each card starts with some flavor text to set up the story. Then there are certain goals that have to be done in a specific order. It might to do successful jobs for certain characters, or acquire so much money, or to go to some planet and accomplish something. To be able to do it though one needs to complete jobs and acquire a crew and gear. I like the game because one can just do jobs and become very successful there but if one is not working towards the goals it doesn’t matter how good the crew and gear are and it doesn’t matter how much money you have. Someone can do a few jobs and then try for the goals quickly and that can make for a short game if they win. But if they can’t complete the goals that can really set them back as they might have to replace dead crew members or get better equipment or other actions that have to be done to overcome setbacks.

There are three types of checks that are usually made: diplomacy, mechanics, or fighting. One adds up all the bonuses for whatever check they are about to make and rolls a d6 to try to get higher than a target number. A one is not an automatic failure and the 6 explodes so one rolls the die again and adds that number as well. There is always a chance of success though it might not be very good. Some diplomacy checks are called bribes so one can spend money to increase the chances of success. Some fighting is done with kosher rules so no weapons allowed. Most characters have a bonus to some or all the skills. A well rounded character might have a bonus to each where a really specialized character might have a plus three to one skill. Some characters will just have a plus one to one skill as most of the characters for hire are not that skilled. Characters have a cost that one has to spend to hire them and then that cost is subtracted from each successful job as one has to pay the crew. This is very important and on jobs that pay out in items other than money the crew still needs to get paid in cash.

On one’s turn when moving one either moves one space with no chance of something happening or they move up to five spaces by spending one fuel. There are engine upgrades that can change those numbers. When doing a fuel burn one has to flip over cards from the Alliance or Border space deck for each space moved. This can have nothing happening so the ship keeps flying or there could be an encounter or mishap. Some of the encounters are salvage ops and there captain can stop and end his turn there with the chance of recovering some cargo or other resource or the captain can ignore it and more on. A card can also show the ship has a malfunction so a spare part can be spent or a mechanics check might keep the ship flying. A run in with an Alliance ship or Reaver ship is the worst possibility. With the Alliance ship as long as the Captain has no warrants out for him and has no wanted crew and is not smuggling contra band or fugitives he’s fine. If he some of that then he might lose it or pay a fine. The Reaver ship is much worse. All passengers and fugitives are automatically killed. A weapons check is made to see how many of the crew die. Border space is a dangerous place but such encounters are still very rare making it a good gamble.

One thing that does slow down the game but I like are the Job and Planet decks. The discard pile can be looked through by anyone and those are available for people to get. Basically a person that lands on one of these spaces that wants a job or wants to buy something can consider up to three cards and get up to two. They can consider cards in the discard pile after looking through it and then draw cards from the deck to get up to three total. Any they pass on gores in the discard pile.

That’s a fair rundown on most of the basics. I did not cover everything but that should give more than a good over view. I wanted to also talk about some of the expansions. Every game has expansions it seems these days and Firefly is no exception. I’ll cover the ones I have.

Artful Dodger: This is a different ship. It adds a fifth player to the game. The ship is also different from the Fireflies. It has a better engine and can hold more crew but does hold less cargo. It means doing multiple jobs at once is a little more difficult.

Big Damn Hero Promo Cards: This small expansion is just five members of Serenity (Malcom, Wash, Zoe, Jayne, and Kaylee) with another ability on their cards. They are each in the main game but these promo cards have it so whenever any of them successfully completes a misbehaving card they receive an extra $100.

Breakin’ Atmo: This is the first real expansion but it is a small one. It is just fifty cards five for each of the job decks and planet decks. It does not add any new rules and I like there being a bit more in each deck so people that want to just go to a place and sit for many turns trying to find the best cards is a bit more difficult to do.

Pirates and Bounty Hunters: This is a good sized expansion. It includes two new ships one that can hold larger amounts of cargo but is a little slower and one that is very small and fast. It has some new captain options. Most importantly though it has player verse player rules. If one gets the right job they can attack other ships. It also has warrants so that ships can go after certain characters that are wanted and turn them in for money. The rules her can change the game nicely and allow for more interaction between players.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Wisconsin Death Trip

Flag_map_of_WisconsinThis is based on truth. I am not talking about the way Fargo or Texas Chainsaw Massacre is either. As far as I have seen the pictures are authentic and the newspaper articles accurate. That makes this book disturbing and a little like a car wreck that one can’t help but stare at.

Wisconsin Death Trip is a nonfiction book published in 1973. The author found a collection of black and white photos all from the same small Wisconsin area dating back to the 1890’s. He then researched newspaper articles from that time and found a place haunted by death and destruction. I don’t know if this was common at the time, and it seems unusual because I don’t have knowledge of what life was like in the 1890’s in a small Wisconsin town. Or this could be the outlier, the one place that had unusual deaths and events going on. Either way a creative GM can take this book and make it into an awesome prop for an adventure or campaign.

“George Kanuck, a laborer, is alleged to have sold his seven year old boy to Italian peddlers who have been working at Manitowoc. The sale is said to have taken place at Kanuck’s house during a drunken orgy that all participated. The Italians, two women and a man, left the town the next day with the boy.”

That is one example of what one will find within the pages of this book. The book just presents the stories. It does not answer any questions. That is what makes this the perfect prop. Are you wanting to run a Cthulhu by Gaslights campaign? There can easily be cultists and something dark and mysterious going on here. Perhaps you want something modern and want the events from the past to be repeating themselves. This would be a great book to present news stories to the players that their characters find in research. Granted, not a lot of written RPGs work well in rural Wisconsin of the 1890’s. That is why I only mention the one so far.

“Eight of the Kaukauna public schools have been closed by order of the district board on account of further spread of diphtheria epidemic. Five or 6 families are now quarantined, and in one of these, 8 of its members have the disease.”

It would be more difficult but this could also serve for a good adventure or arc for a time travel game. There is something odd going on here, there has to be. So of course the TARDIS would show up here. Or perhaps the agents of Timewatch are sent here for a darker type of adventure. I think this approach would be a challenge as the feel of those games is a bit lighter than the events the book describes.

“At Stevens Point an incendiary fire destroyed sale stables and 13 fine draft horses the property of the green brothers….This is the ninth incendiary fire in the city in a week.”

I think it would work well as a historical Hunter the Vigil game. Something wicked is happening in the area so it is up to a small cell of townsfolk to investigate and try to stop something. Not everything has to link together either. Perhaps the fire was just an accident but that doesn’t mean the other eight were. Some of the stories though are much darker. There is an article of a ten year who commits suicide. There are stories of people killing their families and children. There are stories of people being committed into insane asylums. There are stories of wild men living in caves, and bands of hooligans that terrorize towns. Some of the stories are just weird like the owner of a lumber company that started yelling crazy things and then his one thousand employees started to mimic what he was doing.

“A wild man is terrorizing the people north of Grantsburg. He appears to be 35 years of age, has long black whiskers, is barefooted, has scarcely any clothes on him, and he carries a hatchet. He appeared at several farm houses and asked for something to eat. He eats ravenously, and when asked where he came from, points to the east. He secretes himself in the woods during the day and has the most bloodcurdling yells that have ever been heard in the neighborhood.”

Reading through this book is an experience. I am not going to say it was a good one as there are many sad entries in here as well. This is not a book for everyone and is definitely a Cult Classic of literature. There is also a movie made about it and it has influenced other novels and even music.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

Worst Module Ever

Castle Greyhawk CoverOver the years there has been hundreds of modules made and it would be impossible to get people to agree on the worst. For me there is just one that is head and shoulders above the rest. I know for many people the Forest Oracle ranks as the worst D&D module. While that one is badly written in pales in comparison to the farce that is Castle Greyhawk.

The year was 1988. Greyhawk was a setting we had been playing in for years. At the time I had the box set and a few modules and we read about different aspects in Dragon magazine. There were hints and little blurbs about the majestic Castle Greyhawk. It was the one area of the work that we wanted to see more than any other. What we received were thirteen different levels that have basically nothing to do with one another. It was written as a joke with more puns then a Paranoia adventure and not nearly as well thought out. There really isn’t anything salvageable in here.

It starts with a decent enough premise. The old castle has been rediscovered and they are looking for people to explore the monster invested basement. Except there is no one that can explore it. The entrance to the first area is successfully hidden away. Only the PCs when they are approached as dopes by a kid can they learn the location to get in there. But even before that we have the weather. The druids around the castle are pissed off so the weather of any day is randomly rolled. It could be hot, it could be snow, and it could be anything. One would think this would be a problem to be solved but it is barely talked about. It is just poorly planned out and not a lot of it makes sense. I would get used to that as it is one of the few inconsistencies through this module.

The setup to the first dungeon is really odd. A crying kid asks the PCs to help find his dad. But it isn’t his dad it’s who he works for. Basically some guy found the entrance to the dungeons that everyone wants cleared and hid it so he could turn it into a zoo. So, the PCs go on and explore an underground zoo. It has all kinds of weird creatures to kill, but it tries to be funny and fails. The worst part is this is probably the best part of the dungeon.

The second level is also on a level the PCs can get to. It says the door is secured and no one can get through, but how others get through the Zoo when no one knows about the zoo is baffling to me.

Anyway the second level is one that gets built around a simple idea of irony. What if a group of orcs, trolls, goblins, and such all got together and made a plan to find someone to serve? So, they get this big banquet planned so that whomever shows up will be impressed. This is the plot of the second one. It doesn’t matter what day the PCs explore this area that is the day that the whomever is going to show up. There is party planning going on and all these monsters are busy. They assume the PCs are there for the party so they don’t fight the PCs. And if the PCs fight them there are too many. If things go bad for the PCs they get captured and tossed into a sewage pit for punishment.

The PCs have to explore everything here so they get the clues as to what is going on. What is really going on is that the PCs are spectators. They do nothing here that changes anything. The party happens, Asmodeus shows up. Yes, the real Asmodeus one of many demon lords who apparently regularly hangs out in Castle Greyhawk. He basically is unimpressed and tries to kill everyone. Wasn’t that fun?

It just gets worse from there. The next level has been taken over with plotting chefs. The creatures here are food puns and one of the only workable NPCs Poppinfarsh Doughboy. Fourth level has a three dimension quality that doesn’t work well. They tried and failed at doing something. The whole point of that level is to give cryptic pointless clues at the other levels. The fifth level is a role playing game. They have a paranoia take off, some characters loosely based on Marvel Superheroes, and other shake your head it is so pathetically bad encounters.

At this point I really did not want to read anymore. I wanted to make a meme with the picture of the module and warning label over top the whole thing. I did read more but it is not something I want to go over in any more detail. I don’t know the history of the product. I don’t know what vindictive person thought this version of Castle Greyhawk was a good idea. It is just a bad module that fails to be funny, fails to be clever, and fails to do anything but insult the Greyhawk name.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.

A New Kind of Pathfinder Character

pathfinder_core_coverWhen I DM I always like to try something a little bit different. Perhaps a different take on the campaign or the way the characters are built. Some of the ideas work and others do not. I liked it when I started having the players choose the ability scores for their own character. When I tried to have the players describe their character and then have the other players choose the attributes based on the descriptions did not work out as well. I do some different things behind the screen but I don’t keep track of them as thoroughly. I see the more important aspect of the game as player interaction with the rules. It is also very possible I am finding a complex solution to problems that do not exist.

Before I go on to this idea I must stress it is not something for every group. It might not even be a good idea for my own group as this will be the first time it has been brought up to them. For it to even have a chance of working one needs a DM that has a solid understanding of the rules and system mastery. It has to have players that will not abuse the system. The players also have to trust the DM in being fair with his rulings and trust the other players that no one is abusing the system. It does not require system mastery for the players and would probably be better for players who do not have it.

The Pathfinder system stays intact. Characters still have hit points, AC, base attack bonus, saves, etc. The way we get there is going to change though. Before one picks a race, a class, feats, and spells. Depending on what they were it would govern what the numbers were and the options the player had to select from for the character. What a player would do is come up for the concept for their character. It could be as simple as Knight to something very specific like Street Rat raised by a Fire Wizard. A player could have a short concept like that or flesh it out with a few paragraphs of backstory. Then the player would work with the DM to assign all the aspects that a class normally does. It will take a little more work but I think it will get a player more involved in his character and help create a character exactly like they want. Many times in Pathfinder and other similar systems I see players make compromises because they can’t find exactly what they want.

It doesn’t end there, this is just the beginning. I would throw out the skill list and come up with player created skills. A player would just name what they want the character to be able to do again with the DM overseeing everything to make sure it comes out ok. It would help keep the number of skills down and allow for broader skills to exist like Acrobatics. That could cover climb, jump, tumble and similar skills. Or a player could have a skill called Parkour which has some similarities to acrobatics but some specific differences as well. By using the language to pick out these different skills one can add a fine nuance to the game and what the character is able to do.

Each character would get feats, but once again they don’t have to pick off the insane list of all feats in existence. Feats now can also cover things like class abilities. Weapon and armor training would be included here. A character concept of weapons master might know how to use any weapon he picks up. But a concept like Spearman would have a more limited selection of weapons known but would have greater ability and bonuses when using a spear. If the player has trouble thinking up ideas then he can peruse the books and find thousands of different examples in all the classes, archetypes, and feats that are in existence.

Spells is where we really get crazy. Like feats there are just too many spells in the game so we do the same thing and just have the player name his own spells. Or maybe the DM playing the NPC Wizard who the PC is apprenticed to creates the spell. We might have one called Fire. It can be used to create light, spark dried tinder to make a fire, be used as a fire projection like burning hands, or even an explosion like a fireball. Damage would all be minimal since the caster is only first level. But anyway the character can think to use fire the spell can potentially do. As a limit I would probably introduce a spell casting skill or have a spells per day like the standard game.

It will take more work by the players but it allows them to be creative instead of ordering off the menu so to speak. If the player does not like it or is not feeling creative enough to do it then they can use an existing class, feats, and spells. There will be differences between a character done the old way and this way but if the DM is doing his job correctly they should coexist just fine. This system is very abusable and I like that it is. I trust my players with that kind of power and it has yet to blow up in my face. I don’t feel like this is an original idea and I am sure other games approach character creation more like this.

Would a Pathfinder player actually want to do this? I don’t know. It could bethe catalogs of options is what drives players to Pathfinder. I know I might be solving a problem that doesn’t exist but something in thinking on gaming this is what happens.

What do you think, Sirs?

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.


The Dragon's Demand “Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting Dragons!”

I know others who have noted the lack of adventures that end with the locating and slaying of a dragon. In my own campaigns dragon encounters are always remembered. They are rare, but each encounter was unique and challenging. The dragons were played intelligently as the apex predators they are. The PCs many times had to make deals with the Dragons as they were unable to defeat them in combat. Dragons I feel should be epic and never a throw away encounter. It never mattered if it was just a faerie dragon or pseudo dragon or a big bad kick your ass red dragon. That is why this week I showcase not one, but two similar adventures that each build up the PCs to tackle a single Dragon.

Originally I was just going to discuss one module, EN Publishing’s To Slay a Dragon. It was a Kickstarter I participated in and I think it would be very fun to run. Last week though while figuring out what to buy with a 20% Barnes and Noble coupon I found a copy of the Dragon’s Demand, a module by Paizo Publishing.

The two are very similar, not just in module theme, but how they work. Each is set in a very small town the players characters can explore, find mystery, and meet interesting NPCs. Each town has its own unique history waiting to be discovered. Each module has a series of side quests the PCs can accomplish to help gain treasure and XP. Each module is in three parts, which while common for plays, is not so common in module construction. Each module has the PCs gather items of power to help slay the dragon and each module assumes the PCs will get up to about level six or seven before fighting the dragon.

Sadly though if I were to just recommend one it is not even a contest. To Slay a Dragon is a much better product. It is larger by almost 100 pages and it is less expensive to purchase.  The extra pages are devoted to setting which I appreciate. The Dragon’s Demand really has a lot to be desired within the four pages it gives to describe its town. To Slay a Dragon devotes more space to just describing the NPCs and that is without stat blocks. It is not just the attention to the setting. Dragon’s Demand is a more typical adventure of dungeon crawls with A leading to B leading to C. To Slay a Dragon takes a different approach and makes the first two parts a sandbox experience. There are a lot of options for the characters and they are free to handle them however they want.

Dragon’s Demand starts off weakly. Getting PCs to the adventure is not always easy and in some cases, like this, a bit too heavy handed but I think writers can do better. PCs arrive in town as part of a caravan. The caravan owner is arrested and the PCs get stuck in the town. A tower falls over and the mayor decides the PCs are the only competent people she has to investigate it. At the very least I would make investigating the Tower seem dangerous and the PCs are hired to do so because no one wants to take the risk. There are quests the PCs will discover, but I dislike that the actual adventure is part of the list of quests. It seems like not enough XP is in the adventure and so when the PCs accomplish items like explore the collapsed tower they get bonus XP for it. I would add in more monsters or traps, making it more dangerous, but increasing the amount of XP.

In the second part the PCs explore the manor house of a wizard. It has magical traps and other surprises inside but the biggest surprise comes from the PCs not being allowed to keep anything they find. Aside from keeping the adventure going there are few reasons any PCs would ever to agree to terms of that kind. Killing things and looting them is one of the basic assumptions in the game. The module is also a lot of dungeon crawls. It is comfortable and what players are used too but I like it to be mixed up every now and again. When everything turns into a dungeon crawl then things seem very similar.

By the time the PCs get to the dragon they should have enough items to really make the battle easy. It is only a Green Dragon, so not the toughest. If all the items are not enough the PCs can call it by its real name and that will weaken the creature even more. It is a CR 11 creature for PCs of 6th or 7th level, so it could be tough if they miss some things.

To Slay A DragonBy contrast To Slay a Dragon is mostly sandbox. It gives the PCs plenty of time to explore the town and meet fleshed out NPCs. They don’t have to do all the quests and can really enjoy the first part of the adventure. The second part with the fear of the dragon hanging over their heads is also a sandbox but with the dragon killing whole towns it makes the creature seem rather fierce and dangerous. The PCs only hope to defeat it is with a few unique items they must find and find quickly. If the PCs kill and get all the XP they might be 9th level by the time they face the dragon but more likely will be lower. This dragon is CR 14 so a whole lot tougher and the fight will feel like a better victory. The treasure will also feel earned. This is not the appropriate treasure for a CR 14 creature. This is the appropriate treasure for a dragon that has been raiding and stealing from people for centuries. It is a treasure trove worthy of a dragon.

I hope to one day get to run one or both of these. I like adventures that build up towards something epic like these do. It is nice to have one module that covers all of the lower to mid-levels of the game. To Slay a Dragon is the stronger module but it is also larger and has more room to fit into it the details and extras that I really appreciate in a module.

Chris Gath.  I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then.  In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6.  My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game.  On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out.  I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times.  Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.