Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Introducing The Critical Wounds System

I have argued in defense of healing in 4E Dungeons & Dragons in the past. It works off of the assumption that most hp damage is minor (e.g., muscle fatigue, shallow cuts, blows mostly absorbed by armor, parries, etc.), up until the hit that kills you.

This works for me, mostly because it is hit points have been an abstraction going all the way back to original D&D. After all, it is not as if a tenth level fighter was physically tough enough to be stabbed in the chest fifteen times in a row. Most of those hit points, even back then, were meant to represent the experience that allowed you to get out of harm’s way.

Still, I think with 4E D&D the pendulum may have swung a little too far the other way. While I don’t mind the majority of wounds being transient, it seems more dramatic to have enemies deliver the occasional telling blow to the heroes.

The Critical Wounds System

The Critical Wounds system is an alternative method of handling critical hits in D&D 4E. It does require a little more bookkeeping than the current system, but I believe the trade off is worth it. I will also admit that this system is in the early stages, and that it has not undergone any play-testing. I will be the first to admit that the system will probably need a little tweaking before it is ready for prime time.

The basic concept behind Critical Wounds is that there are some injuries that are simply harder to heal than others. These injuries are called “wounds”. Unlike normal hit point damage, wound damage on characters cannot be healed by powers or by using healing surges. Wounds can be healed by taking an extended rest or by the use of rituals. However, as these are life-threatening injuries, getting better is not guaranteed. After all, sometimes injuries can become infected, and even heroes can die from internal bleeding.

So enough of the fluff, let’s move on to the crunch.

Critical Hits

The current critical hit rules (where critical hits deal maximum damage) are still used for adjudicating critical hits against monsters. In this case, a monster is defined as any creature that dies at 0 hit points. The new critical hit system is only applicable to Player Characters and NPC’s with full character write-ups.

Critical Hits no longer deal maximum damage under the Critical Wounds system. Instead damage is rolled normally, but one-half of the damage (rounded down) is applied to the character’s wound total while the remainder is applied as hit point damage. Any special effects that occur on a critical hit still apply.

Wound Total

Wounds are tracked separately from hit points. While they affect the overall health of the character, they are not hit points and cannot be healed by healing surges, powers, and other effects that can heal hit points. Wound damage does count against the total number of hit points a character has, acting as a cap on the maximum number of hit points they can have.

Characters with wound damage can also suffer additional debilitating effects. When a character has wounds equal to or greater than one-quarter of his hit point total, he suffers a -1 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. When his wounds are equal to or greater than one-half of his hit point total he suffers a -2 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. A character with wounds equal to or greater than three-quarters of his hit point total is truly on his last legs. He suffers a -5 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. In addition, he is only capable of moving at half-speed.

Healing Wounds

A character can attempt to heal wounds when he takes an extended rest. However, with grave injuries healing is far from assured. When the character takes an extended rest, they must roll an Endurance check (this is subject to any wound penalties the character is suffering).

The DM should then consult the Difficulty Class and Damage by Level chart (DMG p. 42. Note that the target numbers have been updated). If the character makes at least an easy success on the chart, there is no change. If the character makes a moderate success on the chart, he heals a number of wounds equal to a medium normal damage expression. If the character makes a hard success, he heals a number of wounds equal to a high normal damage expression. However, if the character fails to make an easy check, they take an additional number of wounds equal to a low normal damage expression.

It is possible for another character to use the Heal skill in place of the wounded character’s Endurance skill check. There may also be rituals in your campaign which can assist in healing wounds. I will detail one such ritual in an upcoming post.

Example in play

Almirith is a second level eladrin warlord with 27 hit points, a bloodied value of 13, and a healing surge value of 6. His party encounters a group of kobolds. During the battle, he is struck by a critical hit that deals him 11 points of damage. Almirith applies 5 points as wound damage and 6 points as hit point damage. Since 5 wounds is less than his one-quarter of his hit points, Almirith suffers no debilitating effects.

The next round he takes 6 points of additional damage, which are applied to his hit points. He is bloodied because his total hit point damage (12 hp) plus his wound damage (5 wounds) is more than his bloodied value (13). Almirith decides it is prudent to expend a use of inspiring word, which heals him 9 hit points and removes the bloodied condition.

The party dispatches the remaining kobolds and takes a short rest. Almirith takes this opportunity to expend a healing surge, which heals his remaining 3 hit points of damage. However, he is unable to heal his 5 wounds.

After travelling deeper into the dungeon, the party encounters a group of goblins. Almirith gets hit with another critical hit by a goblin hexer, dealing 9 points of damage. He takes 4 points as wound damage and 5 points as hit point damage. Since his wound damage (9 wounds) is now more than one-quarter his hit point total, he suffers a -1 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. He is also bloodied because his wound damage (9 wounds) and hit point damage (4 hp) equals his bloodied value (13).

Almirith goes most of the rest of the battle without taking damage. He thinks his luck is improving when an enraged goblin skullcrusher manages a critical on him and rolls 15 points of damage! He takes 7 points of wounds damage (bringing his total to 16 wounds) and 8 points of hit point damage (bringing his total to 12 hp damage). 16 wounds plus 12 hp exceeds Almirith’s hit point total of 27, so he goes down.

Almirith’s luck finally does change as he rolls a 20 on his death saving throw. He is able to spend a healing surge and stands up. However, he is not in good shape. He still has 16 wounds. Since this is more than one-half his hit point total he suffers a -2 to all defenses, attack rolls, ability checks, and skill checks. Almirith is currently at 6 hit points. He uses another inspiring word and would normally heal 8 hit points. However, because of his 16 wounds his hit point total is capped at 11. This also means until he can heal some of his wounds, he is considered bloodied.  Things are not looking good for our hero. 

Still, through a combination of luck and skill he manages to survive the encounter.  His party sets up camp to take an extended rest.  Almirith rolls an Endurance skill check.  Almirith is not skilled in Endurance and has no Constitution bonus, so his roll is 1d20 - 1 (+1 from one half his level -  2 from wounds).  He rolls a 12, which is a moderate success.  Almirith rolls 1d10+3, the medium normal damage expression, for a total of 8.  This reduces his remaining wounds from 16 to 8.  Not great, but at least he doesn’t start the day bloodied. 

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Forgotten Realms: Issue 3 – The Hand of Vaprak (Part 3 of 4)

Life in Baldur's Gate can be murder. This comic begins with Captain Omen and the crew of the Realms Master going to visit Gondal the Sage in hopes of locating the Hand of Vaprak again.  The Ogre Mage who has been spying on them since issue one reveals that he has assumed Gondal’s identity.  The original Gondal is long dead, being nothing more than a skeleton with a sword through his chest.

Outside of the Tower of Gondal, Priam Agrivar asks an eminently sensible question, “Why [do] we need a sage, Captain Omen.  I mean you tracked the hand when I carried it.”  Captain Omen gives a half-hearted excuse before demanding they all walk into the dungeon tower.

Well, almost all of them.  Foxilion is told to stay outside and watch their backs.  Foxy isn’t very happy with the arrangement, even less so when he is startled by Alias and Dragonbait. 

Don't worry. Dragonbait is a Saurial, not a Dragonborn. I suppose one of the perks of working for the most powerful wizard in the Forgotten Realms is that you can literally be transported halfway across the continent in a blink of an eye.  Maybe I should try working for an ancient wizard.  That would do wonders for my commute!

Anyway, the Realms Master crew makes it into the tower, where they meet the (fake) Gondal.  After some banter he challenges them to a Halruaaian ritual called “The Great Game” for the answers.  The Great Game basically seems to be a battle of wits… to the death!  Perhaps even more accurately, it appears to be a game of Dungeon Keeper.

Well, I suppose there has to be some reason all those dungeons litter the Forgotten Realms.

The crew proceeds to make their way through a number of standard dungeon traps.  An illusionary pit, collapsing stairs, and an invisible staircase up to the next level all ineffectually bar their way.  When Captain Omen declares there are no magical traps in the hallway ahead, they send Minder the iron golem.  She promptly falls through the weakened floor into a foundry furnace. 

Walls come down from the ceiling trapping the crew.  Well, all of them except Ishi Barasume who tumbles under wall before it fully closes.  “Gondal” appears before her, before revealing himself to be an Ogre Mage.  She puts up a fight, but quickly falls prey to a Charm Person.

In my best Admiral Akbar voice, "Its a trap!"

Ishi’s save vs Spell is obviously not her best trait.

Back to the crew, it is now Vartan’s turn to state the obvious, “Gondal the Sage knows about the Hand.  What if he wants it for himself.  Wouldn’t this game be sufficient guise to lead us all to our deaths?”  This time Captain Omen decides to take the advice and try to find an exit.  Instead, they find a room full of skeletons.

Meanwhile, Alias, Dragonbait, and Foxilion break into the tower using a window.  They are attacked by a big axe wielding skeleton, which Alias and Dragonbait quickly dispatch.  Foxilion doesn’t help with the battle, but he does get a chance to crack on the fact that Alias’ chainmail armor is, er, somewhat drafty.

The remaining Realm Master crew fights their way through the skeletons, assisted by a timely lighting bolt cast by a pissed off Captain Omen. 

Lightning Bolt is not a major spell.

They ultimately encounter the fake Gondal, Ishi Barasume, and “Minder”.  Captain Omen begins berating Gondal for playing dirty in “The Great Game”.  Vartan doesn’t buy it though.  After he detects strong magic he decides to cast a dispel magic spell to figure out what is going on.

Agrivar prefers to see the glass as half-full. Unfortunately for him, “Minder” was a basilisk and he is quickly turned to stone.  Captain Omen seems pretty useless against the Ogre Mage in this fight, being continuously disrupted before he can cast a spell.   Agrivar fairs better, taking down the basilisk despite having to fight him blind.  Unfortunately, this allows the charmed Ishi an opportunity to take him down.  A final blast from the Ogre Mage takes out Captain Omen, leaving the Realms Master crew defeated.

Alias, Dragonbait, and Foxilion come across a red-hot Minder, who warns them not to touch her.  As soon as Minder lets the others in on the obvious, that the crew is in grave danger, Foxilion exclaims that “the cavalry is on its way”.



  1. I felt the “we need to visit Gondal the Sage” MacGuffin was a bit muddled.  Why they really needed to visit him, why he was dead, and the amazing coincidence that the Ogre Mage who has apparently been apparently been impersonating him for some time just happens to be after the hand was a bit hard to swallow. 
  2. I liked that Ishi Barasume called the Ogre Mage an Oni.  I am less enthused that he corrected her.
  3. Rag Morales continued to impress this issue.  I especially enjoyed the cut-away when the walls closed.  The panel layout was very non-standard, but the eye followed it easily.
  4. The Azure Bonds fanboy in me liked that Jeff Grubb went out of his way to explain why Alias is wearing the “extra-cleavage” armor.  In the book, she wore normal armor throughout, and was only dressed in the “extra-cleavage” armor from the cover near the end.  It wasn’t intended to be practical, it was ceremonial armor because she was being dressed as a sacrifice!  So why is she still wearing it?  Because it is magic armor!
  5. The basilisk covered by an illusion was a nice trick.  I believe I may have used that one in my game shortly after reading this.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Dragon’s Graveyard a.k.a. Dragonborn kicking it old-school!

In honor of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opening, I thought I would take a little time to highlight some of Peter Cullen’s work.  Not his work as Optimus Prime, which would be way to obvious.  Rather I wanted to talk about his work as Venger, the primary antagonist on the Dungeons and Dragons Animated TV series.

Of course the best way to talk about Venger is to talk about The Dragon’s Graveyard, which is probably the best episode of the series and a great episode showcasing Venger.

There are some startling revelations in this episode, which is posted in three parts on YouTube.  So feel free to watch the videos before reading my comments on them.  Unless you are Greg Leeds.  If you are, please forget you ever heard of this site.

The Dragon’s Graveyard - Part I

The episode starts with the group randomly fighting a frost giant.  It does not take them long to dispatch him with their ancient Arkhosian artifacts (more on this later).  It is revealed that the main reason they are wandering around the arctic is that the Dungeon Master told them that they could locate a portal home.  They are able to open the portal home despite piss poor instructions, but Venger shows up to cock block them again.  He decides to entomb them in ice, then inexplicably leaves the scene.  This gives the kids an opportunity to escape.

The kids seem to be taking this failure to get home a bit harder than usual.  So hard that they decide that Venger has to pay.  Hank decides that since they haven’t been up to the task that the best solution is to sic Tiamat on him.  I have to admit, as half-baked plans go, this one could actually work.

The Dungeon Master, obviously concerned at the turn his game is taking, shows up to give his typically cryptic advice to the group.  He begins to talk about how the '”Duke of Darkness” has taken over some distant land, evil must be vanquished, etc.

This time, Hank is having none of it.  He demands to know how they can find Tiamat and how they can trick her into taking Venger out.  Hank and the rest of the group surround the gnome-like little man and make it clear that saying “no” is not an option for him.

Realizing he has a full-fledged player revolt on his hands, Dungeon Master spins some nonsense about them needing to go to the Dragon’s Graveyard.  When they ask where that is, he only says that “they carry the way with them”.  No longer surrounded, he quickly makes an exit stage right.

I think I speak for all DM’s when I say that we have all had to deal with a player revolt at some point.  Looks like he managed to spin it well.  Good for him.

The Dragon’s Graveyard – Part II

The group mulls over Dungeon Master’s advice and realize the obvious.  Since they carry artifact weapons from the Dragon’s Graveyard, that must be what Dungeon Master was referring to when he said that they “carry the way with them”. 

(Not Dungeon Master’s best work, but he did have to come up with something fast)

Anyway, while they are attempting to puzzle out how to use the weapons to reach the Dragon’s Graveyard when they are attacked by Venger again.   Totally outclassed, the kids run for a nearby cave.  Venger takes out his wrath on Uni, blasting the young unicorn with his evil magic.  The group manages to reach the cave, but Venger collapses the cave entrance on them.

Now trapped in the cave with a dying unicorn, the group is really pissed.  Nevertheless they manage to activate the magic to enter the Dragon’s Graveyard, which is apparently on the moon.

I never realized the ancient Arkhosian Empire was on the moon! The kids wander among the bones in the graveyard when… HOLY CRAP IS THAT A DRAGONBORN SKELETON AT THE 5:54 MARK?!?

It seriously is.  Not the last appearance dragonborn skeletons will make in this episode either.  In fact a ton of them litter the graveyard, and all of them are holding ancient Arkoshian magic items!

All this time I figured dragonborn represented the worst excesses of 4E.  Now I realize they are old-school.  Well, at least early-eighties old-school.

Back to the episode, like any adventuring party worth its salt, the group begins to loot the dead bodies for their magic.  They find many items, including a horn that apparently summons Tiamat.  She is less willing to talk when she first arrives, so they decide to shoot first and ask questions later.  This causes them to realize that their weapons are more powerful in the Dragon’s Graveyard.  We then abruptly cut to:

The Dragon’s Graveyard – Part III

After a perfunctory battle Tiamat, she realizes they want her to kill Venger.  She won’t, but she does clue them in that they can do the deed themselves with their enhanced weaponry.  Tiamat also offers to serve up Venger to them on a silver platter before teleporting away.

Bored, the kids decide to play around with some of the loot.  Specifically, Eric is scared by a trident that spews lightning and the thief finds a net that feels “alive”.

Tiamat arrives at Venger’s castle, sending him to the Dragon’s Graveyard to battle the kids.  Not wanting to play fair, Venger casts a spell to raise the dragonborn as skeletons.

The group figures the skeletons will be pushovers, but as noted before all of them are wielding their own artifact weapons.  That battle initially goes poorly for the party, but in the end the skeletons are no match for them (probably due to their low hit dice).

The party gets the drop on Venger and Hank ties him to a rock with his magic arrows.  The party tells Hank that it is up to him whether or not to kill Venger.  He obviously considers it, but realizes that as a 1E ranger that he needs to maintain a good alignment.  Knowing Dungeon Master will probably be a dick about the “killing in cold blood” thing, Hank opts to let Venger go.

Speaking of Dungeon Master, the smug little gnome appears as soon as Venger is freed.  He uses the “living net” that the thief found earlier to heal Uni.  While the party is gathered around Uni, Dungeon Master tells the vanquished Venger “rise my son” before sending him back to the Realm. 

Returning to the kids, he spews some more B.S. before transporting everyone back to the Realm where they can continue to do his bidding.

Player revolt averted.  My hat is off to you Dungeon Master!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A little feedback...

Feedback.  Every DM I know craves it.  We always want to know what our players think of our games, how they thought of the most recent session went, and how they feel the recent plot lines are coming along.

This is only natural.  The GM is creating a collaborative story with the players, and he wants to make sure everyone is having a good time.  Knowing what aspects of the campaign are working for the players helps the GM tailor the game to the taste of his players.  Feedback can also help the GM become nip potential problems in the bud before they erupt at the game table.

Unfortunately, figuring out how to get high quality feedback can be difficult.  Well, at least from the players I game with.  Usually, the most a GM will get is a “it was great”.

While we DMs are an arrogant bunch, it is hard to imagine that all games we run are equally great.  How to get more accurate information?  Well, DM’s are also a wily bunch, so here are some of the methods I have seen in action.

The Questionnaire

Yes, I have actually seen GM’s hand out questionnaires after a session.  Sort of like if the GM was running a training seminar instead of a role-playing game.  The questions generally go something like this:

On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being totally disagree and 10 being totally agree do you think:

  1. There were sufficient combat opportunities.
  2. There were sufficient roleplaying opportunities.
  3. There was too much damn combat!
  4. There was too much damn roleplaying!
  5. The NPC’s were not annoying.
  6. There was sufficient treasure (even for that damn greedy halfling).

All I will say is, if you ever need a definition for sarcasm, all you need to do is print out some of these questionnaires.

The Mandatory Write-Up

One GM I know required session write-ups from each player after each session.  He let the players know that he was using these write-ups to assign experience.  Unknown to them, it was also a method of getting feedback by seeing what each player thought was important about the game session.

The advantage of this technique was that it was a much subtler method of gathering information.  The downside was that many players considered these write-ups onerous.  After all, writing doesn’t come easy to everyone.  So perhaps a method that doesn’t foster resentment is in order?

Get them drunk

Which brings me to my favorite method, heading down to the local pub after a game.  After all, it is said that “in vino veritas”, which translated from Latin means “in wine there is the truth”.  I once ran a Changeling game where the group would regularly head down to our local watering hole, Flossmoor Station after the game.

This worked pretty darn well.  Few gamers resent going to a bar.  More importantly, they definitely tended to have more candid conversations concerning the game when they were deep in their cups. 

Sadly, these late night excursions have become less common as we have slowly turned into respectable family men.

So I open the question to all of you.  What methods do you recommend for getting the truth out of those wily players?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Random Reviews: Spectacular Spider-Man Season 2 Premier: Blueprints

I am very glad to see this series return to the small screen.  The first season of Spectacular Spider-Man did an amazing job at putting a new spin on old classics while still remembering what made us love it in the first place.  After the show was dropped in the wake of the WB/CW merger, I wasn’t sure that this series would find a new home.  Luckily for us, a second season of Spectacular Spider-Man was picked up by the Disney XD channel.

Maybe a skin tight costume would be better suited to a California-Based crimefighter? I will try to keep my review of the season two premier, Blueprints, fairly spoiler free.  Still, read it at your own risk, as some spoilers are inevitable. 

This episode begins with Peter dealing with the fallout from season one’s finale.  He is concerned about the disappearance of Eddie Brock/Venom, confused about the kiss he shared with Gwen Stacy, and unsure of how to help his Aunt May, who is still recovering from her heart attack.  Oh, and he is trying to figure out how to keep from freezing his butt off in the middle of winter wearing a costume he designed in spring.

All of this is complicated by the arrival of Mysterio, who interrupts an animated cameo by Stan Lee.  I am not sure I buy Stan the Man as a dock worker, but that hardly matters.  Good to see you Stan!

Another complication is in the form of that wild, untamed creature known as the cheerleader (to paraphrase Harry Osborn from season one).  Namely, Liz Allen has set her sites on Peter Parker, and quickly manages to distract him from talking to Gwen about their kiss.

Spidey has a number of skirmishes with Mysterio that do not go well.  I won’t spoil for you who wins, although I thought renaming the show The Marvelous Mysterio was a bold move.  Not that you should read anything into that.

By the end of the episode, several new status quos are set up.

  1. Peter becomes an exclusive freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle.
  2. Peter resumes his student internship at ESU.
  3. Norman Osborn takes an unhealthy interest in mentoring Peter.
  4. A mysterious new villain named the Master Planner (well, new to the series) is introduced.

So, what did I think?  Well, it was a very strong season opener.  It managed to setup a number of subplots that will likely continue throughout the season and still fit in a respectable amount of web-swinging action.  I also continue to be impressed by how well this show caters to the old-school fan while remaining accessible to young children.

So if you like Spider-Man and enjoy animation, you should definitely check it out.  I also cannot recommend it enough for parents with Spider-Man loving children.  After all, I used to watch tons of Spider-Man as a kid, and I turned out fine! 


Monday, June 22, 2009

Sorry for not posting.

Things got pretty busy this weekend, so there will be no posts for Sunday or Monday. My daily posting schedule should resume on Tuesday morning.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Forgotten Realms: Issue 2 – The Hand of Vaprak (Part 2 of 4)

Lhao is know for his preternatural calm. This issue begins in Shadowdale, in the famous tower of Elminster the Sage.  Lhao notices that bell 45 begins to ring.  Checking his notes, he realizes this means the Hand of Vaprak is loose and runs to warn his master.

The scene shifts to Agrivar and Vartan arriving in Baldur’s Gate.  If you have an eye for detail, you will notice that the Realms Master, Captain Omen’s ship, is tied off at the dock.  Vartan insults the whole of humanity and follows it up by making rude comments about Priam’s father Ostus Agrivar in particular.  As Agrivar storms off, apologizes and offers him a drink… which is a bad idea for a recovering alcoholic like Agrivar.  Nevertheless, Agrivar takes the apology in the spirit in which it was offered and the two head to the bar. 

Unbeknownst to them, they are being observed by Foxilion.  He reports back to his companions that the two adventurers are in town and that they are carrying the hand.  Captain Omen then shifts into exposition mode and explains that the Hand of Vaprak was originally created when the Grandmother of Trolls attempted to trick the Child of Ogres into fishing some chestnuts out of a fire.  The Child of Ogres plunged both their hands into the fire.

It's 9:00 PM.  Do you know where your Child of Ogres is? This proved to be a bad move for both the Grandmother of Trolls and the Child of Ogres as they both lost their hand from the incident.  The two hands were fused into one, which allowed the god Vaprak to to claim dominion over both types of creatures.

I am going to skip over the scene with Elminster other than to note he is attempting to decide which pawn he should use to solve his "hand” problem.  Back at the bar, Vartan is going over perfectly reasonable suggestions for what to do with the hand, all of which Agrivar dismisses out of hand (so to speak).  Vartan wonders if Agrivar just wants to keep the hand for himself, a thought which disturbs him.

Ishi Barasume shows up at the table, pretending  to be drunk. With a quick move she flips the table, launching the hand into the air.  Foxilion is on hand to catch it and is off like a shot.  Meanwhile, in grand comic book tradition, our heroes battle it out.  Agrivar against the golem Minder and Vartan against Ishi.

Meanwhile, Foxilion proves that Wisdom is his dump stat when he hands the hand over to a doppelganger disguised as Captain Omen, even though the doppelganger doesn’t even know what a Dimension Door spell can do.  He then proceeds to get his arse handed to him.

Honestly, it was just a matter of waiting until he had initiative. I thought Iron Golems were immune to this spell! Back to the fight, the Realms Master crew has the upper hand until Vartan remembers he is a primary spellcaster and takes them out in 2 rounds. 

Agrivar and Vartan then track down Foxilion, only to find him at 0 hp in an alley.  Between the two of them they heal him up, which proves to Minder that they are honorable.  They then decide to go talk to Captain Omen.

Of course, if they had decided to do this in the first place, they would probably still have the hand.

Elsewhere in the city, the doppelganger attempts to betray the ogre mage so he can claim the hand for himself, only to prove that Wisdom is also his dump stat. The scene ends with one happy ogre mage and one dead doppelganger. 

Back on the Realms Master, Captain Omen falls into exposition mode again, this time to explain that he and his crew travel the realms looking for artifacts so that they can properly dispose of  them.  The two groups decide to join forces, and Captain Omen decides that contacting a local sage named Gondal is the best place to start looking for the hand.  Unfortunately, the Ogre Mage is scrying on them again, so he knows all of their plans.

Back in Shadowdale, Alias and Dragonbait from the novel Azure Bonds arrive at Elminster’s tower.  He announces that he needs them to go to the Sword Coast to deal with his artifact problem.  He also mentions that he created the Hand of Vaprak and that if it is not dealt with it will surely destroy him!

Dun Dun DUNNNN!!!  (Man, Jeff Grubb likes his cliffhangers).


  1. Until I reread this, I never realized that it was set in Baldur’s Gate (of video game fame).
  2. I really like the mythic feel of the Grandmother of Trolls and Children of Ogres story.  It really adds something to the feel of the Hand of Vaprak.  Also, Rags Morales’ art in the sequence is great.
  3. Despite my jokes about the fight, it was an efficient way to get the group together.  Maybe that is why it is such a comic book cliché.
  4. It was nice to see Vartan kick ass.
  5. Alias and Dragonbait seem a bit tacked on to this story.  Of course, if I was Jeff Grubb, and I had written Azure Bonds, I might have tacked them unto my first comic book story arc as well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Free RPG Day is Saturday June 20th 2009

This is just a quick post to remind people that Free RPG Day is Saturday June 20th.  At participating stores, gamers will be able to grab brand new material for a variety of role-playing games. 

Wizards of the Coast is one of the participating publishers, and they will be providing a 4E adventure called Khyber’s Harvest to retailers.  I am glad to hear that Wizards of the Coast is participating, although I think that the swag from smaller publishers that you might not check out otherwise, is even more interesting.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you have probably already heard about this from me.  I think this is a great idea because I have seen the positive effect Free Comic Book Day has had on the comic book industry.  The retail stores see a spike in business, it encourages the customers to check out product they wouldn’t otherwise, and even introduces potential new customers into the fold.  It really is a win/win scenario for everyone.

So if there is a participating game store near you, I highly recommend you check it out.

Random Reviews: Captain America #600

If you haven’t been following Marvel comics recently, you may not be aware that Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, is currently dead.

Batman seems to have strong opinions on everything. Jeez, Batman.  That was annoying enough when you were complaining about your own supposed death.

I can understand why he is sympathetic to poor Captain America though.  Much like the current Batman comics, Captain America was replaced by his former kid partner.  That has got to be humiliating.  Not to mention, both managed to knock up a lover/enemy.

Obviously, the two men have a lot in common.

Unlike Batman, Captain America has been dead since April 2007.  That is actually pretty long for an iconic superhero like Cap to be dead.  Not surprisingly, Marvel comics decided to bring him back.  Steve Rogers will be returning next month in the upcoming Captain America: Reborn.

However, this month Marvel released Captain America #600.  This issues features 64-pages of worth of (mostly) self-contained stories of various characters reacting to Captain America’s death.  Their quality varies wildly, so I will review each individually.


A five page retelling of Captain America’s origin story.  Oddly, the first two pages are drawn by Alex Ross and tell the iconic origin.  The remaining three pages are obviously tacked on by an uncredited artist and tell the story of him being found by the Avengers and of him being killed during the superhero Civil War .

2 out of 5 Stars.  This would have been more without the tacked on pages.

One Year After: Sharon Carter’s Lament

This is written by regular writer Ed Brubaker and follows Sharon Carter on the anniversary of Captain America’s death.  She was Captain America’s lover.  She was also his killer, thanks to being brainwashed by Dr. Faustus.  This has her tracking down the murder weapon, and serves as setup for the upcoming Captain America: Rebirth story.

4 out of 5 Stars.

One Year After: The Other Steve Rogers

This highlights the other Captain America who fought commies in the 50’s.  This did nothing for me.  The other Steve Rogers was created to fix a continuity hole and was about as logical as Superboy punching continuity.  The story wasn’t bad per se, but I simply don’t care about the protagonist.

3 out of 5 Stars.

One Year After: The Youth of Today

I liked this story, which is a bit surprising as it involves Robert Liefeld’s female Bucky and Elijah Bradley, a.k.a. Patriot from the Young Avengers .  I am not very familiar with either of them, but the character drama was excellent.

4 out of 5 Stars.

One Year After: Crossbones and Sin

This story takes place in prison.  Crossbones is publicly believed to be Captain America’s assassin, and he does nothing to disabuse people of this notion.  Sin is the daughter of the Red Skull and also Crossbones lover.  This story didn’t do too much for me, as I am just not that into the characters.

3 out of 5 Stars.

One Year After: The Avengers Dilemma

The New Avengers reminisce about Cap and try to decide whether they will be showing up in costume at the unofficial vigil for Captain America that is occurring in Central Park.  Not bad, but mostly setup for the later section in the park.

4 out of 5 Stars.

One Year After: The Red Skull’s Delirium

This section is just checking in on the Red Skull.  Because you pretty much have to do this in a supersized Captain America comic.

3 out of 5 Stars

One Year After: The Vigilant

Falcon and the New Avengers at the Central Park Vigil.  Norman Osborn’s team of Avengers is circling the park and Osborn basically acts like a dick.  Sharon Carter shows up with her belief that Captain America can be saved.

4 out of 5 Stars.

In Memoriam

Roger Stern takes a nostalgic look back at some of Captain America’s forgotten supporting character, like Bernie Rosenthal, Josh Cooper, and Mike Farrell.  He also throws in a slight retcon to explain Mike Farrell’s personality shifts.  I have to admit that I enjoyed this because it highlights characters from one of the few eras where I was reading Captain America regularly.

4 out of 5 Stars.

The Persistence of Memorabilia

Utter crap.   The story is cloyingly sentimental.  The villain, such as he is, is laughably one note, and it even seems to advocate censorship at the end.  Oh, did I mention that the art is simply terrible?

0 out of 5 Stars

Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge

A classic by Stan Lee.  By classic I mean completely odd.  The plotline somehow involves the Red Skull escaping prison and taking up archery while wearing a beret and hotpants (seriously!).  He uses his new found archery talents to shoot Bucky and pin Captain America to a wall so that he can figure out his secret identity by checking his wallet! 

He then dresses up as Captain America to commit crimes, but does not take off the Red Skull mask first (despite having done so earlier when learning archery).  Luckily, this does not hamper his masquerade because he holds up the shield to cover his face, just like the chiropractor pretending to be Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space. 

Whatever Stan Lee was smoking when he wrote this, I need some.

5 out of 5 Stars.  (Well, at least if Stan will pass the pipe).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too Many MMORPGs, too little time (and money)

I enjoy playing the occasional Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG).  In the past I have been active in both City of Heroes and Age of Conan.  Well, my wife calls me a casual player, but she is a complete MMORPG addict.  So I take her opinion on the matter with a grain of salt.

Nevertheless, it is true that I have drifted away from playing MMORPGs.  I would love to start playing one again in my (nonexistent? fictional?) free time.  I do have one small problem.  Namely, that I enjoy playing with my friends and everyone I know seems to be playing different games.  Since I lack infinite time and resources, I must choose only one!

Here are my top contenders:

Age of Conan

Pros: I have heard of World of Warcraft Widows.  I may be an Age of Conan Widower.  So joining up with Age of Conan again would allow me to spend more quality (virtual) time with her.  Plus, I have a level 80 character on the game.  Although, sadly, more than half of those levels my wife earned for me.

Cons: Honestly, I am not a huge fan of gameplay in Age of Conan.  Plus, the relearning curve would be high.

City of Heroes/City of Villains

Pros: My friends Bob and Brian are playing this game.  I enjoy this game a lot, and probably would still be playing if my wife had not abandoned it for Age of Conan.  I have multiple high-level characters including two level 50 characters.

Cons:  My friends have characters that are much lower level than I am.  The game is aging and I have played it enough that I feel I have exhausted a lot of the content in the game.

Darkfall Online

Pros: My friend Chad plays this game.  He sees it as the second coming of Ultima Online and is evangelizes that the game contains unrestricted Player vs. Player (PvP).

Cons: This game is currently only available in Europe and you have to play off of the European servers.  Also, I am not sure how I feel about unrestricted PvP.

Dungeons & Dragons Online

Pros: My friend Ashby has expressed an interest in playing once it goes free.  Also, the mere fact that it can be played for free, even if in a somewhat limited fashion, is a big pro in and of itself.  Plus, it is Dungeons & Dragons!

Cons: It may be Dungeons & Dragons, but its Eberron.  I am a little concerned with whether or not the free accounts will be able to compete with the paid accounts, but I am not going to complain too much since at the very least it will be free to try.

World of Warcraft

Pros:  One of my co-workers, Jonathan, plays this game.  So does everyone else in the world, so at least it is not going anywhere.

Cons:  I know my wife will never play this game, as she has expressed distain for the “cartoony looking characters” in the past.

Hmm… I was hoping writing out the pros and cons of all of these MMORPGs would make one choice obvious.  Apparently not.  I suppose I will just have to content myself with obsessing over good old-fashioned pen and paper RPGs.

Or maybe I could go outside.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Settings with a difference: Post-Apocalyptic D&D

Post-apocalyptic settings are more commonly associated with science fiction than fantasy. Whether nuclear holocaust, biological warfare, or some other horror, we keep imagining ways we will destroy ourselves in the future.  Nevertheless, there is no reason why your Dungeons & Dragons campaign can’t use the trappings of a post-apocalyptic world as well.

The first thing you need to decide when creating a post-apocalyptic campaign is what the world was like prior to the devastation, and perhaps just as importantly, what caused it to be destroyed. There are infinite possibilities for what the world used to be like, but the most common choices are fantastical or technological.

Starting with a standard fantasy world pre-apocalypse will probably save you a lot of work. The cause for the devastation should be equally fantastic. Perhaps the world was collateral in a war between the gods. Maybe creatures from the far realm broke through and have claimed vast swaths of the changed and twisted landscape. Perhaps, like Dark Sun, sorcerer kings drained the land of its life.

Another possibility is a formerly technological world which has taken on fantasy elements after an apocalypse. Magic may be real, it may be misunderstood super-science, or a mixture of the two. The cause of the apocalypse may be anything from the standard nuclear holocaust to something more unusual, like the development of portal technology breaching the walls between dimensions and allowing all manner of horrors in.

Using post-technological fantasy worlds in D&D does require a lot more work on the part of the DM though. The DM will need to figure out how technology works and how it interacts with magic. Is use of technology forbidden due to its association with the holocaust? Is it just another power source, right next to martial, divine, and arcane? Is all “magic” simply misunderstood science? The DM needs to answer all of these questions prior to the beginning of the game.

After determining what the world was like, the next thing to decide is how badly the world is damaged. The worse off the world is, the further from standard D&D it is, and thus more work has to be to put into it. However, the more extreme worlds tend to be the most memorable as well. I tend to split my post-apocalyptic settings into three broad categories: Ruined Earth., Extreme Points of Light, and Recovered Earth.

In a ruined earth setting, civilization is still decimated by whatever destroyed the world. While some outposts of “civilization” may exist, these are usually brutal enclaves, like those found in the Dark Sun setting or the Mad Max movies. Normally, the strong rule the weak, and no true justice can be found. Often, some form of gladiatorial entertainment is the closest thing that passes for the courts. In a ruined earth setting, the characters probably have banded together for survival, rather than a desire to acquire riches.

As you may already be aware, the so-called “Points of Light” setting assumes a dangerous world with occasional bastions of civilization. The “Extreme Points of Light” assumes a world in even more dire straights, but with some form of civilized society still in existence. Usually, there is some insulating factor that kept civilization extant while the rest of the world burned.

One example I can think of is the comic book Meridian. In that world, the surface of the planet had been devastated, but civilizations still exists far above the surface on floating islands. The islands were interconnected by a fleet of airships, and few people born in the clouds ever traveled to the dangerous surface below. Meanwhile, life on the surface is much like the ruined earth setting described above.

The closest to the traditional D&D campaign is the recovered earth. In this setting, some time has passed since the cataclysm and the world has had some time to recover. Despite this recovery, some areas of the world are still marked and some creatures still changed by the events. Sword & Sorceries Scarred Lands is a good example of this setting. Even the post-Spellplague Forgotten Realms has some aspects of this, with unpredictable Changelands and creatures sporting Spellscars.

Any of these settings can offer a change of pace from your typical D&D campaign. Hopefully, the tips above will help, but if you need additional inspiration there are several pre-made settings with apocalyptic themes to check out. Dark Sun (AD&D 2E) and Desolation (Ubiquity) are definitely good places to start.

Or I suppose you could just watch a Thundarr the Barbarian marathon on Boomerang.


In the far future of 1994!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Revenant Has Been Reinvented

Look Ma! No Hands! I was a big fan of revenants when they first appeared in Fiend Folio. The concept of a creature that crawled out of the grave to avenge its own death is a strong one. Single-minded and caring about nothing but its mission, I knew I had to use the revenant in my campaign as soon as I read about them.

The revenant presented in Dragon 376 is not that guy.

That may not be a bad thing. After all, the traditional revenant would make a horrible character race. Revenants are now very tied to the Raven Queen, the result of a dark bargain made with the goddess to return the soul to the mortal world. This bargain may not have been made by the revenant, occasionally deities or other powers make these bargains on behalf of their followers, even when revenant would rather be allowed to rest.

It should be noted that revenants are not returned to the natural world as undead horrors or even in their own bodies. Rather, the bodies constructed by the Raven Queen are tall and gaunt. Their hands and feet are scaled and clawed, somewhat like a raven. Their faces have strange, mask-like quality. While their appearance is unnerving, revenants are rare enough that only the most skilled religious scholars tend recognize them for what they are.

Guess which one of us used to be a halfling! Anything that has a soul can be brought back and placed in the body of a revenant. That means that dragonborn, halflings, and even warforged can find themselves reborn as these strange creatures.  Most of them have no more than a hazy memory of their past lives. They might have been dead for a week or millennia.  Only devas, who undergo their own process of reincarnation, seem unable to come back as revenants.

It should be noted that each revenant does have a reason why it was brought back, although it may not initially know what that reason is. Some revenants desperately seek out their purpose, while others spend their strange half-lives trying to avoid it.

I know that the concept of playing a revenant will simply rub some players and Dungeon Masters the wrong way. This aversion may be the result of trying to imagine the Fiend Folio version in an adventuring party. It may also be because they have an aversion to some of the newer, admittedly weirder, character races available.

I can definitely understand that point of view. After all, I have admitted the issues I have with dragonborn and warforged as character races before. Nevertheless, I know that there are plenty of players see new roleplaying opportunities in them and who love playing these races.

I think I am in that boat with the revenant. I enjoy conflicted characters that are rife with inner turmoil. I enjoy characters that struggle against their baser natures and (possibly) triumph. I think the revenant provides a lot of potential for this type of roleplay.

In fact, I already have an idea for a revenant character.  One who has flashbacks to a life where he is in service to dark powers.  He knows that some evil deity bargained with the Raven Queen to bring him back, but he does not know for what purpose.  He is trying to use this second chance to atone, but fears that no matter what he does that no good can truly come of his actions.

What don’t I like about the new revenant?  Well frankly, there are some things about the new revenant which are a little goofy.  One thing that sticks out to me is their appearance.  While revenants look creepy, I find myself wishing they looked more like they did in life.  Especially because they can spend a feat to gain limited use of the racial power of their former race.  For example, the concept of a former dragonborn revenant using the racial breath power just seems a bit odd.

I am curious to see one in play to see how they work out.  In the end though, I think that the tone that the player adopts for the revenant is much more important than the stats.

Monday, June 15, 2009

How I would redo D&D Insider

Some of the gamers I play with at Lords of Tyr are opposed to the very concept of D&D Insider. For them, paying a monthly fee for D&D content is anathema. This is not as big a deal for me, as long as the price point is kept at a reasonable level. As a former subscriber to Dragon Magazine & Dungeon Magazine, maybe I am a little more used to the idea. Or maybe services like Netflix have won me over. Who knows?

I will be the first to admit that the service has been implemented poorly. It needs more flexible pricing and the acknowledgement that in any given gaming group, not everyone will be willing or able to pay a monthly fee.

It also shouldn’t have launched on vaporware. The fact that one year after the launch of Dungeons & Dragons 4E the only advertized products they have been able to get out the door are the D&D Compendium and the D&D Character Builder is, frankly, shameful. They should have had these products in a usable form, if not a perfect one, prior to charging for it.

At a bare minimum, I would want the following components in place:

  1. D&D Character Builder
  2. D&D Character Visualizer
  3. D&D Game Table
  4. D&D Market Place (I will explain this later).

The D&D Compendium, Encounter Builder, and other tools would be nice, but could wait until after launch if necessary.

Membership would be tiered. I am starting with what I call the Xbox live strategy. Xbox live has a Silver and Gold memberships. Hey, it sounds like D&D already! The Silver Membership is free while the Gold Membership has a monthly fee.

Let’s imagine a model where Wizards of the Coast has a three-tiered pricing model. I am going to call them Player Basic, Player Advanced, and Dungeon Master. Player Basic is free, Player Advanced costs $4.99 a month, and Dungeon Master costs $9.99 a month. So what do you get for these levels?

Player Basic (Free)

  1. Gain access to the D&D GameTable: At this level you could not host a game but could participate in one.
  2. Gain access to the D&D Character Visualizer: At this level you would have access to basic customization of your virtual miniatures.
  3. Gain access to a D&D Marketplace: This virtual market place would sell items for Gold Pieces, which could be purchased in bundles similar to Microsoft Points. So what could you buy? First, you could purchase PDF versions of the Rule Books, Dragon Magazine, and Dungeon Magazine. Themed customization packs for your virtual miniatures, like a Wizard Pack I. Print on demand copies of the online magazines. Pretty much anything they could think to sell you.

Player Advanced ($4.99 a month)

  1. Everything Player Basic gets.
  2. Gain access to the D&D GameTable: Hosting capabilities with access to basic monster miniatures.
  3. Full access to the D&D Character Visualizer including theme updates.
  4. Dragon Magazine
  5. D&D Character Builder
  6. D&D Compendium

Dungeon Master ($9.99 a month)

  1. Everything Player Basic and Player Advanced Get
  2. Dungeon Magazine
  3. Gain access to the D&D Game Table. Hosting capabilities with a wider virtual miniature monster set.
  4. Encounter creation and other campaign management tools.

I think this model could work. At least it would work better than there current model.

Of course, it was truly up to me I would abandon the concept of keeping these electronic tools in-house entirely. Create some APIs that would allow developers to hook into the data they need to create some truly awesome tools. Then WOTC just has to sit back and watch the rabid fanbase to do their work for them. I believe high quality digital tools would increase interest and acceptance of their product.  In other words, they would reap the rewards with little cost to them.

Bah, I have already travelled far enough into fantasy-land with the post above. No need to go further.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Random Reviews: Batman and Robin

If you haven’t been following Batman comics recently, you may not be aware that Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, is currently dead.

Man, someone is a bit touchy!

OK, fine.  Bruce Wayne may not be technically dead, just trapped in the prehistoric past.  Nevertheless, he is not around to be Batman.  Could anyone take his place? This premise launched the Battle for the Cowl series, which basically acted as filler until they were ready to relaunch the core Batman titles as Batman, Batman and Robin, and Red Robin

The only title I am interested in is Batman and Robin.

Why only that one?  Entirely because of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.  This is the same team that gave us the amazing All Star Superman.  I mean, they made me enjoy Superman!  It was the first title I would read when I picked up my comic book order.  That is some high-powered talent!

Is it just me or is Dick is looking at Damian and thinking "I could take him"Not surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed.  The book starts mid-chase scene, and uses a few lines of dialogue to make the entire Battle for the Cowl series irrelevant.  Mostly by having the new Batman state the obvious: that he never wanted the responsibility of being Batman, but really there was no one else who can do the job.

So, with Bruce Wayne out of the picture, you may be wondering who are the new dynamic duo?  The simple answer: Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne.

Dick Grayson was the original Robin.  While he may have ditched his old duds for the batsuit, he has not undergone a personality transplant.  As a result his Batman is a little more light-hearted than the original.  He will tell the occasional joke and crack the occasional smile.

Damian Wayne is a different story.  The son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, he was raised in secret with the intention of him one day leading the League of Assassins.  Damian is driven, grim, brooding, and a genius.

In other words, he is a lot like his father.

All and all this works well as an inversion of the classic dynamic duo formula.  Damian is shown to be so incredibly smart, continuously tinkering with and even improving, his father’s designs.  This is important, since it helps you understand why Dick Grayson is willing to mentor the kid.  As opposed to strangling him or something. 

For Damian’s part, he still sees Dick Grayson as an usurper of his rightful destiny to succeed his father.  If Damian thought he could get away with it, he would be happy enough to assume the mantle of Batman right now, despite being thirteen or so.

So enough about the characters.  What do I think of the storyline so far?  Well, it is very conventional for a Grant Morrison story.  There is a flying Batmobile in it, but that works much better than you might think.  The first part of the story involves the dynamic duo chasing down Mr. Toad and his gang after a heist, cutting short his “wild ride”.  The second part of the issue introduces the creepy Mr. Pyg and his “doll people”.  The ending of the book, which shows Mr. Pyg creating more “doll people”, definitely gives you the willies.

Hmmm… written out in three sentences like that, it does sound like a typically odd Morrison plotline.  Trust me, it makes more sense told over 22 pages.

In any case, I recommend this storyline to anyone who is a fan of Batman comics.  It may be a little bit of a different take on the legend, but Grant Morrison simply writes Batman very well.  When you combined with Frank Quitely’s beautiful art, Batman and Robin is a truly amazing read.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Forgotten Realms: Issue 1 – The Hand of Vaprak

In the year 1989, DC comics and TSR joined together to launch several Dungeons & Dragons themed comic books. The flagship title was called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and was set in Waterdeep. Other titles included the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Spelljammer.

As a fan of Dungeons & Dragons and of comic books I decided to check them out. Sadly, I found most of them to be a disappointment. In fact, I think my distaste for most comic book adaptations, of anything, stems from this period.

There was one exception though. I have a soft spot for the Forgotten Realms comic. It may not be high art, but it kept me entertained through most of its run. Most of the praise has to go to Jeff Grubb and Rags Morales, who kept the story and art pulpy and fun.

I think this book tends to get overlooked by people who might enjoy it. If you can find back issues at the local comic book store or eBay, I am sure you can pick them up cheap. Also, they are bound to be available for download via BitTorrent.

(Not that I would ever condone piracy. After all Greg Leeds would be appalled at the potential lost revenue stream.)

So in the tradition of Polite Scott’s obsession with Hawk and Dove, I am going to do overviews of the entire 25 issue series. These overviews will come out on an “as I get to them basis”.

Forgotten Realms: Issue 1 – The Hand of Vaprack (Part 1 of 4)

And they say there is no cheescake for the ladies in comics! The story starts with the paladin Priam Agrivar jumping off a cliff into the ocean. Agrivar had previously appeared in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comic and I was not a big fan of him there. Thankfully, the comic quickly glosses over his previous appearances with a few lines of text and jumps straight into the plot.

While he is swimming around, Agrivar a ship comes out of nowhere and a mysterious figure tosses a satchel overboard. Agrivar is curious enough about this to retrieve the satchel and is surprised to find it contains an evil looking (and detecting) ogre paw. Deciding he has to do something about this evil artifact, he gets dressed and decides to head for the nearest city.

I prefer my halflings boiled. The scene shifts into the interior of the ship where Captain Dwalimor Omen is attacking halfling crewmember Foxilion Cardluck with a flaming sphere. Omen believes Foxilon is responsible for the theft of the Hand of Vaprak since he is a thief.

The confusion is cleared up when the sentient Iron Golem Minder and Kara Turian swordswoman Ishi Barasume arrive on scene. Minder confesses to the theft, which he committed out of fear that Captain Omen was under the influence of the artifact. Since Captain Omen isn’t normally psychotic enough to attack his crewmates with flaming spheres, he ultimately comes to the realization that he was affected by the artifact. However, he points out that merely chucking it off the side of the boat was probably not the brightest idea either.

Returning to Agrivar, the paladin comes across a band of gnolls who have captured Vartan Hai Sylar, elven cleric of Labelas Enoreth. Agrivar engages the gnolls with the help of a blowgun (no, seriously) and a hastily conjured spiritual hammer from Vartan. Ultimately though, the tide of the battle is turned by the paladin inadvertently using the Hand of Vaprak to blast a hole in the gnoll leader.

Its Hammer Time!

Vartan vows to help Agrivar in his quest since Agrivar saved his life, although Vartan somehow still manages to be haughty about it.

The issues ends with the crew of the Realms Master finding the beach where Agrivar surfaced with the Hand of Vaprak.  Captain Omen fears that whoever has the hand will fall under its influence as he did.

It is then revealed that an Ogre Mage and his doppelganger minion are scrying on the events with great interest.

Dun Dun DUN!!!  Expect more installments to come.


  1. I felt the story did a good job of introducing all of the primary characters while keeping the plot moving.
  2. I really liked the little details that set this comic book in the Forgotten Realms. The biggest of them was having Vartan Hai Sylar actually appear like a Gold Elf as described in the Forgotten Realms handbook. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons comic ostensibly occurs in the Forgotten Realms as well, but the elves there just resembled “generic fantasy elves”.
  3. Speaking of Vartan, I initially disliked him but by the end this series he was my favorite character. I probably ended up playing half-a-dozen sarcastic, haughty elves because of him. Well, him and Legolas.
  4. Rags Morales draws the coolest rendition of a spiritual hammer I have ever seen. I give him extra points for the use of Kirby Dots.  In general, I was impressed by his character design as well.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dragon & Dungeon Magazines on PDF: The worst of both worlds?

I understood it when Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) first announced that Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine would be published in-house as PDF only magazines.  The high-cost of printing media like newspapers, magazines, and comic books, combined with declining readership, have been devastating to companies in the publishing business, Many of these companies have had to file bankruptcy, increase prices dramatically, or (like PC Magazine or WOTC) move a formerly print product to an online only distribution model.

Moving Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine to PDF also made sense as part of the larger digital initiative. To sell subscriptions to Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI), they needed content. Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine have strong brand recognition in the industry, so it made sense to position these assets as the primary content generators for DDI.

As always, the problem is in the implementation. WOTC has managed to lose the benefits of printing physical copies of their magazines without fully leveraging the advantages of an online distribution model.

I have always felt the advantages of paper magazines were two-fold. The first is a sense of nostalgia. Many of us have fond memories associated with Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine over the years. A more tangible benefit is that they encourage casual reading and rereading.  Greywulf, a fellow RPG Blogger, recently tweeted following about the loss of physical copies of Dragon and Dungeon:

I have a couple of hundred copies of Dungeon and Dragon mags dating back decades. PDFs just aren't the same. ::sigh::

When was the last time you randomly pulled out a twenty year old PDF and took it to the bathroom with you? No, thought not.

Similiarly, Bob posted the following to the comment section of my blog:

.... Still pissed that I can't get physical copies of Dragon and Dungeon at Waldenbooks.... Kobold doesn't come out enough.

(As an aside, does Waldenbooks even still exist?  I thought it was bought by Borders.)

Regardless, I have to admit that I also miss the tangible product.  However, I probably use the PDFs more because of their immediate accessibility.  If a player of mine wants to use a power out of Dragon 374, I can pull it up instantly on my laptop.

However, the scenario above points to one of the areas where I feel WOTC has dropped the ball in their online distribution model. They lack of ability to perform searches on this content.

Think about it.  Let’s say you wanted to create a kobold lair. Imagine if you could logon to DDI, type in kobold, and pull up all of the Dragon Magazine articles about kobolds.  It would not only assist in the prep work, it would make it much more likely that those articles would be used!

On the other hand, PDFs bring several nice features to the table, like portability and offline access.  The fact that you still have the PDFs even if you are no longer a subscriber to DDI is also nice.  So I am not sure I would want to eliminate PDFs from the picture entirely.

So what would be my perfect world?  Well, I would continue to publish the articles to the website throughout the month, just like they do now.  These articles would be in a searchable database with links directly to them.  At the end of the month, these articles would be gathered up into a single PDF, just as they are now.

So what about the print lovers?  In my perfect world, these articles would be available for print on demand.  Since this is bound to be a bit pricy, maybe they could adopt a build your own model similar to Time Inc’s Mine.  I wouldn’t mind building my own “Best of Dragon” every six months!

Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world.  I wouldn’t bet on any of these features being implemented soon.  Wouldn’t it be nice if at least some of them were though?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dungeons & Dragons Online is free! Well, mostly free?

I haven’t thought about Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) for awhile. I had a brief interest in it when it was released in early 2006, but mixed reviews and the fact that I was already invested in City of Heroes made me decide to save myself $15 a month. So despite some interest, I was never really interested enough to check it out.

Offhand, I would say that party is fucked. That will probably change with the Eberron Unlimited update coming out later this summer. A number of things are packaged in this update, including raising the level limit to 20 and the introduction of a new class. Really though, all anyone is going to talk about is that it will open up the option to play for free.

Yes, that’s right, you can play for free.

Are there caveats? Of course there are. While it is true there is no fee for playing the game, there is an incentive to get Turbine Points.  Turbine Points can be used at an online store to purchase items, premium adventure packs, extra character slots, hirelings, potions, and more.  Certain benefits, like a premium adventure pack, will apply to all of your characters, while others, like items, are bound to the character who purchased them.

So how do you get these Turbine Points?  Well one way is to play.  As you play, you will earn a certain number of Turbine Points.  The other way?  Hand over the plastic.  Yep, DDO will accept credit card or PayPal in exchange for Turbine Points at the online store.  There is also a third method.  You can choose to pay a $15 a month subscription gee to become a VIP member. VIP members get access to some exclusive content as well as a stipend of Turbine Points each month.

I know people will be split on the “pay for loot” aspect. My wife is a hardcore MMORPG player, and she would consider this cheating. She prefers to earn her perquisites through online play, and would be annoyed that a newbie could buy top equipment with real world cash.

On the other hand, my friend Brian has often wished that this feature existed on City Of Heroes in the past.  He is a casual MMORPG player and sees no reason he should be locked out of content just because his work and family obligations don’t allow him the luxury of gaming 20 hours a week.

I am choosing to look at it a third way. Dungeons & Dragons Online is letting me try their product for free for as long as I want. Sure, I might not get everything that the player who spends $15 a month or dumps $100 on the online store. That doesn’t matter because I can simply try it out and see if I like it with no obligation. If I really like it, I will sign up for the VIP membership. If I want to play it casually, maybe I will just buy an occasional item from the store. Best of all, if I hate it, at least it didn’t cost me anything to find that out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Character Background for the Star Wars Saga Edition Game

This is the character background for Dr. Tam Dakkar, a Level 1 Human Noble in an upcoming Star Wars Saga Edition game.  Hope you enjoy it.


I probably shouldn’t be keeping this journal. It seems foolish for a man to keep a journal of his own treasonous acts. Grim experience has taught me to trust my instincts though, and for some reason I feel compelled to write this down.

I don’t know who my real parents are. I was an infant when I was identified as force-sensitive and claimed by the Jedi. Like most people, I can only assume that my parents were proud that their son was going to be one of the chosen. After all, it is not like they knew what was going to happen.

I was six when Anakin Skywalker came to the temple. I don’t remember much of it. I do remember the chaos and confusion. I also remember the blood. Every color of the rainbow covered the walls. An older student, a Padawan I believe, led a group of us younglings through the winding corridors of the under temple. He hoped we could find passage to the streets of Coruscant and from there find safety.

It was a good plan. Unfortunately, Master Skywalker found us. The Padawan, a mere boy who I do not even know the name of, gave his life for us. Skywalker cut him down as easily as a reaping droid harvests wheat. He turned on us then. I expected to be cut down by his glowing green blade. Instead he just waved his hand and brought down the entire ceiling on us.

By happenstance I wasn’t crushed immediately. Somehow I willed myself into a healing trance. I wish I knew how I did it. Even now I find it difficult to do. How I managed it when I was six and terrified is beyond my comprehension. Was it the touch of destiny or dumb luck? It is impossible to say.

I remained in the trance a long-time. It must have been days or even weeks later when I was finally found. A structural engineer named Mak Dakkar was sent in by the newly formed Empire to ensure the former Jedi Temple had not suffered any permanent damage during the assault. He found our bodies quite by accident when investigating the lower levels.

At first he thought we were all dead. I sensed him though and instinctively willed myself awake. The trance had kept the worst side effects of hunger and dehydration at bay. I was able to call out to him, although my voice was more of a croak. I saw him hesitate for a moment, as if he was contemplating turning around. Instead, he dug me out of the rubble.

I owe my life to Mak Dakkar, as surely as I owe my life to my birth parents. He smuggled me out of the temple and brought me to his home at great personal risk. Mak and his wife Lana took me in at a time when it would have been easy to look the other way. I have heard it said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. That day, the man and woman who would become my new parents chose to take a stand.

Not that it was easy. It soon became obvious that with the Jedi purge underway that they could not remain in the very heart of the Galactic Empire with a child who had been at the temple. Luckily, Lana had family on Alderaan, so obtaining the necessary visas to move there was not difficult.

Alderaan is a peaceful world with no weapons. As long as it submitted to the authority of the Galactic Empire it was mostly left to govern itself. It was the perfect place for my adopted family to raise me. Life quickly became normal again. I began to go to school, where I am proud to say I excelled. Although I will admit this was no doubt in part due to the rigorous training I had received at the Jedi Temple. Most importantly I stopped living in fear. Only then could I truly live again.

Living on Alderaan obviously was good for my parents as well. The deep concern that had often lined their faces back on Coruscant soon faded and were replaced by smiles. In fact, I soon found myself with surprised with a younger sister named Tilaa. Life was good, even though news of what was happening in the rest of the Galactic Empire continued to be troubling.

I continued to be quite the prodigy at my classes. I was especially adept at the life science and quickly decided I wanted to be a medical doctor. I could tell my father was a bit disappointed. He felt that droids were taking over the medical field and that there soon would be no place left for human doctors. I remained undaunted though. By the time I was eighteen, I had completed my coursework and applied for a residency on Ryloth. I was a bit surprised when I was accepted.

Leaving Alderaan was hard for me, but I am glad I did. On Ryloth, I got to see how hard it is for most people living under the thumb of the Galactic Empire, especially those who are not human. The actions of the Imperial forces stationed on Ryloth sickened me. They turned a blind-eye to the Twi'lek slave trade. They trumped up charges against the most influential clans and seized their assets. They even ignored increased involvement in the Ryl trade of the Hutts, as long as their pockets were lined with credits.

The hospitals on Ryloth were underfunded and undermanned. Much of the Ryl that the natives used for their most powerful medicines were shipped off-world. Medical droids were scarce and often reserved for the wealthy. I worked long hours for little pay, but it seemed to matter very little. I watched too many Twi'leks with treatable diseases die needlessly.

I soon began to realize regardless how much good I was doing that I was only treating a symptom. The only way to truly help the people of Ryloth was to cut out the black heart of the Galactic Empire itself.

Although Master Yoda once said “Size matters not”, I found it prudent to find like minded individuals in my quest to bring down the government. It took awhile to find a rebel cell. After all, it is not like one can advertize their desire for treason. Still, I trusted my instincts and soon found a group of Twi'leks who were as determined as I to throw off the shackles of the Galactic Empire.

I was a godsend to them. As a human, I was able to go many places they were not allowed to go. I am reasonably skilled with computers and in coaxing important information off of them. As a doctor I was able to funnel medical supplies to them when necessary. Perhaps most importantly, after nearly being caught several times, I soon found I was a better liar than I would have ever imagined.

We made substantial gains, at least on the local level. I was still restless though. If you kill the bureaucrat who is diverting precious Ryl off-planet, another bureaucrat will replace him within the week. I was assured by the cell leader that we were not working alone. He insisted that our small efforts helped the whole of the Rebel Alliance. He told me that there were big things in the works and I would soon get an opportunity to see what our small efforts allowed to be brought to fruition.

He was dead within a week. I am not sure how the Galactic Empire had found out about the rebel cell. All I know is that local news reports showed Imperial Stormtroopers raiding the cell’s primary base of operations and killing everyone there. My friends and conspirators were gone in one fell swoop.

Once again I had escaped a massacre by mere happenstance. If I had not been pulling a triple-shift at the hospital, I probably would have been there when the Stormtroopers arrived. I continued to act normally in order to allay any suspicion. Apparently luck was with me again and no evidence of my involvement with the rebel cell had been found. A last gift from my friends I guess.

The only gift I could give them was to mourn them. It is the only gift that survivors can ever give the massacred. I felt adrift and without purpose. It seemed as if something niggling in my brain, like I had forgotten something important.

Eventually, I realized it was the date. It was almost the fourteenth anniversary of the founding of the Galactic Empire. The fourteenth anniversary of the first massacre I had survived at the hands of these murderers.

I knew what I had to do. I was going to travel to Coruscant. I was going to stare into the black heart of the Galactic Empire on the anniversary of its birth. I do not know what I expect to accomplish. I only know that my every instinct tells me this is what I need to do.

As I mentioned before, I have learned to trust my instincts.

Signing off,

Dr. Tam Dakkar.