Thursday, August 20, 2015

Forgotten Realms and other D&D comics are available now as part of a Humble Bundle

Sorry for the delay in posting, but things have been crazy at work recently.  However, considering how much time on this blog I have spent recapping the old DC/TSR Forgotten Realms comic book series, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the entire series is now available as part of a Humble (Book) Bundle.

And it is not just the old Forgotten Realms series either.  The old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons series is also part of the bundle, not to mention several of the newer Dungeons & Dragons series produced by IDW.

This is a seriously good deal and at the time of this post it is still available for five days or so.  So if you have enjoyed my postings on the old comic series and want to check it out for yourself, now is the perfect time to do so.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A quick programming note and Gen Con quick hits

This weekend I had some issues with the Windows 10 upgrade to my study PC that ultimately took the better part of Saturday to resolve.  Since that is when I was planning on finishing up my Monday blog post, it will be postponed to my normal Thursday post.

In lieu of a full post, here are a few quick Gen Con news items:

Tribality  posted the demon lord write ups from the upcoming D&D Adventure League storyline Rage of Demons.

Wizards of the Coast and D&D 5e did really well at the ENnies, winning the gold in thirteen catagories.  The full list of ENnie Award winners can be found here.

Onyx Path Publishing has announced Vampire: The Masquerade 4th Edition.  I find this a bit odd as they are already publishing both twentieth anniversary versions of their classic World of Darkness material and a second edition of their new World of Darkness material.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Random Reviews: Ant-Man

The first thing any good burgler does is show his face to the people he is burgling.

My feelings about the Ant-Man movie are complicated.  I was really excited about Ant-Man when it was first announced that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) was going to be directing it.   Needless to say I was disappointed when he left due to creative differences with Marvel Studios.  So for me Ant-Man will always have to compete with the pure Edgar Wright version of the movie that only exists in my head, and like anytime when reality has to compete with fantasy it is tough for reality to compete.

That said, Ant-Man is a fun movie.  Marvel Studios seems to have making superhero movies down to a science now, even when translating their lesser known properties to the screen.  Also, with the sheer number of movies Marvel Studios has produced in recent years they have smartly started to play with the genre a bit.  The Captain America: The First Avenger was naturally a superhero film mixed with a period piece, but the Captain America: The Winter Soldier was also a mix, this time of superhero film and a spy thriller.  Ant-Man is a superhero film mixed with a heist movie.

Like any heist movie, Ant-Man establishes what needs to be stolen, then establishes all the reasons why it is impossible to steal the item.  It then has the ringleader establish a crew with specialized skills that can overcome the security around the item to be stolen.  Of course, the heist has complications which are only overcome by quick thinking on the part of the crewmembers during the heist.  In the end, despite these complications the heist is successful.

Of course, since it is not a pure heist movie Ant-Man also has to fit in time for a traditional superhero origin story and a big supervillain battle before the movie is over.  Like Avengers: Age of Ultron it also takes some time away from the main plot to establish ties to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe by having Ant-Man fight an Avenger to get a MacGuffin “needed” for the main heist.  Personally, I wish they had kept it closer to the traditional heist film structure and eliminated the battle at the end, merely leaving Darren Cross raging at how Hank Pym had pulled one over on him.  I am guessing my opinion is in the minority on this though.

As someone of Latino descent, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about Luis.  Played by Michael Peña, Luis is one of the first* Latino characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  While I wish he was more then a comedy sidekick, he is genuinely funny and gets the most to do of any of the secondary characters.  Welcome to the MCU Luis, hopefully we will see you in the sequel.

All and all I enjoyed Ant-Man.  It had a good mixture of action and humor.  I don’t feel it was quite as enjoyable as last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy but I would definitely recommend it to superhero movie fans.


3.5 carpenter ants out of 5 


*Maria Hill is Latina in the comics, but in the MCU she is played by a white actress (Cobie Smulders).  Conversely, Agent Sitwell is white in the comics, but is played by a Latino actor (Maximiliano Hernández) in the MCU.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Game Recap: Princes of the Apocalypse Session 3–The Temple of Sacred Stone

Looks Peaceful Enough

Dramatis Personae

Glidion: High Elf Wizard (Enchanter) who exaggerates stories of his past triumphs. Unwitting pawn of the Zhentarim.

Gracealyn “Darkeyes” Droverson: Tethyarian Human Noble Fighter (Champion) who seeks to restore her lost family fortunes.  Member of the Lords Alliance.

Milo Miller: Lightfoot Halfling Cleric of Pelor (Life Domain). Seeks to spread worship of his god to Faerun.  Watcher of the Harpers.

Salazar Tomoki: Shou Human Monk (Way of the Open Hand).  Hermit who walks Faerun seeking enlightenment like Caine from Kung Fu.

Wrenna: Forest Gnome Rogue (Thief).  Little is known of Wrenna’s past other then that she has been on the wrong side of the law from a young age.


Having defeated the gargoyles and deciding that their suspicions about the monastery being a haven for evil were correct, the party decided to throw caution to the wind.  Well, not entirely to the wind as Wrenna snuck a peak into the central temple area prior to the group kicking open the doors.  Wrenna reported that there were a priest and two guards inside gathered around an altar at the far end, with four large columns of natural stone dominating the room and a large set of stairs heading down in the center.

The party seized the initiative and attacked.  Glidion lead the attack with a fireball to “soften them up”, followed quickly by the a fleet-footed and stealthy Salazar armed with shurikens.  Wrenna used her bow to great effect while Darkeyes was less effective with her javelin as she tried to close the gap.  Milo used a guiding bolt of magic to both attack and assist his comrades.  Glidion was able to take down the weakened priest and guards using magic to put them to sleep.

Tying the three up, they proceeded to wake the priest and interrogate him.  The priest, a man named Qarbo, was quite talkative if openly contemptuous of his captors.  He told the group that no matter what they did, they could not stop the rise of the Cult of the Black Earth.  When asked if the Cult of Black Earth was behind the attack on the party by monks wearing wingwear, he spat and said those “vulture riding fools from the Cult of Howling Hatred” were weak and would be “the first to fall when the Black Earth ascended”.  When asked what was below, Qarbo told the party to “go down and find out, but do not be surprised if the Black Earth devours you.” Having enough of his attitude, Darkeyes literally picked him up by the ankles and shook him, and was gratified when a pair of keys on a chain around his neck fell to the ground.

Meanwhile the group discovered a bronze lever close to the altar.  Wrenna could not determine its purpose, but Glidion had a hypotheses it might have to do with the stairs.  Deciding to test this, the party placed the three tied up cultists on the edge of the stairs.  Qarbo was asked if he had anything to say before the lever was pulled.  While he looked nervous, he did not give the party any more information.  The lever was pulled, the stairs collapsed, and the three cultists slid into the darkness below.  More mechanical noises were heard in the distance, followed by screams, followed by a clacking, scrabbling noise as the umber hulk below tried to make it up the ramp.  The party decided it was best to explore elsewhere.

Leaving out the small doors to the west, the party entered a hallway with Wrenna in the lead.  Her sensitive gnomish nose detected the smell of baking bread.  Making their way through the empty dining area, the group entered the kitchen where four monks in dun colored robes were preparing food.  Seeing the party they hastily donned gargoyle masks and attacked.  The monks proved no match for the party however, and once they were vanquished the party use the opportunity to restock their provisions.  The deceased monks were also liberated of their robes and masks.

Heading back out the way they came and travelling south, Wrenna listened at a door and heard some people speaking in what she thought was a dialect of dwarvish.  Darkeyes decided to have a little fun, donned a gargoyle mask, put a (poorly fitting) robe over her armor, and charged into the room to attack.  The dwarves, actually duergar, were taken off guard by this unorthodox attack. Only three of the six duergar in the room were awake and the group worked to push their advantage while they could.  Two of the duergar used the strange powers innate to their race to grow to gigantic proportions.  Regardless, the party took the day and defeated the evil dwarves.

Continuing their explorations, the party found another dormitory with four sleeping monks who were slaughtered before they were even fully awake.  The group then discovered the sleeping quarters of the priest and his guards they encountered earlier.  One of the keys they had liberated from the priest opened an iron coffer containing priestly vestments, gold bracelets, and several magical scrolls which were claimed by Glidion.

To be continued…

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why PDFs of Fifth Edition D&D still matter

In some ways Wizards of the Coast has made great strides in supporting electronic gaming.  They have been steadily releasing their impressive back catalog in PDF through the D&D Classics website.  The D&D Basic rules are available as a free download from the Wizards of the Coast website.  They provide officially licensed content for the Fantasy Grounds which gives them a virtual table top, a character creation tool, and even a digital distribution tool for their books.  Despite these strides though, there is currently no way to legally buy the D&D 5e Core Rule Books in a PDF format.  This is frankly unbelievable in the year 2015.

PDFs are important.  While there may be some issues with PDFs, the format has been around since 1993 (22years) at this point.  It is an open format, which means there are a plethora of PDF readers available, and they are available for any OS on the market.  PDF is the standard for RPG books, and indeed most reference style books.

No offense to the Fantasy Grounds guys, but I will be extremely impressed if it is still available in 22 years to read the content Wizards of the Coast has made available through their license.  Also, launching Fantasy Grounds just to read the core rule books is frankly overkill.  While it is a competent virtual table top, it would be crazy to invest the money in Fantasy Grounds if all you want is the books in an electronic format. 

So what is wrong with just reading the physical books that Wizards of the Coast is publishing?  It is not that there is anything wrong with them, but PDFs have advantages that make them more practical for many people.  For starters, they don’t take up as much space.  It is easy to bring your entire library of game books over to someone’s house in digital format, obviously not if they are physical books.  It is amazing how much space these books take up.  When I moved to Arizona, my gaming books filled more than twenty banker boxes, most of which are still stacked up in my garage!  For many people, storing this many books is simply not practical.

PDFs are also easily searchable, which helps both with game prep and when looking up a rule during the game.  Can’t remember how grappling works in D&D 5e?  Just type in “grappling” into the search box and you will have the answer in seconds.  Lets say you are entering your character into Roll20. While you can retype all your spells by hand, cutting and pasting them from a PDF is a real time saver.  Believe it or not, PDFs are a competitive advantage in today’s market place, and are one of the primary reasons why the Lords of Tyr switched to Pathfinder for one of our two regular games.

What about piracy?  Well, not making legal PDFs has not stopped that from happening.  Illegal copies of all the current D&D 5e books are readily available online if you want them.  The only people prevented from getting PDF versions of D&D 5e books right now are those who want to pay for them.

Look, I like the beautiful, high quality physical books Wizards of the Coast produces as much the next guy.  Even if PDF versions of the core rulebooks were available, I am sure I would have bought both the physical and PDF versions of these books, especially if Wizards of the Coast offered a physical and PDF bundle like most RPG companies do nowadays.  PDFs would also make me much more likely to try out books that I am not certain I would want to take up room on my ever more precious shelf space.

So come on Wizards of the Coast…

Listen to Fry WOTC!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Virtual Table Top Review: Roll20

Roll20The Lords of Tyr have been using virtual table tops (VTT) in our games from pretty much the creation of the category.  Early on we used kLoOge.Werks, but ended up switching to MapTools pretty quickly.   MapTools was our mainstay until recently, but as support for that tool seems to be winding down, we have been looking elsewhere for our virtual table top needs.

Roll20 was one of the first alternatives we checked out, and honestly one of the best.  So I thought it might be good to give it an thorough review for anyone out there who is thinking of using it.

OS Support

Roll20 is a web hosted Virtual Table Top.  That means that if you have a computer with a modern browser, you can use it regardless of whether you have Windows, Mac, or Linux.  This is great for a group like the Lords of Tyr where all three of the aforementioned operating systems are represented at the table. There are also apps for iOS and Android, although I haven’t really used them enough to give a decent review of them.

Game System Support

By default, Roll20 is system agnostic.  It provides you with the basics of a VTT (map, grid, tokens) and character sheets to which you can assign various attributes and abilities.  These can then be referenced in macros which you create, allowing you to simplify your game play.

This only tells half the story though because there are a large number of community created character sheet templates which can be applied to a campaign and that will do most of this work for you.  Since they are created by the community, generally the more popular the game the better the character sheet.  The character sheet templates we have used for our D&D 5e and Pathfinder games are very robust and professional looking.  However, the template we used for the Dragon Age RPG was a bit less polished (e.g., strength was misspelled, poor font choice), although in all fairness it did do the job.

Play Experience

Since Roll20 is web hosted, there is minimal setup.  The GM and the players need only create accounts on the Roll20 website and login.  Unlike traditional client/server VTT setups, there is no need to worry about opening ports on your router for NAT traversal, something that can trip up less tech savvy GMs.  However, this does mean that if the website is down, you aren’t playing.  We also would occasionally have issues where a specific player’s screen would not update and we had to have them hit refresh on the browser.

Game play is generally pretty smooth.  The GM controls what maps the players can see. Die rolls can either be made through the GUI or by a simple chat command (e.g., “/roll 1d20+5”).  The turn counter is pretty generic in order to keep it as system agnostic as possible, but works really well with the initiative based games I have played on Roll20.  It even allows you to keep track of durations by adding an item with an incrementing counter (e.g., “Flaming Sphere 1).

The Roll20 team prides itself on using a high entropy random number generator.  They even provide statistics on the website of every roll made just to show how perfectly random everything is, which is handy to show players who have had one too many fumbles in a game session.

Roll20 also has built in chat, video, and audio (using WebRTC).  You can also run Roll20 inside of a Google Hangout, but personally I found I had too much lag when I did that.

GM Preparation

The GM creates an account on the Roll20 website and starts a campaign.  Maps, tokens, and other bits of virtual set dressing can be uploaded to the site or acquired from the Roll20 Marketplace (both free and for a nominal charge).

Maps you have created are shown across the top of the screen.  These maps have three layers: a map layer, a GM layer, and a token layer.  The map layer is where you put everything that you want the players to see but not interact with.  The GM layer is where you put things that only the GM should see.  These can be things like monster tokens, pit traps, or room numbers.  When it becomes appropriate to reveal these things they can be moved to either the map layer or the token layer.  The token layer has objects that can be interacted with, although who can manipulate a token is still limited by who owns it.

There is also a dynamic lighting layer available to people who have either a supporter or mentor level subscription.  Dynamic lighting is an advanced feature which limits what the players can see of the map based on their light sources and line of sight.  This layer where you define light sources and objects that block the players line of sight like walls.

When players are logged in you can either present all players a map by moving a virtual bookmark called ‘Players’ to the appropriate map, or drag individual players to a screen if the party decides to split up.  I have found it useful to have a generic page to park the player bookmark on when I am not using a map.

Players, NPCs, and Handouts all reside on the right hand side.  Like tokens, who can see or edit these items are controlled by access control lists (ACLs).  So if I want anyone to see a handout I set ‘all players’ as being able to see, but leave able to edit blank (the GM always has access).  All of these items can be organized by folders, but are also searchable by name or by tag (you define both).  Tagging monsters can be very useful if you want to bring up a specific category of creature (e.g., undead, goblinoid, etc).

Maps, players, NPCs, and handouts can all be archived if you want to get them out of the way but don’t want to delete them.  I find I archive pretty much everything except what I think I will need in a given session, since bringing items back is just a couple of mouse clicks.


You can sign up and use Roll20 for free.  While not every feature is available at the free level, it is surprisingly usable without paying a dime.  The main limitations are you only have 100 MB of storage and no access to advanced features like dynamic lighting or tablet support.

You can upgrade to the Supporter ($4.99/month or $49.99 /year) level or Mentor($9.99/month or $99/year) level if you choose.  Supporter basically gives you 1 GB of storage, dynamic lighting, and tablet support.  Mentor gives you 2 GB of storage plus features like access to the Roll20 API and the ability to get support from the development team.

One nice feature is that if you have access to a feature, anyone joining your campaign has access to that feature.  For example, if I have access to dynamic lighting and use it in my campaign, none of my players need anything but the free level to use the feature.

There is also the Roll20 market place where you can purchase community created tokens, maps, and modules for a nominal fee.  Alternatively, if you are a content creator, you can sell your wares here.

Personally, I joined up at the Supporter level and found it more then met my needs.  My fellow GM Chad joined at the Mentor level.  None of the other players used anything but the free level of Roll20.

Customer Support

Roll20 has a wiki and a robust community supporting it.  I was able to learn how to use the interface via YouTube tutorials and how to create all the macros I needed by reading up on them in the wiki.  Users who have Mentor status are able to get support via email from the developers, but since I am only Supporter level I cannot comment on it.


Roll20 has a great community.  It also provides excellent tools for finding players or games built right into the website.  Since I have a group I play with regularly I haven’t really taken advantage of these myself, but from what I have heard the ease with which you can find players or games is one of the big selling points of Roll20.

Final Thoughts

I love Roll20.  I think a web based VTT is the way to go and it continues to get better.  The interface is also more modern feeling then pretty much any other VTT on the market.  That said, I am not currently using Roll20 for my ongoing Princes of the Apocalypse game.  Why not?  Well, that will be the topic of a future Virtual Table Top review.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A quick programming note

To get back in the habit of blogging, I have been trying to post every Tuesday and Thursday.  I am going to modify this to a Monday and Thursday schedule as it probably doesn’t make much sense to only have one day in-between posts, then four days until the next post.

This doesn’t mean that I will never post on other days, just that I am going to try to keep to a minimum of posts on these two days each week.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.