Saturday, November 26, 2016

New Let's Play - Skyrim Special Edition

Started a new Let's Play of Skyrim Special Edition. So far so good, only three episodes in but I managed to fix a lot of technical issues after the first one. I do intend to go back and do Oblivion at some point, seeing that my Oblivion let's play crashed halfway through, but we shall see how things go. I have a feeling Skyrim's actually going to go by pretty swiftly.

Review - Volo's Guide to Monsters

New video review up for Volo's Guide to Monsters.
Get it on Amazon [Affiliate Link]:

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review - Tyranny

Hello, this is the RPG Crawler and let’s talk about Tyranny. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Paradox Interactive, it was released on November 10, 2016, and is currently available on steam and The list price will vary depending on edition, currently ranging from $44.99 for the Commander edition through $79.99 for the overlord edition, with each edition tier coming with additional goodies.

Now this review will cover my first impressions of the game and examine the technical details rather than the storyline as a whole, as after some hours I realized I really really wanted to do a proper let’s play of this at some point. However, I did play through for over five hours, longer than a certain other review I did on another game I wanted to play, long enough to see what I believe is most of the core systems of the game, and certainly enough to convince me whether or not it was a good buy. Hopefully this will be enough to help you make your own decision as well.

So before I go into what Tyranny is, we need to go over what Tyranny is not. Tyranny is not Pillars of Eternity 2. It does not take place in the same world, it has different lore and there are differences in the underlying system even though it uses a very similar engine. Tyranny is not for people who can’t handle at least a little moral ambiguity in their stories.

What Tyranny is, is an isometric view, party-based role-playing game in the style of the infinity engine classics in the same mold as Pillars of Eternity, another game developed by Obsidian. In fact the engine it uses, while built on Unity, is derived from the one used for Pillars of Eternity, and many of the mechanics cross over. This similarity will invite many comparisons between the two games, but I don’t believe it is to either game’s detriment.

The world of Tyranny is a unique fantasy world, steeped in magic and history. Unlike many such games, the great evil has already conquered the world, in the form of the overlord Kyros. The player is a Fatebinder in service to one of his Archons, each Archon an individual of immense magical power and ability. Fatebinders serve as judge, jury, and executioner, traveling with the armies of Kyros and exacting their particular brand of justice.

Before you create a character, you can select from one of a few difficulty levels, all of which should be familiar to players of Pillars of Eternity, including an ironman challenge mode and an expert mode for those who don’t need help deciding what stats to where.

Character creation is similar to other in depth rpgs. All player characters in Tyranny are human, but you may select a gender and basic detailing, and then a History that tells how you joined Kyros’s army. This game features quite a number of choices that have more than just a cosmetic consequence, so even choices here will start affecting how the game plays out. After your origin, you select a primary and secondary expertise rather than classes, allowing you to effectively mix and match your starting skill levels. After a few additional cosmetic options, you can assign your attributes and skills.

Attributes are similar but not identical to Pillars of Eternity. There’s six of them, with might dealing with physical strength, Finesse with physical and mental precision, Quickness on how often a character’s cooldowns refresh, Vitality determining physical health and strength of personality, Wits determines a character’s mental acuity, and Resolve their ability to endure physical and mental challenges. Skills are also somewhat similar to those in Pillars of Eternity, with 7 Weapon skills and 5 Support skills, but in Tyranny, skill use gradually improves said skills over time.

The final step in character creation is optional, and unique to Tyranny. You can quick start and skip it, or go into a conquest mode that lets you choose how your character was involved with the conquest of the Tiers. Conquest mode presents a branching path and series of events that affect both the character’s skills and abilities, but also the starting relationships with the various factions in the game. In each section you are given a few scenarios in which you must make choices, with the various consequences of those choices then playing out. You can then decide which route you take on your path through the Tiers, though it’s impossible to select every path, making it a rather balanced way to set things up.

Once the game proper starts, players of Pillars of Eternity should feel almost at home. Graphically, Tyranny very much resembles Obsidian’s prior offering, with most of the changes in the UI itself. The area maps have been moved from a separate screen to a window that functions as a combat log or map interchangeably, depending on context. The party window has been reworked, and I have to say that I’m not particularly fond of the new layout, but it is what it is and one can get used to it. Individual characters still have a row of usable skills and spells, with slots for quick items. Movement and targeting designation is very similar to Pillars, and there is a menu bar allowing for quick access to the various screens.

Character inventory is very much akin to Pillars and similar games, with each character having their own sub inventory in addition to what items they have equipped, up to four weapons sets depending on their talents, and a number of quick item slots that can vary depending on talents. There is also a stash that can be accessed and holds the miscellaneous things that the party picks up.

The attribute screen lets you review a character’s attributes, skills, and active effects, but also how far along each skill is toward an advancement. When a character levels up this is also where attribute points may be distributed, with each character gaining one attribute point and one talent point at each level.

Talents come in several categories, with the main character receiving a choice of six different categories: Leadership, Defense, Power, Agility, Range, and Magic, while additional party members merely get two talent categories designed for them alone. This allows some customization of the additional party members while keeping them fairly set in their overall roles. Talents can have a wide range of effects, from passive bonuses to activated abilities to unlocking certain additional elements of the character screen.

The journal is pretty robust, allowing for sorting and examination of various quests, whether completed or not, and breaking them down between primary quests and other quest types. There is a reputation window, which allows for an overview of the character’s reputations with the various factions, as well as individual NPCs. Finally, there’s a spell creation system, a spire tab that replaces the stronghold in Pillars, and a Missives tab, for when NPCs have sent you letters.

First, let’s take a look at the combat system. I think I can best describe it as a streamlined version of the Pillars combat system, retaining the same range and area effect diagrams, the same engagement system that prevents enemies from scooting around each other, the same ‘per encounter’ style abilities that can be used limited numbers of times and the same vulnerability to having attacks and spells and the like interrupted. The actual attack interruption mechanics seem to have been streamlined somewhat, as has the hit point and wound system. Rather than having endurance, then hit points, which might result in a wounded state, health is simply one bar, and when it gets low enough the character might be subject to wounds. Wounds reduce the maximum health a character can recover to, as well as impose a penalty to actions. Wounds can be recovered through certain items, through camping, through certain actions, or when a character levels up.

And on that note, the limited ‘camping supplies’ makes its return from Pillars, although this time it seems a little more generous. Basically, the mechanic puts a cap on how many times you can rest on any one expedition, since you can’t simply rest and restore without supplies on hand, and you can only carry so many at a time. There is a day and night cycle and passing time and dates, and even in the handful of hours I played there was a quest with a hard time limit, so even with a more generous camping supplies store, there can still be a harder limit at certain times.

The exploration map has icons and interaction areas similar to Pillars of Eternity, where certain areas include lootable containers, some include icons you can click on for more information, and certain icons indicate an interaction event, usually dependent on a certain skill. Finally, compass roses indicate where the party can exit to the overworld map. Like Pillars, there is a stealth and scouting mode which can allow the party to sneak up on opponents, but taking a cue from the later Pillars mechanics, there’s a certain chance to uncover hidden traps and caches even without the scouting mode active.

The overland map art is more stylized than in similar games, and areas are situated as hotspots that can be traveled to as they are discovered. Travel on the overland map takes time, and there is the chance to uncover scripted encounters while moving from area to area.

In terms of mechanics beyond the basics described, certain ones bear special mention. The reputations system is interesting, mostly because rather than simply having a single positive or negative slider, the main character can influence factions or other characters through two means each. For factions, you can gain or lose favor or wrath. Favor represents what it sounds like, what you’ve done for a faction, how you’ve furthered their goals and so forth. Wrath, on the other hand, is what you’ve done to anger them. Each of these may be influenced independently. It is possible to both irritate and favor a faction in turn. Doing so unlocks certain tiers, which can affect interactions with their members, but may also unlock special abilities at certain levels. For instance, attaining level 3 favor with the Scarlet Chorus unlocks Merciless, which gives a bonus to hit precision against targets below 35% health. Archons use a similar system to factions.

Similarly, companions can be influenced, although they use Loyalty and Fear. You can inspire a companion to accompany you through either, in keeping with the whole evil twist to the game. This can allow you to unlock abilities, similar to the factions, although these abilities tend to be combo attacks that you can use with your companions.

Another system that bears mentioning is the spell creation system. Rather than simply adding spells to a spellbook, each member of the party has a number of spell slots based on their lore and their talents. As you adventure, you’ll uncover various sigils that can be combined into different spell types. Core sigils define what sort of spell it is, be it life manipulation, fire, illusion, or the like, while Expressions determine the target, and the target can alter the way the core takes effect. Finally there are accents, which may modify aspects of the spell once it’s defined. Things such as extending range or duration are all Accents, which are optional. Once a spell is created, it can be socketed into one of the spell slots of any character that meets the requisite Lore skill, and that character can then use it in combat. I think it’s really a nice way to do spell creation, and would like to see something similar in other rpgs.

Finally we have the spire page, which lists various mysterious spires and the devices associated with each, as well as the various parts of the Tiers and whether each particular area is under an Edict. Edicts affect broad swaths of land, and are central to the game’s plot, while the Spires function, apparently, like a miniature stronghold. Each one may be upgraded through various hires that provide services.

So let’s talk about aesthetics. Graphically, as I said, it’s very similar to the Pillars of Eternity game. Although the styling is a little different on the interface and maps, the actual character models and environment art actually seem a step up from the bar set by Pillars, reminiscent of the hand drawn maps of the old infinity engine game while being properly detailed in a modern rendering engine. Now I’m no art critic, but the harsher, more ominous landscapes present in this game seem to have been well realized by the designers. Musically, the soundtrack is worth listening to, though I don’t know if any of the tracks really stand out, at least thus far. It’s at least on par with Pillars.

As for the writing and storyline? Well, as I have stated earlier, I didn’t play but through the first five or so hours, basically through the first act. What I did see was quite impressive. The storyline itself is told from the eyes of someone in service to this evil overlord, at least at first. Having played many, many evil characters in tabletop roleplaying and such, I found the treatment of the various factions and characters quite well done. Even playing the honorable sort, you are going to be hit with some very tough decisions, and the various characters genuinely feel properly fleshed out, with their very evident flaws, ambitions, and whims. Furthermore, decisions you make in the game feel like they genuinely have weight, although I’ll clearly have to play more of the game to see if this holds up. The real question here is how long the story itself holds up. I’ve seen some indications in other reviews that you can finish the game in 20 hours or less, and that the story seems to leave off unfinished. This is not something I can confirm or deny in this initial look, so it’s something that you’ll have to consider for yourself if you’re looking to purchase this. Whether you can accept a game that is quite a bit shorter than an epic like Pillars will be key.

Now, in terms of stability and performance, I didn’t personally encounter anything game breaking, but you need to take that with a grain of salt, since often games like this do tend to work just fine for me even when others have issues. I will say that it is based on an engine that has had a lot of work put into it already, so it has been tested and tried with a prior game, and that’s always a benefit.

So what we have is a solid entry into the RPG arena that is graphically pleasing, decently written, and uses an underlying RPG system that is effectively an evolution of one that proved equal to the task of another game. I’m not going to say that it is going to unseat any of the current ‘best rpgs ever’ from their place, far from it, but it does have a rather unique premise, and approaches the whole heroic saga thing from a different starting perspective than most RPGs. I very much want to do a full Let’s Play at some time in the future. Suffice to say that I’m hooked.

Now, is it worth the cost? For me, yeah, at least the Commander Edition. I’m not one to pay for the extra digital content that’s included with the other versions, things that include forum avatars, short stories, soundtracks and ringtones and other extras. If you enjoy those things, more power to you. Taken as it is, my main concern is the projected length of the game. For the price, I generally prefer games with longer playtimes. On the other hand, although supposedly short, it’s not like it’s a full price game that only lasts nine hours, and the different choices, challenges, and difficulties might make for some replay value.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Review: Low Fantasy Gaming

Hello, this is the RPG Crawler, and welcome to another oldschool game system review. This time I’m covering Low Fantasy Gaming, by Stephen Grodzicki, a system available as a free pdf from or as a softcover from lulu on demand printing for a paltry fee. The low fantasy gaming site does have links to adventures available through their $1 adventure framework patreon, so if you decide you like the system, be sure to return to their site to see if that’s of interest as well.

Now, onto the system itself. I will be using the freely available pdf for this review. The PDF is 184 pages, from cover to legal notice at the end, and fully bookmarked for easy navigation. It is done in a subdued color scheme with black and white art. Design follows a two column scheme throughout, with appropriate non-wrapping breaks for images and tables. And there are a lot of tables. The writing is closer to British English style than American English, though the distinction is never truly a problem, as it never verges far into territory where the linguistic differences are all that evident.

Indeed, the writing is quite solid and concise, with rules clearly explained without getting too pedantic, and where there is some ambiguity it is intentional, as this is supposed to be a relatively rules light system. We’ll see just how well it approaches that goal later on. An interesting bit to note is that many tables within the rules are simply guidelines or there for inspiration, and as such may have specific references that should be substituted on the fly. For instance, one of the entries on the random treasure tables is ‘Title deeds to Ironcliff Keep on the Isle of Abusi,’ which will clearly need to be altered to something more appropriate to a particular game master’s campaign. Aside from these references and inspirational entries, the core book doesn’t actually detail any settings, but rather presents a stand alone rule system.

The rules themselves use the Open Gaming License and incorporate many concepts, classes, monsters, spells and so forth that you would see in various retro clones, but this system is distinct from many of those clones. It does not use a straight d20 system. While combat uses a pretty standard d20 + bonuses vs. AC sort of set up, skill use and attribute score checks use something more akin to the old proficiency and attribute checks from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, where you roll a d20 and try to get the listed attribute score or lower, perhaps with some modifications.

Low Fantasy gaming starts with a quick explanation of what Low Fantasy Gaming is, and in this ruleset’s case, that means adaptable rules, quick and dangerous combat, the idea that magic is rare and dangerous to use, and a focus on a relatively realistic world. This is done through a limit on character levels, with twelve being the maximum, a consolidation of the classes into just five, a readjustment of the ‘standard ability scores’ we’ve come to know from these adaptations, an adjustment of the combat system itself, and the existence of exploit mechanics to allow for truly impressive combat maneuvers.

Character creation goes through the usual steps of rolling attributes, selecting a class, picking some skills, but before you roll for starting gold you’re also expected to create a short background and roll for starting bonds with the rest of the party. While party bonds have little direct non-roleplaying effect on the game, backgrounds can be used to determine whether certain activities that aren’t covered under the core group of skills benefit as if they were actual skills. You’ll also note that you do not choose an alignment. Low Fantasy Gaming does not use an alignment system.

So the first step, after choosing a name, is to roll up attribute scores. Low Fantasy Gaming uses seven core attribute scores, plus Luck, Of the core seven scores you have Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, then Intelligence, Perception, Willpower, and Charisma. The usual ‘wisdom’ having been replaced with Perception and Willpower. Using the core method, you start with an automatic 15, then roll 4d6, dropping the lowest, six times to get seven numbers, then assign them as you wish among the seven core attributes. There are a few alternate methods listed. The system uses a spread similar to 3rd edition and pathfinder for bonuses.

Characters also start with a Luck attribute, which starts at 10 + half the character’s level at the start of each adventure, then gradually decreases as their luck is tested. A luck check is done similarly to other attribute checks, where a d20 is rolled and modified for the situation, and if it is equal or lower than the luck score, it succeeds. However, succeeding on a luck check reduces the current luck score by one, although luck can be restored during a long rest or at the beginning of another adventure. The luck mechanic replaces saving throws from other d20 systems, and a luck check might be modified by a particular attribute, for instance a trap may call for a dex based luck check, which applies any modifier the character has from the second ability to their luck score for the check.

Now I’ve seen luck mechanics similar to this in other games and I have to say that I kind of like the idea, since it does imply that a hero’s luck can be stretched only so far, which is actually a bit of a common theme in some sword and sorcery fiction.

Classes follow a similar theme to 5th edition classes actually, with each one gaining a number of abilities as  they level up. However, that level range is much smaller than most modern systems, with a level cap set at 12. The available classes are Barbarian, Bard, Fighter, Magic User, and Rogue, and they generally do what you’d expect them to do if you’re familiar with any sort of fantasy rpg. You should note the complete lack of clerics and similar priest classes, which seems to have been done for a number of reasons, not least of which is that, thematically, most ‘priests’ in low fantasy settings rely less on the blessings of a divinity and more on either raw muscle like any other warrior or on dark magical pacts, which fits the Magic User. Healing spells, such as they are, have been rolled into general Magic User spells.

There is also a lack of multiclassing rules, however each class gets among their other abilities, a set of ‘Unique Features’ at 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th level which can be used either to give the particular character an ability customized for their background and development, or to implement a bit of multiclassing by borrowing from other classes. This rule is optional and can be replaced with an attribute score increase instead, but I actually kind of really like it. It’s definitely more work on the GM’s side, but it allows for a fair degree of personalization, especially within the context of these rules, without inflating the game with masses of feats which all have to be carefully balanced to prevent exploitation. At least this way, if an ability doesn’t work out, the GM will be within their rights not to allow it again.

Skills operate on a simplified list that seems derived from the fifth edition one, with each skill having an associated attribute that it relies on. A character’s class determines how many skills they get, and training in a skill grants a +1 bonus to the attribute checks based on that skill, as well as access to a reroll pool. The reroll pool is a nice touch, with a character starting with 1 reroll pool die per level at the start of an adventure. During that adventure, if they fail a skill check or a luck check, they may use one of these die to reroll it, or in the case of a roll with advantage or disadvantage, reroll one of the dice. Yes, this system uses the 5th edition advantage and disadvantage rules. They work rather well and I have no complaints about that.

Moving on to Races, although the default presumption is that almost all characters will be human, there are rules included for dwarven and elven characters, in the event that the GM is using them. Are they balanced? Mmm, kind of? They aren’t terribly overpowered, and their weaknesses are glaring enough that I would still see them being relatively rare even in a game that used them.

Equipment follows a rather similar arrangement to a lot of osr games, but rather than listing prices for every little thing, most gear is broken down into rarities, and then each rarity level is given a random gold spread. For instance, each item under the ‘common equipment’ rarity costs 1d6 gp, while rare equipment costs 5d10 + 50 gp each. Almost everything except for weapons and armor (which are a constant value each) and truly expensive items such as vehicles and buildings, are treated in a similar manner. Even the truly expensive items simply list a ‘minimum cost’ rather than a hard number. It’s kind of neat, and adds an element of unpredictability in pricing.

So I’ve discussed the basic skill and attribute use rules, and the basics of combat are very similar, with heavy inspiration from fifth edition, but one particular mechanic bears mentioning. Martial Exploits are divided into two categories, minor exploits such as disarming or dirty fighting and the like, and major exploits, such as impaling someone’s limb to a wall with a spear or crushing multiple foes together. These are really open ended, and use a variety of different checks, with basic attribute checks used for minor exploits, and luck checks after a successful attack roll used for major ones. It seems like it would make for a fair amount of variety in combat, without having to provide a minutia of minor rules for dozens of situations.

Injury is handled with a few special rules. Having half or less of your hit points results in the staggered condition, which can open a character up to different abilities, while being dead or not dead on falling to below 0 hit points is checked at the end of combat. A character is either ‘all dead’ or ‘mostly dead at the end of a combat, with ‘mostly dead’ characters likely having to roll on an injuries and setback table, which can result in long term or even permanent injury. This table is also used during special attack results from some weapons, or from exposure to some monsters’ attacks.

Characters can take a short rest or a long rest. Short rests take a few minutes, while long rests take a few days, and both are generally accomplished on longer adventures. During a short rest, a character can attempt to recover hit points, class abilities, or reroll dice. This is not automatic, and there are will checks involved to do so. Further, only three short rests can be taken each day. A long rest automatically grants the recovery of a number of different things, including total recovery of class abilities, reroll pool, one point of luck, other attribute points and hit points.

The magic system is interesting. Although the only spellcasting class is ‘Magic User’, items are built in such a way that there are ways for other classes to access spells. Which is a little odd, since the system is aiming for less magic overall, but it makes sense in a way. For one, the dangers inherent in magic use are very real, and at some point unavoidable. For another, there’s a certain literary history of warriors and rogues getting their hands on unknown devices, scrolls, and so forth, then running the risk of being overwhelmed by the dark powers they are untrained for.

All characters in this system can attempt to detect the presence of magic within 30’ in an inexact manner, just by making an intelligence or perception check to pick up on the weird way their own instincts react. But a more important aspect of magic use in this system is the Dark & Dangerous Magic chance. Every single time a spell is cast, or certain magic items are activated, the character rolls a d20, and on a 1, the spell works but with a Dark & Dangerous Magic effect. If the roll succeeds without a DDM effect, then subsequent spells increase the chance of a DDM effect by 1 each time. So it’s nearly inevitable that at some point a caster will trigger an effect, unless they don’t cast all that much. The counter resets when an effect is triggered or when an adventure is completed and a new one begins. Some spells and items don’t care about this chance, and just automatically trigger a DDM effect.

When a Dark & Dangerous Magic effect is triggered, The caster’s luck drops 1 point, and the caster has to roll on a big table with all kinds of weird and strange effects, some of which might very well have permanent impact! Some of them have good side effects, but even the good ones will mark a character as having played with forces beyond mortal control, and likely have serious roleplaying effects.

The spells themselves include a lot of simplified versions of the spells common to most osr style games, with the notable exception of things like resurrection, teleport, and falsehood detection. The spells also cap out at level 6 due to the overall character level cap of 12. There are 20 spells per level listed, with a few clerical healing type spells mixed in. Although the lack of ability to raise the dead means that character death is a real threat and a permanent thing, the existence of the remove injury spells do somewhat mitigate the ‘injury and setbacks’ that can accrue on characters over time.

The GM information section has some interesting snippets, with several optional rules including a chase system for running long distance chase scenes after combat, basic downtime suggestions, and a madness system that allows for long term effects from the stresses and horrors characters are likely to face. The level advancement systems given don’t rely so much on experience, but rather a de facto milestone system, where characters simply gain a level after each adventure, or gain one ability from a new level after each individual session. Not my favorite way of doing things, I must admit, but I guess it saves a lot of bookkeeping on the GM’s side. There are also basic rules for Morale and Reactions, in case a GM needs a little bit of randomization in what the monsters encountered do.

Monsters too follow a simplified format, similar to what one would expect of older editions. Hit dice are back to just d8s for every monster, attack bonus is based almost purely on the monster’s hit dice, though some aspects were borrowed from later editions. Some monster abilities have a recharge condition, for instance. There are various monster ‘types’ that grant abilities across all monsters of a particular type, for instance Undead or Lycanthropes, but there is also a monster type called ‘Boss Monster’, which is basically a template that can be applied to any creature to render it into a challenge for an entire party. I kind of like how it’s handled, though I’d have to see how it works in actual play.

Trap rules are mostly guidelines, with traps divided into two categories. There’s simple traps, such as your basic spring trap or trip wire, which can be detected and removed like traps might in any other game. Then there are ‘complex traps’ which are treated more like encounters and puzzles. This is another distinction I can appreciate, because there’s a hell of a lot of difference between finding and disarming a poison dart trap on a chest, and trying to deal with a rotating room with an active rolling boulder as it slowly fills with water. The latter should require some degree of teamwork and planning, more puzzle than trap, really.

The final point I want to talk about before getting into my overall thoughts on the system is the treasure section. Rather than a number of keyed treasure types, random treasure is divided into just two sections. ‘Carry Loot’ represents items that are carried on not one creature, but an entire group of creatures. It is a roll on a table that gives a wide range of relatively portable results, ranging from just a few coins to supplies, jewelry, and such.

Lair treasure is more straightforward. Each hit die level gives gradually more and more treasure, in the form of a possibility of a magic item, gold, or miscellaneous valuables. Magic items are where the game really begins to diverge from others of its sort. Though potions are largely the same as in other games, spell scrolls can actually be used by anyone, although with a significant chance of miscasting and triggering a dark and dangerous magic effect. Finally, there are the permanent items. They use an attunement rule similar to 5th edition, but other than that diverge sharply. Rather than having set magic items with set abilities, each magic item, be it weapon, armor, cloak, necklace, whatever, has a chance of discreet or obvious properties. Obvious properties are magical abilities of obvious effect. Things that cannot be ignored, like items that enlarge their user or shoot lightning. Discreet properties, the more common type, are things that aren’t immediately obvious to an observer. An item might be indestructible and confer upon its wielder some resistances, or grant them darkvision. Each magic item may have one of these abilities, regardless of the item type, and as the character levels up, the GM has the option to allow the item in question to gain more abilities. This option is designed to keep the number of items in check while still allowing for a variety of effects the character can count on. I’m not sure how well this may work, since it still ends up granting characters a variety of magical effects at the end of the day. Still, it’s an interesting concept, somewhat akin to weapons of legacy or something similar.

There are a few other rules, underwater combat, some basic city and wilderness exploration things with encounter table examples that can be worked into full tables, but these are pretty typical of other OSR games. So… what’s the takeaway of all this?

Low Fantasy Gaming, in my opinion, does what it sets out to do, and does it rather well at that. It makes for a game with a low to mid level of magic, yet doesn’t necessarily sacrifice character power. A character can still accomplish quite a lot with the abilities given to them, and feel like a real powerhouse, and I think that the risks associated with magic are just dangerous enough to limit overuse without making it a complete gamble to cast spells. I like the overall power cap as it were, with the lack of ‘flat bonus’ magic items and the hard cap at level 12. It seems that is about the range that the original versions of fantasy roleplaying games tended to start at, and for good reason.

The format is very nice and feels professional level, and the rules themselves are cohesive enough that it feels very consistent throughout. There are a few minor awkward sections in the rules, for instance there are some mentions of situational bonuses and penalties on certain actions similar to what you’d see in a 3rd edition derived game, and those might interact oddly with the concept of advantage and disadvantage, and the reroll pool itself, at least in terms of a purely mathematical perspective. Still, the system overall is easy enough in practice, and those minor quirks don’t detract overall.

So considering the system’s price tag of free, the quality of the writing and the production value of the PDF, the flexibility of the rules and the way it really does deliver on the premise of a low fantasy environment without sacrificing the fun of character advancement, I can strongly recommend taking a look at this for anyone who’s at all interested in that genre. It’s a little bit more complex than a lot of ‘rules light’ osr games might be, but it uses that slight bump up in detail to very good effect.

Honestly, I think I’d like to see some sort of expansion or secondary booklet that goes into stronghold building and mass combat, but that might be asking too much from the system. It seems like it’d work just fine without it. I'll leave it up for you to decide, links will be just below.

Get it from the site: 
Get it from Lulu:

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review - Fifth Edition Foes

A quick review of Fifth Edition Foes, a monster book for D&D 5th edition from Necromancer Games:

Hello, this is the RPG Crawler, and welcome to another product review. This time I’ll be taking a look at something that’s been on the market for a while, indeed to the point where I had to order it from the Frog God Games website: Fifth Edition Foes, from Necromancer Games. Published in 2015 by Necromancer Games, it is available in both hardback and pdf formats, and is compatible with the fifth edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game.

So for those who don’t know, Necromancer games was a company that rose during the third edition era, and published a lot of 3rd party content for the d20 systems, many of which had an old school 1st edition feel. This included a series of monster books called the Tome of Horrors, which included a fairly large number of of monsters during its four volume run, with a pathfinder translation available later. Among those monsters were many which were culled from the earliest days of dungeons and dragons, 1st edition and original, which were made available to Necromancer games through a special agreement beyond the normal OGL. I believe it’s this same agreement which allowed them to be used in variations throughout the cycle of the Tome of Horrors series, through 3rd and 3.5, and into Pathfinder. Even the monsters that were written just for Tome of Horrors had the same sort of look and feel that you’d expect monsters from an early edition product to have.

Now what does Tome of Horrors have to do with Fifth Edition Foes? Well, everything, since Fifth Edition Foes uses a number of the monsters from Tome of Horror, as well as creatures from the original first edition material, all translated to the fifth edition system. There’s over two hundred fifty creature types (some of which are subtypes of the same creature) spanning a variety of themes, from conversions of first edition classics such as the adherer, cave fisher, and vegepygmies,to creatures designed just for the tome of horrors series, like the arcanoplasm, the fear guard, and two types of ‘grue’.

So now that we know what Fifth Edition Foes is, let’s take a look at the technical details. Physically, the book is a good quality hardback, it seems a bit thicker than the official D&D monster manual. The binding is fair for moderate use. Pages are done in black and white, without a gloss finish, in a style reminiscent of older game books.

In terms of contents, there is a short foreward from Steve Winter, who was with TSR back in the classic era that some of the included monsters would’ve been from. The majority of the book is indeed the monster descriptions, with a few pages at the end devoted to lists of the monsters by type and by challenge rating, and then the legal information.

It should be noted that this book was compiled and released before the 5th edition SRD was released, therefore it operates off of the old 3rd edition one. As a result, some of the concepts like advantage and disadvantage, etc, that were included with 5th edition were not part of the earlier SRD and are referred to by alternate terminology in this book. For instance: Tactical Advantage vs. just normal ‘advantage’. It’s not a deal breaker by any means. Also of note is that the monster stat blocks are arranged more like you’d expect a pathfinder or 3rd edition monster to look like, rather than the 5th edition list methods. Again, it’s something that can be worked around, since all of the information is still there.

Since the vast majority, if not all of the creatures were released in the tome of horrors line of product, it is perhaps not as surprising as it should be that a lot of the interior art was reused. Most monsters have black and white illustrations done in a manner similar to older edition artwork from the 80s and early 90s, of varying quality. It was mostly pulled over from the tome of horrors releases, and fit into the new format.

I’m not going to go over the monsters individually, since with over two hundred fifty of them we could be here all day. As of this review, it is available on rpgnow as a pdf as well, and the preview allows access to the table of contents, so if you need a quick look to see if any of the monsters jump out at you, you can check it out there. I will say that there’s no split between normal animals and monsters, and there are a few normal animals scattered amongst the pages, just blended in with the rest of the monsters. I should also point out that I believe a few of these monsters were released in core d&d products since, though that number is relatively small. There’s a really good mix of different monster challenge ratings, with monsters available up to CR 20, but the vast majority of them in the CR1-4 range, which is appropriate for the new power layout in 5th edition. Likewise there’s a really good mix among the various monster types, with a slight edge given to the monstrosity type, and only a few giants listed.

The quality of the monsters themselves is, in my opinion, great, but your mileage may vary. They are geared toward an older edition feel, and as a result may be quite challenging for the equivalent challenge rating. There’s a good mix of interesting abilities present among them, that can make for a surprise for people used to the stuff from the core monster manual. There’s more than a few entries that’ll make older players go on a nostalgia trip once they recognize the creature in question.

From a dungeon master perspective, I think it’s well worth the price, especially the cheaper pdf version, for the sheer quantity of monsters available. Another consideration, however, is those who want to reuse monsters in their product. A large number of these monsters are ordinary ‘open game content’, albeit content from an earlier version of the license, and can be reused under the normal licensing restrictions in your products. There are, however, a number of others, taken from the earlier versions of dungeons and dragons,  that follow special rules for reuse, including a reference to the original tome of horrors license. And you’ll have to include a special entry for each of those in your legal section. I haven’t really investigated mixing monsters from this ogl content with those from the 5th edition SRD, but it should be possible.

So my final thoughts: If you’re willing to accept that the majority of these are basically updates of monsters that were already printed, and keep an eye out for alternative wording due to the use of an older SRD, then this is a great addition to the library of a DM, especially one who likes older editions and games with a retro feel.The hardcover itself may be a bit iffy to track down, but I for one have already found it well worth the investment. Maybe we’ll see a new version using the modern SRD some day, or another volume with more similar creatures.

For now, I’ll leave it at that. This has been the rpg crawler with Necromancer Games’ Fifth Edition Foes. If you like what you’ve seen, remember to leave a like, comment if you have feedback, and subscribe for more RPG Content. Until next time, take care and good bye!

You can pick it up as a pdf from RPGNow [Affiliate Link]:

Monday, October 24, 2016

RPG Crawler's Patreon Launch

So a few days ago I went ahead and started a Patreon page, for those fans who might want to directly contribute. I know it might seem a bit early, but I figured hey, why not. Now, for those who don't know what Patreon is, it's a website that allows people to pledge support for artists and content producers that they enjoy. A content producer can set the page up to accept pledges on a monthly basis, or per item produced. I have set mine up on a monthly basis, because I believe that model lines up with the content I produce best.

How it works for the patron, the one pledging support, is that you can pledge any dollar amount, and set up a payment method. Each month, that amount is automatically deducted by the website. You can discontinue your pledge at any time. Simple and efficient.

Now, the creator can set various rewards for certain levels of pledges, and I have done exactly that. Patrons who pledge $1 or more a month will get early access to certain types of videos that I produce. Specifically exempting the let's plays, the indie game friday series, and the rpg news roundup. It'd be difficult to do the latter two, since many times I record those on the day they are released. The early access will apply to other reviews, tabletops & taverns, rpg storytime, and other 'specials' that I might put together. The $1 tier also gets you access to certain patron only posts that I will put up from time to time, either sharing my thoughts and methods, talking about the future of the channel, or just offering whatever interaction I think that patrons might find interesting.

I have also put a $5 tier and a $15 tier for those who want to go the extra mile in supporting my content. at the $5 tier, you will get access to my video scripts and notes, as well as access to a monthly patron chat and any patron specific streams I may be doing at that moment. Access to my scripts and notes might interest some who want to see how projects I've put together were arrived at, or get a glimpse at some upcoming projects, or even projects I decided not to do just yet. The patron chat and streams will allow patrons of that level or higher a high degree of interaction. I might chat with them about the state of the channel, might give more personal anecdotes than I usually share with the general public, or might just kick around and play games that they want, possibly with multiplayer elements they can join in on. It all depends on the mood and the way things go.

At the $15 tier, I have allowed a limited number of slots to be effectively 'producer credits', to be credited at the end of my non-let's play videos. During a given month I'll create a pre end card credit sequence that will list up to 15 people as producers, under whatever name they might want (within reason). If said individual has a youtube channel, I can readily link to them. I have a non-credit version for anyone who might want to give this much, but do so relatively anonymously. I'm currently wracking my brains for something else to offer in that $15 tier, although I feel I might have quite a bit of time. I was thinking perhaps writing a custom adventure each month to offer them, or something similar, but I'll have to see if I have any time whatsoever with my new posting schedule goals. I am, of course, open to suggestions.

But really, whether the rewards are enticing or not, the whole Patreon experiment boils down to two questions: 1) Whether you believe that my content is worth contributing anything each month, and 2) Whether or not you're comfortable making that pledge. And at the end of the day, that's something only you, the viewer and reader can answer. The current content I produce won't be put behind a paywall or anything like that. This is just a piece of a larger puzzle, to gradually get enough to reinvest in the channel. If I can start getting a little income in, whether it be through ads, through patreon, through affiliate sales or through direct donations, I can start upgrading my equipment, afford to build sets, or even just generally devote more time to making videos and blog posts, increasing the quality (I should hope).

At any rate, I thank you for taking the time to read this. If you'd like to watch my video on the subject, I'll include it below, as well as a link to my Patreon page. Until next time, take care and good bye!

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review - Storm King's Thunder

Storm King’s Thunder Wizards of the Coast
Released: Sept 6, 2016
List Price: $49.95 Product Page [Affiliate Link]:

Hello, this is the RPG Crawler and welcome to another product review. This time I’ll be covering the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition adventure ‘Storm King’s Thunder’. Released in late August, or early September for those who ordered it from places like Amazon, it is, as of this post, the latest of Wizards of the Coast’s adventure arcs, and actually only the second one I’ve purchased and read through, so please forgive the fact that, among the WotC stuff, I only really have the Curse of Strahd campaign to compare it to. The style of these large scale adventures means that they don’t quite line up with other products outside of the WotC range. This can be a little problematic in terms of contrasting elements with other existing products, but I’m going to give it a try.

So what is Storm King’s Thunder? I mean beyond the obvious answer of ‘An Adventure’. Storm King’s Thunder is a sweeping epic involving the player characters’ attempt to stave off a war between the Giants and the smaller races. It covers vast swaths of the Savage Frontier, an area of Faerun that has been covered in many past adventures, and includes some familiar cities. Indeed, although this adventure is stand alone, having access to prior adventures set on faerun, the sword coast adventurer’s guide, and other similar products can very much help a DM flesh out some of the more open areas of this adventure’s structure.

So let’s start with the technical details. Storm King’s Thunder is a hardcover with a suggested list price of $49.95, clocking in at 256 pages. It is designed to take characters from level 1 to slightly beyond level 10, and may be entered at 1st level, 5th level, or beyond depending on where in the adventure one picks up. It has suggested access points for parties that have started in one of the other forgotten realms adventures, and who wish to cross over into this one instead. Build quality is on par with other wotc 5th edition hardcovers I’ve purchased, perhaps a little better, in terms of how it’s held up to my initial handling during the reading for this review. The pages are the typical full colour spreads of other hardcovers in the adventure series, and the art is as wonderful as we’ve come to expect from the majority of the 5th edition products, although i will admit that the cover illustration, by Tyler Jacobson, didn’t really strike me as quite as evocative of the feel of the adventure as prior 5e adventure covers have been. That could be attributed to the complexity of the adventure over all, however.

As far as the writing goes, in terms of general quality, it’s adequate. One of my criticisms of the Curse of Strahd was that the mix of old and new sections sometimes made for inconsistent writing, and some of the segments were very sub par. In Storm King’s Thunder, I have to say that after reading it, it feels more cohesive as an adventure, despite the breadth of the content and the variations between the different adventure paths. While I wouldn’t qualify it as one of the all time greats by any stretch, I was rather pleased with the story pacing, the detail, and the descriptions throughout, as well as the variety of scenarios presented.

When I initially heard about this adventure, I was worried that the premise: a war between the giants and the rest of civilization, would make for some rather repetitive play. That is not the case at all, and there are a good mix of town sieges, dungeon crawls, general hack and slash, investigations, overland travel, and even a segment of courtly intrigue in the palace of the Storm Giants. The epic scope of the adventure really does give room for a number of play types. I did notice a handful of editorial errors, including one rather dramatic omission of an associated NPC’s name in the writeup of another NPC. I honestly would have to reread through the chapter to see if the nameless NPC referred to was even included, because I didn’t catch it on my first read through. Overall, however, there’s nothing that really detracts from enjoyment or ease of running the adventure.

Mechanically, character advancement is on a milestone basis, and while that’s not generally my favorite way of doing things, I can understand why it was followed in this particular adventure. Many times, the party will be facing challenges that may not necessarily need to be resolved through direct combat, often they will be accompanied by NPCs of greater or lesser ability, and even when there isn’t the trouble of NPCs, it’s possible that the characters may be facing large numbers of what might be called ‘xp rich’ targets. All of this kind of conspires to make it difficult for standard experience tracks to keep an even keel through the adventure. Thus the milestone method will probably make for a more satisfying progression for most groups. Similarly, giants tend to be ‘treasure rich’, and there are many times in the aventure where, rather than giving out specific items, the DM is expected to either select a fair number or roll on the random treasure tables to determine magic items in a particular hoard. Many giants often carry bags, which have additional treasure, both monetary and magical, which can quickly make a thrifty adventuring party extremely rich. I for one am glad that 5th edition doesn’t have, strictly speaking, the same magic item economy of some other recent editions, but I could still see adventurers ending up very rich indeed after all is said and done in this book.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at the adventure’s general structure. Keep in mind this is just an overview, I’ll get into the specific details afterward. The adventure starts with Annam the All-Father, head of the giant gods, shattering the Ordning that keeps all the various giant types in their place, as a reaction to the events described in the Rise of Tiamat series of adventures, which makes this not necessarily a direct sequel to said series, but definitely a related chain of events. Oddly enough, a lot about the reasoning behind the shattering of the Ordning and its eventual restoration is left deliberately vague, so that no matter how the campaign turns out, it can be restored, or remain broken… however the DM wants. Supposedly Annam was inspired by the idea that the dragons had nearly brought one of their gods into the mortal realms, and by comparison the Giants looked kind of complacent, but as I said, things beyond that are rather vague, so I like to picture it as Annam basically throwing a fit and flipping the table without any care for where the pieces land. Real mature, Annam. Honestly though, I had to look up to make sure that Annam was an actual god. And yes, yes he is. I checked Monster Mythology from 2nd edition days and he’s in there, so I guess he goes way way way back.

Anyway, back to the plot. With the Ordning sundered, suddenly giants everywhere all automatically realize that the Ordning is broke, that they don’t have to do what their superiors tell them to do, but they’re given no real indication of how to make a new Ordning and claim their new place in life. So they start going about their best guesses. Some, like the Cloud Giants and such, make great plans, while others like the Hill Giants are kinda stupid, and their plans reflect that. During this all, some mysterious new giant present at the Storm King’s court causes trouble. Someone assassinates the Storm Queen Neri, it looks like the humans have done it, The Storm King Hekaton loses his temper, goes to hunt down her killers, disappears, and leaves his youngest daughter and her sisters to vie for the throne in his absence. So you’ve got trouble in the court of the most powerful giants at the same time these lesser lords are starting to go about their own plans to claim a new place, and throughout it all the humans and demihumans are just ‘in the way’ or actively being attacked. Sucks to be small, right?

So from here on, we’ll go to a very general structure, since this is the part where serious spoilers might detract from the enjoyment of the adventure. In the first chapter, characters are brought up to level 5 through a choice of routes. They start facing the aftermath of a giant attack on the village of Nightstone, and from there are left free to travel to one of three other locations: Bryn Shander of Icewind Dale fame, Goldenfields, or Triboar. This kind of choice will happen again a few times through this adventure, making the product seem larger than it really is, while providing some solid replayability if the same DM wants to run it by the same group a few times. Regardless, in each of the three locations, they are faced with giants attacking a settlement, the number and quality varying depending on type, and are given several npcs to partially control during the town siege and its immediate aftermath. If said NPCs survive, each one then gives optional quests to the party, and these quests are WIDELY scattered across the savage frontier. It’s basically a reason to stir the characters into motion and send them chasing back and forth across the entirety of the savage frontier.

And this is where the adventure goes into sandbox territory. There’s many, many side quests and locations to visit, and the characters are expected to piece together the fact that all this stuff is going down with the giants, and if they don’t have the whole story by the end of this wandering ‘filler’ time, they meet a giant adventurer named Harshnag, who as much as tells them that they need to visit a giant temple, and escorts them to it. At this point it just struck me as a ‘power leveling move’ since this giant is mostly around to help with the fact that the characters are still seriously underpowered to fight giants at this point, but are expected to fight giants. So they mostly play the support team against big enemies, while Harshnag sits back and takes a breather when he thinks the adventurers can handle it themselves. And yeah, if I sound critical of that design, it’s because it strikes me as a somewhat ill advised design. It’s like giving the party a task to save the world and ‘Oh, by the way, Drizzt Do’urden’s gonna accompany you. Hope you don’t mind! He’ll try not to killsteal too much.’ How about not having a frost giant with magic armor and weapons show up in the first place? Or if he does, maybe have him accompany them for only a very, very short stint. Oh, true, it says that he accompanies them to the temple and that’s it, but come on! They could be halfway across the savage frontier. We could be talking about weeks worth of encounters here with this frost giant on hand. And he’ll be either be an ass by dominating the combat, or an ass by NOT doing it. I mean what’s he going to do, sit back and be like ‘nah, you guys got this’. Or ‘here, let me help you, little man’. I mean either way, it’s condescending as hell.

But anyway, Harshnag can be played well and still let the characters get their day in the sun, so to speak. He helps them enter this abandoned temple to Annam where they discover that they need to fetch an item from one of the evil giant lords. And then a damn dragon attacks. And because the dragon way outlevels the group at this point, he’s supposed to have this epic set piece battle with Harshnag while the characters escape. But honestly if you have a giant as a tank, more than a few groups are going to want to stick around and try to take the dragon on. So it actually goes into a lot of detail as to just how to make the adventurers want to leave, and ends with instructions on how to basically load them up on the train to the next destination if all else fails.

And that… is honestly the crux of my main problem with the adventure. There’s so much choice throughout it all, but because of this desire to throw a giant into it that the players can interact with, you get not only some of the worst writing in the adventure, but also some of the most forced decisions in all of the pages, and what should be this cool epic feel is in serious danger of feeling like the DM is handholding the party throughout this entire section. It’s the weakest section of the book, but not unsalvageable. It does bear mentioning, though. After the characters are forcibly removed from the temple, one way or another, they are given a choice of not three but five different giant lords that they can go after. Which means that they hve to find said giant lord, travel to their lair, and then storm it. There’s several tidbits that can be gleaned thus far that can point them in the right direction, but by and large this is a continuation of the prior miniquest section, punctuated by a single rather dangerous dungeon crawl, where the party might well be facing several giants.

Fortunately by now they will have several options for traveling, beyond the basic spells that any party might get as they ascend through the middling levels, there’s the possibility that they can learn how to ride griffons, or even receive their own airship and crew. So there is some interesting content to uncover there. They only actually have to fight one of the giant lords, before coming up with this teleportation conch that takes them to the court of the Storm Giants. This is where the adventure turns into a mess of intrigue, as the party tries to convince the current storm queen to accept their help in the face of a hostile court, navigate the intrigues of the giant lords present, all while the storm queen’s sisters and the advisor plot against them. At this point there’s two ways the party can go. They can convince the storm queen to let them find her father, and then set forth on another investigation of the savage frontier, which culminates in a rescue of the storm king Hekaton from a prison ship, and Hekaton will not immediately recognize them as saviors, so it’s possible they may have to engage in some diplomacy in the middle of a pitched battle… on a boat. If they decide instead to expose the advisor’s manipulations, or after they rescue the storm king from his prison, the advisor turns out to be a dragon, and flies off to her lair, leaving the party to then track down and assault a dragon in their lair, with or without the help of some giants.

The ending fight is suitably epic, and there’s no guarantee the party will live to see the end of it. In fact, many of the fights throughout this adventure are pretty high risk, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised by that fact. It’s entirely possible to really botch things and up the difficulty immensely if the party isn’t careful. And it’s this aspect that really lends a sort of oldschool feel to quite a bit of this adventure. As much as I criticized the ‘Giant Adventurer’ section in the middle, the ending really does ramp up into the epic fights one would expect of a war with the giants, and I think that is more than enough to redeem the weak middle section. Another thing I like is the fact that entire sections of this adventure can be taken out of the adventure itself and used as stand alone modules in another campaign entirely. Each of the evil giant forts is well designed and fleshed out, and could make its own dungeon. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the old ‘G’ series of adventures from AD&D 1st edition without being a simple rehash of them, and I can appreciate that.

One other major criticism I have of this adventure, however, is in the way that it is laid out with the various choices. Because there are parallel paths in two major sections where the characters only need to complete one of them, it’s entirely possible that a party can get through the adventure and only see about half of the content in the book. Now yes, this nonlinearity does offer the feeling of choice to the players, as well as a certain degree of replayability. But it could also mean that the players reach the end, then feel like they’ve gone through an adventure only half the size as the one that’s obviously in the DM’s hands. Sure, they could run it again with a different path, or they could do as is suggested in the back and just go back to the prior giant forts and steamroller them with their new levels and gear. But by then that’s just playing mop up rather than going on to bigger and better things. Or you know, another adventure entirely. Further, while the adventure ends at around 10th, maybe a couple levels after, what are you reasonably going to do after you’ve fought so many giants and kicked a wyrm’s butt with the help of a giant army? Anything on the mortal plane is going to feel just a little bland at that point, and at this point the sheer power that’s in the party’s hands will make it a bit of a challenge for the DM to decide ‘where to go from here’.

 So there we have it. Decent writing, some pretty epic fights, marred mainly by an ‘NPC Hero Spotlight’ middle and the idea that a substantial bit of the content in the book won’t be used in any one playthrough. Is it worth purchasing? As I said, this is only the 2nd of the 5th edition adventures I’ve purchased, the first being Curse of Strahd because I was always a HUGE fan of Ravenloft. This one, I went into with no nostalgia goggles and looking at it as an entirely new product and I have to say that I, for one, was about as impressed with it as I was with the Curse of Strahd one. It certainly delivers on the epic premise, despite its flaws. But as for whether it’s worth it for your group? It’s going to depend a lot, quite frankly, on how well they can take being partially overshadowed by an NPC for at least a small part of the adventure. That’s the main part that I think will break some groups with low tolerance for such things. Everything else is pretty much gravy.