Author: admin

Review of WOTC’s HAMMERFAST: A Dwarven Outpost Adventure Site

  • Orcs and Dwarves share a city built for the dead.

That’s the hook for Hammerfast and it’s a darn good one. Hammerfast is a 32-page adventure site supplement featuring Mike Mearls as the lead designer.

First off, major kudos to WOTC for beginning to flesh out their whole “Points of Light” world. Enormous hardcovers and boxed sets are nice…but sometimes you don’t need a seven-course meal, sometimes a light lunch is plenty. Hammerfast is a delicious and satisfying overview of a town created out of conflict and originally built as a massive graveyard full of crypts, chambers, and sepulchers. The ghosts of the past make suitably spooky appearances, orcs shuffle about side-by-side with the dwarves (thanks to a special divine compact), and the maps included are top notch. All in all, this is a terrific product at its price point of $14.95 (U.S. dollars).

My favorite parts of the supplement are the maps (the town overview and the most popular tavern are on each side of a full-color poster map) and the quest links. Mearls and company demonstrate a complete heroic-tier campaign outline complete with individual quests. This is the sort of stuff that I, as a DM, absolutely crave. I also applaud a decision that WOTC has made that I’m sure will meet with derision from other camps. The interior artwork is scarce and black-and-white. I say, “good!” I’m a huge fan of evocative and beautiful color artwork but as a DM I need content…not bells and whistles. This product delivers solid, usable ideas and some corners were obviously cut on the art budget to keep costs down. Thank you WOTC!

More good stuff includes a threat to the town- a group known as “The Circle of Stone”. They represent my favorite type of “bad guys” in that they are not clichéd, “hand-wringingly“, slaughtering evil with a capital “E“. They actually see themselves as the good guys and are more like rivals to the PCs than truly evil-doers. The Circle of Stone could best be described as “dangerously misguided” and this makes them much more interesting in a long-term campaign.

My only real negative to this whole affair is a bizarre “naming” issue. Flip quickly through the supplement and you’ll see that someone on staff was positively in love with the letter “T”. The outpost of Hammerfast features a Tathik, a Toren, a Tras, a Telg, both a Tharra and a Thora, and a Thar and a Tharn. Don’t forget Trell, Therai, Terras, and Therd! Yes, keeping track of NPCs with such amazingly similar names is going to be a headache. Maybe the editor (Torah Cottrill) is to blame for the “T” party. I’m all for internal consistency, and perhaps the letter “T” is common in the dwarven language, but… please…throw us a frickin’ bone here and help the players keep their heads from spinning. Also keep in mind, the supplement features an “Old” Gaff and another NPC also named Gaff (with no indication that they are related which mighta, sorta, kinda explained things).
As I stated earlier, the name game aside, this supplement is very good and is exactly the sort of stuff I’ve been wishing WOTC would produce for years.

  • Overall rating 8.5 out of 10.

REVIEW and (Re-skin) of the Dark Sun Creature Catalog

Still on the fence about picking up the Dark Sun Creature Catalog? Let me give you the bottom line first…don’t hesitate to pick this product up.  I have been delighted with WOTC’s latest creature offerings (MM3, Monster Vault) and the Dark Sun Creature Catalog (hereafter abbreviated DSCC) may take its place at the very top as far as true value.

144 page full-color (brilliantly illustrated) hardcover for $19.95.  This is how major monster books are supposed to look.  The monsters feel extremely coherent and part of the world of Athas.  However the creatures contained therein have the ability to thrive outside of a harsh desert world.  Just the tiniest of tweaks (some requiring almost zero work other than fluff changes) and these beasties are ready to terrorize a multitude of worlds.  Need an example?Let’s dive right in to the Silt Horror.

The Silt Horror is a massive tentacled beast that bursts appendages up through the sand which constrict, rake, and sweep victims.  The tentacles are treated as separate minions in a really terrific use of the minion mechanic.  Fight going too easily for the PCs?  Just pop two more tentacles up out of the sand.  The obvious reskin is drop this badboy into the ocean and you’ve got the kraken.  How about making him slimy and green and he becomes the “Marsh Horror”.  Another example?  Glad you asked.  How about the Tembo?

The Tembo is a saber-tooth tigeresque solo apex predator.  It however has the aberrant origin and several stealth-related abilities.  Hmmmm….How about we change his origin to “shadow”.  And change his “Tainted Wounds” aura to a “Shadowy Reckoning” aura that says “While the Tembo is bloodied, creatures in the aura that take necrotic damage are pushed 1 square.”  This forces a change of tactics halfway through the battle as ranged attacks become much more effective.  Maybe even a name change?  I like “Shadow-tooth Lion”.

As far as creatures that beg to be moved to other environs…How about the Belgoi?  This eerie bell-ringing fey humanoid just asks to be put in a gothic horror setting.  The Cilops (a single-eyed centipede with psychic powers) would be right at home in a campaign world modeled after ancient Greek mythos.  Make the Obsidian Golem into a colorful precious gemstone (I like Amethyst) and drop him into a fungal cave in the feydark.

The bottom line is this….WOTC has hit a grand slam with the DSCC and it takes very little effort to move these interesting and unique monsters out of the desert and into your world!

Overall Score: 10 of 10- a flawless effort.

The Vanquishers Campaign: What to do with a sick DM.

William gets sick.  If you’re friends with him, it’s a fact of life.  He takes medication just fine, and, as far as I know it’s rare that he ever gets seriously ill, but if there’s a sniffle to be had, he’ll get it.  I think if he talks to a sick person on the phone he gets sick.  This inevitability reared its ugly head on last weeks game.  We played, but it didn’t further the story much because, let’s be honest, he was sick enough that it wouldn’t have shocked anyone if he’d cancelled altogether (not sure if anyone realizes how close I was to canceling: I felt like I couldn’t give the performance my players deserved.  As a DM with adult players, most with children, I know how valuable their time is…I feel like if I don’t hit a grand slam every time, the session has been an utter failure.)

In the story, however, with our many available gangs to battle with, we helped eliminate the current lowest gang by removing their final 4 members.  It was interesting because we got to watch JohnO (the Bard) go one on one with a rogue.  This provided a fair amount of fireworks because our team was there under the guise of “auditioning” to join the gang and JohnO’s character was the one speaking, so he was thrown to the wolves.  Take note, Bards aren’t very good at going mano-a-mano(obviously not all Bards, just his particular build, you can make any character good at anything you want- hence us making my Invoker a tank).  His greatest powers are triggered from his allies hitting or being hit and one on one combat doesn’t give too many opportunities for that… actually… none.  JohnO softened the Rogue and Ed the Barbarian finished off almost the entire rest of the group himself.  It was a bloodbath (an incredible understatement….we knew barbarians were great, we knew they dished out tons of damage, but Ed dropped one bloodied foe and two totally healthy foes in a single round.  It was jaw-dropping.)

This week coming is exciting.  We have Christmas coming up AND it’s Ed the Barbarian’s birthday on our regular game night.  I believe the “snacking” may be some of our best work (scotch eggs? anyone?).  And, since William had such a rough week last week, we’re nearly guaranteed to get some juicy elements in this week’s game.  Our current status is at Level 3 mostly, and we seem to be moving along well.  I’ll post after next game as best as possible with all the other festivities going on, and hope I’ll be able to wish you all a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa or Happy whichever Pagan holiday you happen to celebrate.  Take care everyone and enjoy (Murry Crimas! and God save the leucrottas!).


The Vanquishers Campaign: I Now Know How College Basketball Players Feel

Playing a moral compass isn’t easy.  I never really liked the concept, mostly because it just plain seemed annoying.  “Oh my, the Gods would frown upon that, don’t you think?”  There’s a certain amount of pompous mixed with a certain amount of just plain asshole involved with it- and really, I’m kinda there to help the DM tell the story, not to be his referee.  And, speaking of referees, that’s what we’re going to discuss this week.  It’s kind of easy to be the fighter, you get yourself into the situation and everyone else bails you out because you can defend yourself long enough to stay upright.  Your decisions are based on whether you think you think he can crack your armor before you kill him or your friends arrive.  With a spellcaster, it’s not so easy.  You choose your words carefully early on because one solid shot, and you’re done. (Bmo goes a lil old school here, spellslingers aren’t nearly as ‘squishy’ in 4e, and I think we’ve found a way for his invoker to be a mini-tank…more to come on that in future posts)  You aren’t normally geared up to take a huge blow, so you keep your mouth shut until you know what you’re talking about then speak to benefit the party.

The Vanquisher Campaign: And here… we… go!

This is a new series of posts written by both BMO and William (appearing in red) – gamer and DM (that’s me!) , for William C. Pfaff’s new “Vanquisher Campaign”.  I get to gloat about some of the things that I think make 4E great (less prep time for the DM more time for the FUN), brag about how much I enjoy playing under William as a DM with his somewhat unique (somewhat?) approach to running the game, and he gets to explain to everyone some of the tricks (but not all of them…for that you have to take one of my special DMing classes) that make his methods so effective.  This is a bit of an experiment, so the format may change a bit, but, for now, I,  BMO,  will write, then William will add in after the fact (thusly).

Let me begin with a very special shout-out.  The “Big Nerd” himself, the famous Shawn Henry, who IS our friend, inspired this series.  The poor guy is stuck in a larger town than we live in and yet doesn’t have a gaming group.  He was so excited about the prospect of this campaign that he pleaded with me to blog the happenings so he could live vicariously.  Not only that, today is Shawn’s birthday, so, as a gift, I think everyone should go check out his amazing art and figure out a way to buy stuff off of him at The Big Nerd.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s get to the juicy stuff.  You must be wondering, “Is this campaign bloody like William warned? -Brett from Lexington”, Yes.  With no actual defender, we bleed a lot.  Luckily, we have a Bard that seems to have just the right powers at just the right time to keep us upright (Despite the massive chunks of damage done by the strikers Johno’s Bard was easily MVP of the first session. As a DM I was truly impressed at the leap John has made from last campaign to this one in terms of both rules knowledge and willingness to ‘jump right in’. Kudos to Johno!).

The Vanquisher Campaign: The Countdown is Officially ON!

This is a new series of posts written by both BMO and William (appearing in red) – gamer and DM (that’s me!) , for William C. Pfaff’s new “Vanquisher Campaign”.  I get to gloat about some of the things that I think make 4E great (less prep time for the DM more time for the FUN), brag about how much I enjoy playing under William as a DM with his somewhat unique (somewhat?) approach to running the game, and he gets to explain to everyone some of the tricks (but not all of them…for that you have to take one of my special DMing classes) that make his methods so effective.  This is a bit of an experiment, so the format may change a bit, but, for now, I,  BMO,  will write, then William will add in after the fact (thusly).

BMO:  T-minus a bit over 48 hours (sure wish I had the finished map drawn…sigh….more ‘5 hour energy’ coming online) until we roll characters for the Vanquisher Campaign.  I’m reporting in with limited knowledge of what’s going on altogether, but I do know this, we’re going OLD SCHOOL.  I can hear the traditionalists sinking in, cracking open a Mountain Dew, and getting comfortable in their office chairs as they read that.  (Admit it, you cheered a little, I know it.)

Yes, this campaign will apparently be a nod, (a throwback even), to the days when treasures came from a table, healing came from a potion and diplomacy was served at the tip of a blood-stained sword.  Everyone is pumped!

…except me.