Entering the Shadow of the Demon Lord- an EVG review

Robert J. Schwalb’s “Shadow of the Demon Lord” has been reviewed in quite a few spots on the interwebz. This review is for those of you who may be on the fence. I’m going to give you the top five reasons that this is the sorta thing you’ll like if you like this sorta thing (my grandpa used to say that and it just stuck with me).

shadow of the dl

1) Value– Player’s Guide, GM’s Guide, Barebones world, AND Bestiary in one well-laid out and nicely illustrated bundle for five sawbucks? This is one of the major selling points…..you’re not getting MOST of a game here – you’re getting everything you need in one pop…an amazing value.

2) Simplicity– For some this may be a bug and not a feature but you only need a d6 and a d20 to play. The game uses familiar d20 mechanics combined with a boon and bane system. (Boon roll a d6 and add the result to your D20 roll, Bane subtract the d6. Multiple modifiers provide more than one? They cancel each other out on a one to one basis. Simple, elegant, and I prefer it to 5E’s advantage/disadvantage system.

3) Familiar but Different– The mechanics and FEEL of Schwalb’s game are at once familiar and intuitive but also have some new splashes that are terrific. Humans, dwarves, and….clockworks? Goblins as a PC race? Yes, please! Corruption and Madness also make their Tolkienesque and Lovecraftian appearances respectively. How about taking a fast turn versus a slow turn? Fast is basically a single action but you get to step up in initiative, Slow gives you all your options but wait your turn…again the word is “elegant”.

4) Character Creation/Advancement– Hold on…let me just try to not lose my mind here. THIS part of the game was enough to not only make me buy it, but made me question RPG game design ever since. Let me just say that if you LOVE options but hate mindless bookkeeping, this is the system right here. The short version is this- You start with a novice path at Level 1: Warrior, Rogue, Magician, and Priest are the choices. I know, I know…you’re saying, “hardly revolutionary”. But then when you get to Level 3 (which your party advances as a GROUP- again just a great shorthand to move everyone along together) you select an expert path (one of 16 – with each of the four options basically branching). However (and here’s the kicker) – you can choose whatever you want! Tired of simply mixing it up in melee as a warrior? Grab yourself some expert path Assassin and get stealthy. Other than the normal issues (dedicated spell-caster will have more power within their spell-casting realm than those who dabble). This system is totally modular and simply works. Later on grab a master path or a second expert path for increased customization. This is simply the most amazing part of the game and if you’re in a store and have a moment flip to page 53 and read from there…then march to the counter and make the purchase.

5) Monsters and Spells and the World? Oh MY!
Bestiary– You’ve got monsters, you’ve got the framework to easily construct more, and Rob provides great advice on designing encounters.
Spellbook– Spell descriptions are TERSE and I love it. The game says look you’ve cast “fly” a hundred times in your rpg career, here’s the basic parameters and make rulings on the rest.
The World– The world provides a bit of a high fantasy at 5,200 feet overview of what’s possible in world design but I think most GM’s simply make their own. But if you don’t want to? maps, places, and hooks are all here.

That’s it. I can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve been a gamemaster for 30 plus years. I’ve written and published my own work. I’ve picked the brains of the greats of the industry: Monte, E.G.G., Jolly, and Wolfgang. I can safely say Mr. Schwalb has secured his place in the pantheon with this offering…buy it today and you will be ready to grab the dice and roll with a great new system in no time at all!

Back from GenCon 2015

Gen Con was another tremendous event and the volunteers there are so underrated.  What did Lindsay and I pick up?  Glad you asked.

 

#1 Gothic Doctor from Meltdown Games is going to be the next big thing that no one has heard of yet.  In this card game,gothic dr sample you are a doctor tasked with curing Victorian era legends and patients (Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Insane Asylum patients and the like). Cards provide cures as patients stack up in the waiting room, a clock counts down the turns and action cards allow you to mess with the game and with other doctors.  It is an addictive blast and because games go so fast you’ll find yourself constantly saying “just ONE more game” until the wee hours of the morning.  I had the chance to speak with designer Doug Levandowski who has already produced a demonic expansion and is working on more (thank goodness….the gaming monster must be fed!!).

 

#2 Gruff from Studio Woe is a tactical card game where you battle as insane shepherds commanding mutated goats (if you are a gamer and you can’t get excited about that summary…I feel very, very sorry for you).  The game is VERY strategic and involves a lot of decision-making and demands that different goats be handled in different manners.  The art is incredible and the designer Brent Critchfield is imaginative and passionate about his creation.  I kickstarted his creation and I can’t wait to lock horns/tentacles/etc with other shepherds.

 

#3 WEGS Old Skool rpg system is from Gamewick Games.  The creator, Larry Wickman, birthed a free-wheeling system that will have you feeling half riverboat gambler and half Conan.  Character creation, abilities, monster design and most other game aspects are simple but not always intuitive.  It takes a bit of getting used to the system (rolling 10’s under 6’s, “come out” rolls, etc) and if you have a casino gamer background that will help immensely.  That being said -Larry brings the COOL over and over to both game design as well as his breathless writing style.  If you want a complete rpg (that is truly complete and finished) that fits in one ziploc bag this is the game for you.

 

Overall, the crowds were insane (60,000 plus unique visitors and nearly 200K through the turnstile) but shockingly polite.  The number of new things to see and do were definitely up from previous recent years and we are looking forward to making the pilgrimage to the gaming Mecca next year!

Receding to the (RPG) Campfire

I was recently running through some of my favorite rpg blogs which includes Telecanter’s Receding Rules (recedingrules.blogspot.com). Telecanter was discussing making the old classic campfire scene more meaningful. I immediately understood what he was trying to accomplish and I loved his article. In fiction, the campsite is a place for tall tales, meaty stews, and weapon polishing. In many game systems, the only thing that happens by the campsite is an encounter or two, spellcasters regain spells, and healing happens. That’s it. Whether you sleep in a beautiful elven made tree house or in the rain hunched against a crumbling tombstone, it doesn’t make much difference.

This article is a “piggyback” article to Telecanter’s terrific piece. I won’t be using any game specific references. Each item/situation I describe will provide a “small bonus (or penalty)” that will be up to individual GMs to determine. A d20- based game might give a +1 to a certain roll. A game based on percentiles might give a 5% boost. Perhaps making use of these items allows for a re-roll of the worst possible roll (a natural 1 in many game systems). What boons are given are described here qualitatively it’s up to the GM to quantify it.

Food
Everyone packs the classic “iron rations”, “elven travel bread”, or some kind of jerky. This stuff is designed to keep everyone functioning minimally. But shouldn’t there be an opportunity to make things better? If the ranger forages/hunts and comes back with a delicious boar, tart apples to stuff it with, and perfectly in season herbs to make a broth shouldn’t that matter? If the party manages to forage and find a particularly delectable food let them enjoy a “small bonus” to healing. If the party finds the perfect feast (such as described above- which in terms of rolls would be the result of a “critical success” or “perfect roll”) let them not only have the small healing bonus overnight, but perhaps the entire next morning they receive a small morale bonus to saves against fear or mind-affecting abilities (which represents their fortified mental state and overall happiness). I for one can’t wait to see the players cheering when the ranger’s player screams, “Nat 20! It’s boar tonight ladies and gents!”. The flipside of the foraging feast is days upon days of rations. I would be tempted to let the party eat rations for one week. After seven days of the same tasteless hardtack, flip the above bonus into a “small penalty” to healing. If the party suffers particularly horrid luck (the travel bread gets soggy or moldy) perhaps hit them with the above morale bonus turned into a penalty as well.

Item: Halfling Spice Set (or whatever race is the food connoisseurs in your world)
This non-magical set contains spices for improving rations, hardtack, and other “travel foods”. Each set allows a proficient chef to season 20 day’s worth of individual rations (thus a party of four could make use of this for five days) and not have to suffer the penalties associated with rations. Note: This set doesn’t allow for the bonuses successful hunting/foraging grants but it does keep the above-mentioned penalties at bay.

Drink
Water is essential for almost all races and lack of potable water is a real survival issue in all environments and of extreme importance in particularly hostile environments (poisonous and fetid swamps, deserts, etc.). What if the party happens upon the perfect water (I just had flashbacks to the 1998 movie “The Waterboy”)? Let’s say the foragers discover a fey-created, enchanted spring. There are numerous scenarios that could…ahem….spring forth. Let’s go with a table of results….

d8 roll       Result

          1. This water provides the same benefits in one-third the volume, allowing the party to fill their waterskins with water that will last three times as long.
          2. This water has healing powers (small instantaneous healing bonus).
          3. This water has slow regenerative powers (small healing bonus while sleeping overnight).
          4. This water is mentally refreshing (a spellcaster can memorize one additional spell of the lowest level he/she knows after resting).
          5. The water is a poison antidote.
          6. The water is nutritious and provides the same benefits as a good meal while also quenching thirst.
          7. The water reveals the drinker as a friend of the local fey granting him/her a small diplomatic bonus in social situations.
          8. The water reveals the drinker as a thieving enemy of the local fey giving him/her a small diplomatic penalty in social situations.

The Campfire Fuel
Telecanter discusses a hearth stone idea that is tremendous. In the same vein, I like the idea of a particular type of wood helping the party. If those with botanical knowledge harvest these special woods to burn in the fire they enjoy some varied bonuses.

Wood with its effect
Barkbane This thick-barked wood is purported to keep all dogs and wolves at bay and is found to be nauseating to lycanthropes (any lycanthrope suffers a small attack penalty while fighting near barkbane).

Bloodthorn This reddish wood has severe thorns all over it. Those who have open wounds will find they quickly close and coagulate (a small immediate healing bonus for those affected by naturally occurring battle wounds of the cut/slash sort).

Greencloak This leafy, vibrant tree has wood that burns with a very thick low-laying smoke. Anyone who burns greencloak is somewhat obscured as the green smoke helps hide them. The GM may institute a small penalty to any foe trying to spot the party’s campsite.

Wyrdwoode This white, gnarly wood burns with a pale yellow smoke. The smoke has a calming effect on all persons and animals nearby (horses won’t spook as easily, the party familiars will rest easily). The wood’s effect may reduce the duration of any sort of agitated condition or mental state (shaken, scared, etc.) or remove the effects of a spell that affects the target’s mental state.

Comfort
In most scenarios the party has a bedroll or blanket, sticks their heads on their backpacks and camps out under the stars. What about some modifiers to this basic level of comfort? Here are several things the party may seek to help them or may not be able to avoid which harms them.

A well-built lean-to/ cave or cavern/ or abandoned building- is an ideal situation.  Having such a roof over their head and protection from the elements
should be worth a small bonus to overnight healing.

Particuarly Thick Furs -The party’s hunter kills a furry creature for dinner. Sleeping on its pelt might be so luxurious as to allow one PC to enjoy no penalty for sleeping in armor ( a huge advantage to not have to don armor in the middle of a midnight ambush).

Foul locale – Some places ( a desecrated area, hanuted battlesite, or fetid swamp) will give the PCs the “heebie-jeebies” or will be so nasty as to disturb sleep. Perhaps haunting nightmares prevent the PCs from gaining the full benefits of sleep. A noxious/poisonous area may interfere with healing. And pack animals may refuse to sleep in a haunted area and will whinny and stomp all night.

Entertainment

This is your best chance to let the “hams”/story-tellers/bards shine. If someone prepares a story, song, or poem and presents it in character-as a GM- you almost have to reward this sort of role-playing.

* A worthy performance can result in the party being extra motivated the next day. Example: The player of the bard tells the tale of the downtrodden villagers who took up farm implements to take down a party of marauding orcs. With these reassuring and heroic thoughts in their mind, each PC gains a small bonus the next day on their first attack roll against orcs.

*A singer or musician might provide a song that is so enchanting that it distracts a creature that would have attacked the party during the night. Example: A giant snake slithers up to a party encamped in a jungle. The party musician plays his pungi and the snake pauses to enjoy the soothing and entrancing notes. It later retreats somewhat unsure of what made it not wish to attack the musician and his or her party. The GM can let the party find the tracks the next morning and let them know that the party’s musician prevented a snake sneak attack (perhaps even awarding a small experience point bonus equal to overcoming the snake).

In Closing

As one can see, the opportunities to make the campfire a vibrant part of a campaign are many. Take one or more of these ideas and run with it. These are now your ideas as a GM to use, modify, or discard. Post other ideas here or at Telecanter’s blog. Let us know how the campfire has started to shine brighter in your campaign world!

Fright Fest: Taking a break from gaming to enjoy some music.

FRIGHTFESTFright Fest 2013 ripped like a gale force wind through a chilly Pittsburgh, Pa on Friday October 25th.  The Altar Bar on Penn Avenue provided just enough space for 400-plus juggalos and juggalettes who crowded into the standing room-only venue to hear headliner Twiztid and a pleasingly variable array of opening acts.

The doors opened later than the advertised 6:30 pm but the crowd was shockingly patient.  The crowd poured in with the traditional “whoop, whoop” cheers and was immediately greeted with a fantastic array of gear (signed glossies, medallions, shirts, jerseys, tour exclusives).  If you had the cash and the patience (waits to fork over your cash for Twiztid gear took nearly 30 minutes at points) this place was Shangri-La for the dedicated masses.

The show was opened by Chronic Zombies (a local Pittsburgh Duo) who nearly stole the show in this reviewer’s humble opinion.  It’s obvious that they don’t quite have the ability to play off each other to the degree of Twiztid, nor the larger-than-life swag and presence of Blaze (dude positively owns the stage) but you can see that they will get there.  The Zombies (http://www.reverbnation.com/chroniczombiez) feature a shorter  curly-haired guy who has a befuddled, comedic personality and a taller, close-cropped guy who delivers his lines with a “go hard all the time” edge. [Their individual names are not listed on their reverbnation entry, thus I was forced to use descriptors].  The two are superb lyricists and the star potential is there.  Seeing these guys at this early stage of their careers definitely felt like finding a diamond in the rough.

Cheyne and Matthew Thorsen (http://cheyneandmatthewthorsen.com/) hit the stage with a “punk rap” sound that has to be heard to be understood.  If the Sex Pistols, the Dropkick Murphys, Limp Bizkit, and Twiztid had an orgy this would be the offspring.  The lead man and (hellaciously slammin’) drummer duo had the crowd in a lather of moshing and head-bobbing.  They were effusively thankful to the audience and you get the sense that these two are:  a) truly having fun on stage and b) genuinely appreciative of the applause.  Looking forward to seeing more from these two and their incredibly original sound.

Aqualeo…sigh….  Here’s the toughest part of this review.  Aqualeo (http://www.aqualeo.com/) is legit, let’s start with that.  They are a very intelligent, very thought-provoking Texas-based duo who demands more from their listeners.  They ask you to take an intellectual journey (a la Common) more so than a rhythmic one (my major fault in their stylings was a lack of diverse beats).  Aqualeo presents a precisely (some might think overly) choreographed show and lyrics that just don’t seem well-suited to a live environment.  I would buy these guys’ cd…I wouldn’t see them in person.  They ooze talent…but their skills don’t translate to a show such as Fright Fest.

R.O.C.  (original House of Krazees member) absolutely crushed the house.  This performance had the feel of both polish and ease to it.  The Detroit-based rapper (https://twitter.com/iamtheroc) rocked glowing face paint and then set the Altar Bar on fire with his crowd-pleasing rendition of “Hello” and theatrical muggings.  R.O.C. is a P.R.O. and it shows.

Before he ever hit the stage, the crowd’s chants of A-B-K, A-B-K were an attempt to summon the Native American warrior/rapper to the darkened stage.  Anybody Killa showed why he may be just now entering the pinnacle of his career.  His spiritual lyrics are sprinkled with cannabis culture and horror humor to create something as unique as his lispy-yet hard as steel-delivery.  At 40, ABK (https://www.facebook.com/pages/ABK-Anybody-Killa/121025614610565) has matured enough to deliver an incredibly satisfying stage show, but remains fresh enough to connect with the masses.  The crowd loved the warrior and his set….chanting his name long after he left the confines of The Altar Bar.

The last act before the headliners is a tough spot in the lineup.  You have to warm the crowd up, but not leave them hoping your set gets over quickly so they can devour the main course.  Blaze Ya Dead Homie proved he was the man for the job.  Blaze (http://www.thedeadmanblaze.com/) was large and in charge with a cocked Raiders cap, fresh kicks, and swinging the mic like Babe Ruth swings a bat.  Blaze was nearly relentless with perfectly executed renditions of all his hits, only pausing to give a pro wrestler-esque look to the crowd as if to say, “Can you handle more of this wicked shit?” Blaze hypnotized the crowd and left them wanting more.

A bizarrely-long delay between Blaze and the closing act of Twiztid left the crowd anxious and oddly quiet.  The nearly half-hour gap didn’t feature as many chants of “Family”, didn’t have the previous moshing shenanigans, and it seemed everyone was genuinely tense.  Each person crowded a bit closer to the stage, jockeying to see Detroit’s best….Twiztid (http://twiztid.com/news/).  Madrox and Monoxide did not disappoint.  Bursting onto the stage after the witching hour (a five-plus hour show for under $25 makes Fright Fest an unreal bargain for the faygo-loving crowd), Twiztid gave the crowd a little more old school than new…and it was the right call.  All the Twiztid standards were blasted throughout the now rollicking venue and it was obvious who the crowd came to see.  From my own viewpoint, it was incredible watching Monoxide Child work the stage with his expressions, shout-outs (at one point singling out a fan to bust some mother-mocking lyrics to…done in jest and accepted as such by the tight-knit crowd), and poses.  Jamie Madrox may be the best stage rapper alive.  He willingly defers to Monoxide taking the side of the stage in a gargoyle-like crouch and a maniacal grin and then explodes in a leaping attack of center stage when his role demands it.  The lighting, sound, and show were incredibly top-notch and this was a tour de force performance from the motor city maniacs.  Twiztid should have possibly closed with “We Don’t Die” as this song had literally everyone in the building shouting as one.  It was a surreal experience and demonstrated the unity that a Juggalo Nation crowd often displays.

The Altar Bar was a decent venue (if a bit small) and the security was unbelievably good as they walked the delicate balance between keeping things from getting out of hand without being killjoys.  Overall, minor timing issues and crowding issues aside, this was a near perfect show and it put the Underground in the hands of an appreciative Pittsburgh crowd.  Here’s hoping more fans decide to get Twiztid.

One Spot #1 The Painted Man

My man Fitz and the good folks behind Moebius are back with One Spot #1:  “The Painted Man“.  Check out Fitz’s “colorful” tavern filled with intriguing adventure ideas, cool NPCs, and featuring the art of yours truly and Jason “Banditt” Adams.  At this price, you’ll want to get the whole set! painted man final

Cloak and Dagger?

Why use a cloak when you can carry a shield?  The answer is simple…panache!  This one page pdf provides five 4E feats that you can use to capture the majestic and thrilling style of cloak and blade fighting.  Enjoy and en garde! Cloak and Blade Fighting

First Official Interview

Brian Fitzpatrick of Gameknightreviews.com is a class guy and has done the unthinkable…he’s dipped inside the mind of yours truly.  Presenting my first interview focusing on Escape Velocity Gaming here.

 

Brian thanks for your time and the great questions…a terrifically enjoyable experience!