Aug 262016
 

stranger things titlesBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Dedicated to my friend Jim Pinto. Because it will embarrass him to read someone considers him a friend.

Stranger Things has been a very, very, very much talked about show in all sorts of social media. The Duffer Brothers – of whom I had never heard of until now, I must admit – created a nostalgia trip so compelling we all wanted to grow our hair again, get our shoulder pads out and dig that old Casiotone MT45 while listening to Giorgio Moroder and Jean Michelle Jarre at the same time.

Yes, it does a great job of bringing the 80s back from the memory closet and make us believe it was such a wonderful era.

And the thing is that it does that so well because it showcases everything that made the 80s great. Bold shiny simple graphics to spell titles, huge walkie talkies we used to have as children, silly clothes we felt so great in until we looked at them a few minutes later and thought “oh shit”. And D&D.

Specially D&D.

I could go into the plot, but you probably know what it is all about and I don’t need to. If you truly hadn’t heard about the series yet, I would have to tell you that a few D&D players get in the middle of rather dodgy government experiments when one of their friends disappears on their way home and a strangely androgynous girl appears out of nowhere and displays some seriously juicy super powers.

Then the adults get involved and things get complicated, after all, that is what adulthood is all about. Oh, the teenagers also get involved and things also become more complicated. Because what is more complicated than going through complications like who to choose as a boyfriend while looking for this little boy without getting in the way of the adults and dodging the government, right?

Anyway. The 8 episodes tell you all about that. And then some.

You see, the thing about this series that has hit such a massive cord with a ton and a half of my friends (but not Jim) is that the D&D theme is pervasive throughout.

The introduction to the kids take place precisely around a table while they have to decide how they survive an encounter with Demogorgon. And it is perfect!

I can’t start to describe how utterly perfect that scene is. As well as the kids truly getting into the game and enjoying it, the way it is scripted brings out some truly important aspects of Roleplaying Games that pretty much only gamers understand: The roles and the relationship between the roles and our real life personalities.

It has to be said that after this scene, the references to D&D are few and far between. The miniature of Demogorgon does appear, as well as a Heroquest board, several times during the series, but they are more tools to set references pertinent to the plot than anything else. Then again they appear when the government raids the children’s home and a box of games spearheaded by Dungeon! is in it.

And yet the D&D nostalgia is there all through the series.

For me, the absolutely fantastic character of the sheriff – who starts as the usual asshole who rather do nothing than help out – and screaming neurotic and distressed mother that is Wynona Ryder, the four kids, the hyper-eighties music… all of that would have been enough to be a great show.

Ignore that it is a big predictable and some scenes don’t even need to be there. Let’s not look at some of the chronological holes. To me none of that mattered. I was hooked anyway and I think it does more things right than wrong, so it is good enough.

For me what made this show amazing is how the whole thing reflected the impact of D&D to the lives of the children. The code of honour with apologies pacts and “friends do not lie”. The fact that the cleric in the game is the one to bring supplies when venturing out in the real world. How they suffer more when the party is divided. The same sort of lateral, and not so lateral thinking applied to their situation.

People… we were that. That is how D&D and RPGs helped shape us and we didn’t even notice.

And yet the Duffer Brothers have managed to make that a part of this series so important that without it would make no sense and feel contrived. And even people who are, or have never been, gamers appreciate it even if they don’t realise.

It is one of those master strokes that made the whole thing so cohesive and so compelling. At least for me.

And of course I might be looking at that with rose tinted glasses because, hey, it was my childhood (or teenhood, in my case) and that is how I like to remember it.

And for that alone, plus the great script, great acting and the Down Below, Stranger Things will always be a great show.

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Aug 242016
 

10_angelic_magic_tiesmsBy Endzeitgeist

10 Angelic Magic Items clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

But before we dive into the subject matter, let’s make a few basics clear – for one, while these items are intended to be used in conjunction with Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of Angels,” I’m going to try to rate it as its own autonomous supplement. Secondly, like all RiP-books detailing items in the 10-series, you actually get much more than 10 items: Quite a few items come in different versions, with the distinction being made between lesser, standard and greater versions of the item – so more content than promised by the title!

We begin this pdf with the big brother of the merciful special weapon quality, the +2-equivalent compassionate that may 3/day paralyze foes it damages – pretty nasty, but also an enchantment that helps heroes be heroes – and I love that!

The Celestial Lenses increase a celestial paragon’s pool of providence and angelic senses (or an increase of these), while non-angelic wearers get providence with 2 points in the pool – for 2K. I’m not a fan of this item due to multiple reasons: For one, the celestial paragon’s class isn’t exactly perfectly balanced. But I said I’d review this on its own – and here, one can see a central class feature as a very inexpensive class feature. I don’t particularly like this on a personal level and as a reviewer, I’m not sold on the very low price for the gaining of a class feature.

Sandals of the Celestial Step, available in 3 versions, can bae used 1/day, 3/day or 5/day, each time netting you +1 5-foot step, which can stack with the regular one – I like these ones and their pricing seems fitting – kudos here! The Bardic Empyrean is another item I’m not a fan of – +5 levels for the purpose of celestial weapon providence ability is pretty nasty – full step-increase…even before the +2 points for the pool of providence. Non-paragons gain the ability and the celestial weapon providence of a 5th level character – see my complaints on the lenses on character ability-sharing.

Bracers of Purity, available in 3 versions allow for SP or providence-powered rerolls of effects affecting the character – per se pretty cool…but the item becomes pretty OP once you have a base-class that casts via SPs…like I have…a couple of them, in fact. GMs beware, especially since the more powerful bracers allow for omni-rerolls of all effects affecting the character when activated. The gauntlets of contrition, again, available in 3 steps allows the wearer to demand a target to confess his or her sins, essentially delivering a nasty save-or-suck. On the plus-side, the included option to revert alignment-changes thus is intriguing. The Helm of Heaven’s Ire is pretty awesome – expend a point of providence to afflict a creature (or more at higher levels) with a divine curse – one of 14! From becoming barren/infertile to gaining cataracts or taking the ability to speak, the curses are nasty, but thematically concise.

The Ring of Celestial Salvation is essentially an extra life – whenever you’d be slain or banished, expend all SPs and providence to negate the attack. The lack of a minimum-requirement of SPs or the like to be consumed is nasty – the item should require one of them, at least. At 4550 Gp, it is a pretty inexpensive ring, one saved from being broken by the fact that it crumbles upon being used. While I maintain that the item should be limited regarding which classes/characters can use it and the cost they pay, I generally like the notion of the extra-life-ring…as long as the PCs can craft these. Rich PCs could otherwise pretty much cheese the hell out of this item, an option that a cool-down à la “Every character can only be saved once per year from death by such a ring.” would have easily avoided. The Tabard of Angelic paragons is brutal, increasing soulfire and AC by 5 levels, the DC of a heavenly gift by +2 or gains 2 providence + a single 1st level providence. Once again – see my comments of items above – they are pretty much mirrored here.

The pdf also provides a legacy item, i.e. a powerful magic item with a complex history, requirements and scaling abilities – this time, this would be Shawmay-Aphim, also known as Heaven’s Wrath. Crafted from the new material golden wildwood, this +1 warhammer gains the guided quality, decreasing the miss chance. The hammer also allows you to penalize the attacks of foes with natural attacks, allowing a GM to reward smart fighting – for the item e.g. also can be used to decreases the efficiency of sources of extraordinary or supernatural abilities – nice! Spell and SP-draining, dimensionally anchoring foes…that may be nice. At the highest level, the wielder may 1/day pronounce a curse that can strip a target of his magical powers. I like this general idea, but at 12th level, it feels a bit soon to me – why? Because the follow-up feels less powerful to me…and ultimately, more interesting in-game: AoE shaken may be cool, but the final ability provides a 50% HIT chance – all attacks targeting the creature have a 50% to hit, even if they would miss. This is VERY powerful…but also an actually innovative rule that has quite some potential!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are back to the level I generally assume from Rite Publishing – very good, with some minor typos! Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf has more awesome full-color artworks than a pdf of this size and price-point usually features – kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – again, kudos for going the extra mile.

Steven D. Russell, in this pdf, feels like he’s getting back to his game as a designer – at least, that’s the impression I have here – the rules-wording is once again back to his precision, while maintaining the trademark high-concept approach that made me a fan of his designs in the first place. That being said, I’m not sold on the precise balancing of several abilities, mainly because they are tied to a pdf I consider pretty OP – a fact that tarnishes this pdf’s usefulness for me as a person. At the same time, as a reviewer, I try to rate this on its own merits and the concept of the hit chance is an actually unique one I haven’t seen before – and one that can, when carefully handled, provided a whole array of interesting (but hard to balance) design opportunities. I only witness such a concept very rarely these days and, to me, it is worth A LOT. Then, there’d be the fact that this is a rather inexpensive pdf…and that, at some tables, the high power level of celestial paragons may fit. It’s due to these that I will settle on a rating of 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4 for the purpose of this platform. GMs of more gritty games should beware, though.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 082016
 

Stinky GraphicsWhy do we see so many RPGs with bad Stinky Graphics?

Graphic Design is a massive part of any visual product, in fact is totally paramount. With bad Graphic Design and stinky graphics, the product will never be good, no matter how many qualities it has.

In this impromptu podcast, Jim and I talk about this precise topic and we try to figure out why there are so many bad products out there.

This podcast was recorded at 2am in Spain and I was a bit on the tired side, so it seems I ramble a bit. But don’t worry.. it is on topic rambling and I can ramble rather well, so it won’t be too boring. I promise!

Hope you enjoy the show and let us know what you think.

You can find us in:

https://www.facebook.com/paco.jaen

www.gmsmagazine.com

https://postworldgames.com/

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Aug 032016
 

bending_machineShould Authors pander to what the gaming crowd want and produce what sells, or should they produce what they want and get stuck with poor sales?

This is a very real question and a very real situation that many RPG authors out there have to face every day. And it is not an easy decision to make.

Sometimes making creative and truly new games and games mechanics means people will look at the product and choose to spend their money on something a lot safer, a lot better known. Oftentimes people miss out on amazing games just because of that.

But the truth of the matter is that authors miss out on earnings that could keep them ticking and helping them make more money to help them make more games.

This is a conversation I have had with Jim many times in private. Now we have it in public.

Tell us what you think!

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Jul 242016
 

r0_294_7000_4948_w370_h246_fmaxFor the last few years the discussion on equality in games, both in and out of the fantasies, have been raging with arguments being made on both camps that make you wonder sometimes if we have learned anything in the last two hundred years.

Some of us do want to see more diversity in games, both in the creative environment – that is, the people who create the games – and in the created environment, inside the games themselves.

Some other people consider that inclusion of diversity and the added richness it provides a burden on their creative juices. Which is bullshit.

However there is an aspect of all this inclusion that makes people nervous because on the one hand they fee they *must* include minorities and, on the other hand, if they make a mistake in the representation, they will be scorned mercilessly by members of those minorities.

Is there a balance to be striken here? Do we truly need equality in games?

Jim Pinto and I discuss this at length.

Lots of cursing!

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Jun 292016
 

142856[1]By Endzeitgeist

This installment of Raging Swan Press’ Alternate Dungeons series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So this time around, Alexander Augunas guides us through the process of making strange Mystic Ruins an alternate dungeon-area – but what exactly does that entail? Well, first of all, we receive what amounts to incremental degrees of 5 (anti-) magic levels -from dead to wild magic to ruins that enhance certain types of magic, these modifications instantly change the dynamics of your dungeon-ruins – pretty cool! But beyond magic levels, we also receive effects that see locomotive modifications become unstable, hypnotic sounds and yes, grasping vines.

The general suggested features provided, including dizzying haze, multi-level design that allows for the scouting (and potentially skipping) between vertically aligned levels and mutagenic properties (in the form of a simple penalty, but you can always make that one more complex) -thes make for interesting and unique modification-suggestions.

So far, so good – what about sacking the place? Well, from living steel t power cmponents and alchemical and arcane reagents, we receive a bunch of cool, thematically-fitting loot suggestions, some even with nice in-game bonuses.

Dressing of the ruins is also provided for, with considerations of different sample functions and the harvesting of dressings-section features some nice scaling suggestions of the modifications provided. The pdf does include a massive table with 37 entries (plus toll twice/thrice) – and once again, the table is pretty damn glorious: What about having everything in the ruins slowly shrink? A nice coat of nasty mold or slime? Nascent magical auras? Or the fact that unattended woo immediately bursts into flames? A couple of the entries here are downright inspired and should suffice to create a ruin that has its function and history develop organically from its dressing outwards – and if this table does not suffice, just add wilderness/dungeon dressing and you’re good to go!

The next page would be devoted to suggested monsters to encounter within the ruins and while useful for novice DMs, so far in every installment of the series this chapter has tended to bore me, the selection this time around is more interesting and diverse, so kudos! Speaking of kudos – I love what follows next – from mundane collapses and hazards to magical ones and even planar thinning with chaotic surges from limbo/maelstrom, this chapter really is nice and a great cheat sheet to make exploration more memorable.

Speaking of prior issues of the series – whereas so far the adventure hooks were functional, but not particularly inspired, we may not receive less, only 2, but the two that we get actually are pretty awesome -from leaks in the planar fabric to goblinifying devices, the hooks are inspired and cool – two thumbs up!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not as flawless as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to RSP’s elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks as well as fully bookmarked. Additionally, you receive two versions, one optimized for screen-use, one optimized for the printer.

Alexander Augunas’ latest Alternate Dungeon-installment is inspired in all the right places. When I read “Mystic Ruins”, I was expecting a generic train-ride of blandness and “been there, done that”- tricks. Well, I am happy to report that even experienced DMs can find quite a bunch of cool stuff herein! Best of all, while generic enough for newbie DMs to use, this still manages to maintain the balance between generic and specific, generating its very own identity. A fun, cool little pdf that should definitely help keep boredom away. Surprisingly fun and very inexpensive, this pdf is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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