Monday, November 28, 2011

Endless Night: A Megadungeon Hook

Imagine a fantasy world in which two events happen simultaneously. One, a total solar eclipse that never ceases. Two, an earthquake and rend in the earth near the city centre, providing access and passage to the endless stair. What is the cause? What do both events portend? Will you brave the endless stair to discover the answers to these questions?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Conan The Barbarian In Space

Or am I telling you something you already know?

My favorite lines from the trailer ...

Girl: Are you going to stop the monsters now?

Riddick: I am the monster.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Paizo: Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box

It's unlikely you'd ever catch me playing Paizo's Pathfinder RPG. Roleplaying being what it is, I can't say never: social will always trump system. But as the natural heir to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, Pathfinder holds little allure for me.

It's the granularity. Like its cousin DnD 4.X, character generation and development is far too detailed, and i'm predisposed to viewing Pathfinder RPG as too much determined by character skills, scores and abilities; too little by player skill and role-playing.

So, given my obvious pre-disposition and therefore lack of interest in this game system, why bother purchasing and reviewing the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box? Two reasons. First, the shallow one: with certain exceptions, I really like the art of Pathfinder. I am a big fan of Wayne Reynolds, and the stable of other Pathfinder artists seem to maintain the same high standards. Second, I wanted to see if this Beginner Box set would moderate my pre-disposition against the Parthfinder RPG.

The Pathfinder Beginner Box retails for $35, compared to $20 for the DnD 4E Red Box starter set that was published by WOTC roughly a year ago. The Pathfinder box is 9" x 12" x 2.5" deep, and includes a one-page welcome page, a single-page advertisement for Pathfinder RPG and Pathfinder Society, a 64-page Hero's Handbook, four pre-generated characters (corresponding to the four characters pictured on the side of the Beginner Box), four blank character sheets, a 96-page Game Master's Guide, a 24" x 30" fold-out battle mat, a complete set of polyhedral dice, and 90 cardboard monster and character stand-up pawns.

Considering the breadth of contents, the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box compares very favorably to the DnD 4E Red Box Starter Set. Add to the above the following: the Pathfinder set allows you to go from levels 1-5, while the 4E set only allows you to go to level 2; Pathfinder includes another 64 pages of gaming material; Pathfinder includes stand-up, rather than flat, pawns; and the Pathfinder box is sturdier and more visually interesting.

With 64 pages of game material in The Hero's Handbook, Pathfinder goes into far more detail than Red Box regarding character creation. Paizo provides a solo pick-your-path adventure and an example of play in the Hero's Handbook.

The game mechanics suffer from the same malady as 4E: too many rules and too much dice-rolling. On the other hand, the art is amazing, and there's so much of it that it almost becomes a distraction from learning the rules. Paizo has gone all out here, though I couldn't say whether some or all of this art is recycled from other Pathfinder products.

Four pre-generated character sheets are included in the Beginner Box: Ezren, Valeros, Kyra and Merisel. The Beginner Box includes four cardboard standup pawns for those characters, but you can instead buy a set of pre-painted miniatures, which, at $12 for the complete four figure set, has higher production values and is more modestly priced than any pre-painted plastic figures heretofore produced by WOTC.

The 96-page Game Master's Guide delves into areas completely ignored by the equivalent Dungeon Master's Book found in the 4E Red Box. Most startling is significant page count devoted to gamemastering, building your own adventures, environments, magic items and random encounters. Pathfinder is noted for its prolific publishing of pre-scripted adventure path products, so devoting page count in the Game Master's Guide to building your own adventures is laudable. Like the Hero's Handbook, the Game Master's Guide is heavily illustrated: I will hazard to say that every page has some manner of illustration.

The Pathfinder battle mat is superior to the 4E Red Box effort. It feels heavier and is plasticized to stand up to more wear. And the cardboard pawns in the Pathfinder Beginner Box can be slipped into round plastic bases so they stand up. The Red Box equivalent are poker chips with pictures on them.

If you are playing DnD 3.5 or 4.X and looking for something just a little bit different, the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box may be just your ticket. This is good value for $35. Indeed, the gorgeously illustrated cardboard pawns are almost worth the price of admission alone.

For those that prefer old-school gaming, there is little here to convert you to the dark side. But if you're like me and have more money than sense, or want to support the underdog, you might consider buying the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box. While i'm unlikely to play Pathfinder, I don't regret this purchase.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Death Frost Doom Map That Never Was

Still getting my head around a different kind of megadungeon design for the endless stair; something that appeals to my naturalistic adventure design aesthetic.

This is a map of St. Paul's catacombs in Rabat, Malta. That catacomb map would have made for an inspirational reference for Death Frost Doom, a James Raggi adventure full of menace and horror but lacking in evocative cartography.

I continue to be attracted to maps and images like this one of St. Paul's catacombs. As an adventure designer, there is an honesty in using real world subterranea for the basis of one's own maps, if only for the designer's own moral fortification.

The user of the adventure may not appreciate that the environment does, and therefore can, exist. But from the creator's point of view, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that the environment makes sense.

What's most challenging for me is attempting to visualize these catacombs. There are a handful of images on the internet, but I think it would take actual exploration of an environment like St. Paul's catacombs to truly appreciate the depicted map. The next challenge would be to communicate what you have seen to the end-user of the adventure in a way that is not burdensome.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter Is On Its Way

This is the view of my culdesac this morning. Its garbage and recycling day today, so all of the bins are on the street.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fall In Calgary

The last time I did a weather post was June 5, so it's high time for another one. Here's a photo of one of the two trees in my front yard. This is why I love the Fall, all of the golds, reds, oranges and purples as the leaves change color. The snow will be flying soon, so let's enjoy Fall while it lasts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

All she knows, is she takes his hand
And prays the child will understand

At the door
They watch the men go by, in the clothes that daddy wore

Mother's pride; baby boy
His father's eyes; he's a soldier waiting for a war

Time will come

He'll hold a gun; his father's son

And as he grows, he hears the band
Takes the step from boy to man

At the shore
She waves her son goodbye, like the man she did before

Mother's pride; just a boy
In his country's eyes, He's a soldier waving at the shore

And in her heart, the time has come

To lose a son

And all the husbands, all the sons, all the lovers, gone
They make no difference, no difference in the end

Still hear the women say, your daddy died a hero
In the name of God and man

Mother's pride; crazy boy

His lifeless eyes; He's a soldier now forever more
He'll hold a gun, 'til kingdom come

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remember Remember The Fifth Of November

Good evening, London.

Allow me first to apologize for this interruption.

I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of everyday routine -- the security of the familiar -- the tranquility of repetition.

I enjoy them as much as any bloke.

But in the spirit of commemoration, thereby those important events of the past, usually associated with someone's death, or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.

There are, of course, those who do not want us to speak.

I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way.


Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power.

Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?

Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression.

And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.

How did this happen?

Who's to blame?

Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable.

But again, truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only LOOK IN A MIRROR.

I know why you did it.

I know you were afraid.

Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease.

There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.

Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

Last night I sought to end that silence.

Last night I destroyed the Old Bailey, to remind this country of what it has forgotten.

More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wished to embed the fifth of November forever in our memory.

His hope was to remind the world that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives.

So, if you've seen nothing, if the crimes of this government remain unknown to you, then I would suggest you allow the fifth of November to pass, unmarked.

But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.