Cartographer's Corner: Something Different

Posted by Labyrinthian in , ,

I haven't done much mapping as of late.  I had some time today, but rather than finish my Caliburn map I thought I'd try something different.  Below is the result. 

Ended up being an interesting map.  I had a lot of trouble with the color scheme and changed it no fewer than seven times.  Overall a cool style and one I'll probably use more in the future.

Red Dead Disapointmnet?

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

 Like many videogame fans I was eagerly anticipating Rockstar Games' new sandbox western, Red Dead Redemption.  The game was highly touted by critics and had visuals that put me in mind of my favorite Western RPG, Aces & Eights.  I have always enjoyed Rockstars' flagship tittle, Grand Theft Auto, getting plenty of playing time with GTA 4, even going back to it for a time after having finished it.

All this adds up to a mad rush on the 18th to go get the game at the store.  I was lucky enough to secure a copy and headed home right away to give the game a whirl.  At first it was great, just as advertised.  But something odd happened while playing the game, I stopped liking it.  Now that's not to say that I hated it, but even before I was done with the game I was tired of it.  I only did the main quests for the most part and the game was only about 22 hours long, but I'd say about half way through I just wished it would end.

How did it fall so fast?  I have some theories.  The first is that I played too much GTA and RDR is more of the same.  At time it can almost feel like you are playing GTA 4, and I don't mean that in a good way.  The physics engine is called on to handle a lot but is very glitchy.  Some of these are minor and some make you want to tear your hair out.  Like GTA RDR isn't a shooter, at least not a good one.  As I feel a western should be more about gunfights I really wish this aspect of the game would have been improved.  Unlike GTA the voice acting in this game is not great.  In fact, some of it is downright bad.  The characters themselves are, for the most part, no better.  Some are funny, but that's about it.  The main character himself is a terribly dull character, lacking the charm of a repentant hero that Clint Eastwood portrayed in Unforgiven.  The story is also pretty bad, and very boring.  It wouldn't be so bad if you could skip to the action, but for hours on end you will be called to ride next to whoever gave you the quest and listen to bad dialog that you can't skip.

While this piece focuses on the negative aspects of the game, those that caused me to be disappointed by it, I will say it isn't a bad game.  All the classic Western elements can be found; wagon chases, train robberies, holdups at gunpoint, shootouts, duels and high noon, and all the other great stuff you would expect in a western.  Unfortunately my expectation for this game couldn't be higher, had I tempered them perhaps my opinion would have been different.

My advice to you is twofold... First, temper you expectations.  Second, rent the game. 

Game Geeks Reviews ASIF Campaign Setting

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

Kurt Wiegel over at Game Geeks recently did a review for the A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign setting by Green Ronin.  I thought I would post it here for your viewing pleasure.

 As he mentions in the video he previously did a review of the game itself (which I missed) so for those of you who are curious here it is.

The New Daenerys Targaryen

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

As I mentioned before Tamzin Merchant is no longer a part of HBOs A Game of Thrones.  Though I thought she was well suited to the part, and even GRRM himself said she did a wonderful job in the pilot, the part of Daenerys was recast

To whom you ask?

Emilia Clarke.

To whom you ask?

Yeah... I don't know her either.  She hasn't done much, as she has only recently graduated from Drama Centre London.  Though she is a relative unknown I'm taking it on faith that she will be great in the role.  GRRM himself sees the audition tapes and said she had some great readings.  The part of Daenerys is so important that I don't think they would cast someone unless they were 100% sure they will be great in the role. 

I still kinda what happened with Merchant though...

XD&D: The Grand Experiment

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XD&D tag

Step 1: What do you want out of your game?:

Dungeons and Dragons and house rules seem to go hand in hand. I’m sure some people have house rules for Monopoly and Candyland, but by and large most people pick up the rules to these games and play them according to the rules. With Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master tends to start off with a set of rules variations and as he learns the ins and outs of the game often adds more and more house rules. This gives DMs and the group they play with a unique experience. Sometimes these house rules get so comprehensive that they rival the size of the original rules themselves.

Since I’m a RPG Orphan, and having finished running Pathfinder for the time being, I would like to attempt to create my perfect D&D game. Using 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons as my base, I’ll take all the house rules, all the other systems, any source I can think of, in a possibly foolish attempt to create the “perfect D&D game”. Since I plan to draw from many sources and it is a massive undertaking, the first step must be figuring out what I want out of my game.

Put the Role Playing back in RPG: This has got to be the most important consideration. If players are not encouraged to role play their characters, the game can easily deteriorate into XP grinding. I have to assume that if people are sitting down to play a table-top RPG rather than World of Warcraft or another MMO (notice how people don’t even bother calling them MMORPGs anymore?) that they are interested in role playing. Its hard to know from the outset how to promote role playing in the rules, but I feel there were more role playing opportunities before the detailed skill system of third edition D&D. Why role play out how your character intimidates the prisoner when you can just roll a die? This will be the hardest and most important aspect of my re-write. Every addition or subtraction from the game must be preceded by the question “Does this enhance the role playing experience?”

Low Magic & Unique Magic: Magic hasn’t felt special in my weekly games for some time. Magic can solve all problems and magic is by far the most effective means of combat. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf seldom uses magic, and when he does its not particularly game changing or impressive; Its useful. When my players find a magic item, I want it to be this amazing special event. These days its more like “Another magic dagger?! (dropkick into the pond)”. Magic is an important part of the genre, and it certainly shouldn’t take a back seat to the rest of the game mechanics, but when I see the kind of spells available in most RPG’s, I can only imagine the world they live in as very different from the traditional sword and sorcery world. Why have castles if mages can fly over the walls? Why harvest crops when clerics can create food? Why buy a lantern when you can create light at will? I want magic to be special again, and I will make every effort to change the first night someone casts a fireball into a moment of stunned silence and awe, rather than prompting the question “How many more of those can you do today?”

Dynamic Combat: So often melee combat becomes very static and stale in 3.5. Dungeons and Dragons. You charge in and then just stand there, wailing away at each other. In fencing (something I know a little about) there is a lot of back and forth, waiting for an opening and moving at just the right time. I like the abstract feel of the current combat system in 3.5, as it can go towards good role playing so I’m reluctant to go with full detailed combat, but I want combat to move around more. I want positioning to be more important without worrying about necessarily facing. I want there to be more than tumbling and five foot steps.

No One is Born a Hero: One thing I really miss from my early gaming days was the sense that my character was trying to scrape a living as an adventurer, not that he was born an epic hero on an epic quest. I think there has been a change to the genre, from Sword and Sorcery to Epic Fantasy (but I’m not that good with labels). Most DM’s these days are sending their PC’s on quests that ONLY the PC’s can accomplish. I’m sure this makes for good stories, but what happens if one of the PC’s dies? I think the best heroes are made, not born. In terms of game design, this means a character that starts with a stat above 16 should be rare, not the norm. Recently in Pathfinder there were characters at first level with a 20 or better in some stats! But it’s not only about stats. Many classes also make you epically powerful with only a couple of levels under your belt. Like magic, it takes away some of the mystique if an 18 Dex rogue who starts with sneak attack and a +15 to hide in shadows is ‘garbage’. Any changes I make will be to make the PC’s a little more like the common man, and less like a demigod.

Simple Math = Fast Game Play: If 3.x (and as I understand it 4th edition follows the trend) does anything right over past editions, it’s simplifying the math and cutting down on the tables. Now I love a good table. But once its initiative I want all my players to look at the board and their character sheet and not to be flipping through books. Perhaps in some places the math has been little too streamlined and simplified, but I want to keep things fast. For the player, I don’t want them loosing interest in combat waiting for their turn to come around, and for the DM I don’t want it to take several days to generate a 12th level wizard. This might be the hardest goal to achieve, but I think it’s important.

Core Races & Classes: Up until 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, the core races and classes for D&D came from the same source material. Sure there have been some additions and subtractions along the way, but the basic cast has remained the same. I think one reason why some people are critical of 4th Edition is that the “Core Races & Classes” were incomplete until, what, Players Handbook 3? The house rules I hope to create will not omit a base class or race unless there is an amazing reason for it. I also don’t think I’ll be including anything too exotic. These rules will be meant to be a base Dungeons and Dragons game. So no robot warriors here, just the standard fare of Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and the like.

End of Binary Condition: Funny title, simple idea. You know what the coolest thing about mageknight/heroclix is? Your character’s stats change the closer they are to getting knocked out. Up until 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, a character was exactly the same at full hit points and at 1 hit point. Same attacks, same armor class, etc. I think an average character should be impaired in some way the closer they are to getting knocked out. Its high time this kind of thing is added to the game.

Balance Shmalance: I’m not interested in creating game balance. I don’t care if the Monk sucks or if the Druid is overpowered. I am WAY more concerned about all of the above ideas than I am about game balance. After I finish my sweeping rules changes there are sure to be some winners and some loosers and I’m sure there will be a few broken combos before I’m done. I’m of the opinion that those types of issues will be discovered in play testing and shouldn’t be the focus of my rewrite. Second guessing myself all the time wondering if I’m dumping on the Wizard too much or making the Ranger too powerful will only lead to mediocrity when I’m shooting for excellence.

Hopefully these few personal axioms will keep me from wandering too far from my goals. In the end, a game that is fun for all involved is the most important thing. However, it is not the only thing. Too often rules are made or changed to ensure that the players are all having fun. Every time World of Warcraft is patched or a new sourcebook that makes everything before it obsolete is released it seems to be done in the name of making everyone happy. That is no way to create (or even edit) a game! So stick with me over the next few weeks as I go chapter by chapter in my re-write of Dungeons and Dragons. I doubt many of my choices will make everyone happy, but if you stick around for the final product you might really like the end results.

Last night my group's Pathfinder game came to an end.  The campaign started in October, was relauched in January and has run more or less steady since then.  Perhaps it was the relaunch effect, but it doesn't seem as though we've been playing Pathfinder for about seven months. 

The climactic conclusion of the campaign (or at least this part, there is still hope that we will return to it later) was the party storming the castle of an evil witch to rescue the King... Well, technically he's a general, but he is the game's King Arthur equivilent.  The game got off to a rough start with one of the players (Moox) not being able to make it, and got worse when another (Revil) had to leave.  This left just your faithful narrator and AngryBear to face off against the Big Bad, a CR 15 Green Hag Witch.  Fortunetly we had some NPC backup including a faery who was able to break the Hag's mental hold on the King.  He joined us in the fight and we put a wooping on the Witch, Evard's Black Tenticles be damned! 

I was glad to see the game (or at least this chapter) get a good end to it.  The game started off great and had a lot of really fun moments, but started to get bogged down after the Witch kidnapped the King.  We found outselves battles Derro left and right with no way of knowing we were going the wrong way.  What should have taken a few weeks instead took us months, and that sapped a lot of ethusiasm and energy from the game. 

So after months of playing Pathfinder what do I think of it?  Well first off I find it damn confusing! The rules are so close the 3.5 rules that I often find myself almost shocked when they made a rule change.  For example, they changed DR a bit, making it so that you consider your total weapon bonus in the case of a magic weapon when determining if it passes a certain DR type (this is a great change in my opinion).  For example, my weapon was a total of +4 so that passes the Cold Iron DR (which came up as we were fighting this strange Nyph creatures).  I didn't know that, nor did anyone else realize it until the fight was pretty much over.  These types of mistakes were common during the campaign, and I'm sure happen all the time to people who have a lot of experience playing 3rd edition. 

Overall the Pathfinder rules are good.  They fixed some really big problems that 3.5 had and added some more flavor to some of the classes, like the Sorcerer.  Upgrading the DR system and introducing CMB and CMD for Combat manuevers was also a welcome change.  That having been said not all the changes were for the better.  Pathfinder knocked the Ranger back down to suck-town, did nothing to address the fact that the Monk is a crap class, and left several broken spells in place.  So between 3.5 and Pathfinder you can find things that are better about each. 

But at least for now, Pathfinder is the past.  The future is Hackmaster, Advanced Hackmater (the playtest).  I'll be making what I hope to be a triumphant return to GMing... If not at least I'll have a screen to hide behind.  I'm really excited about this playtest, but nervous as well.  It's been a while since a I ran a game, and a while since I played HM so I'm concerned about getting the kinks out.  I'm plan on taking time this week to review the rules and brush up on the setting we'll be playing in, Frandor's Keep.  With a great setting and a great Rulesystem if this game fails no one will have to look far for who to blame. 

Because I wanted the players to have some time to consider their options I let them roll their stats ahead of time to mull over their options.  One player (ManOnFunTrip) is rejoining the game and wasn't there so he'll be doing all of his character creation next week.  Those who have already rolled had some mixed results.  Both Revil and the Professor did well, but AngryBear barely qualified as a PC. 

I promise to try to do better with this damn diary.  I may have epicly failed for Pathfinder, but its a new campaign and a fresh start.  Plus, ever GM wants an audience to complain to, right?   Obviously I'll be limited what I can discuss rules-wise, but the general narative will be fair game.

Frank Frazetta 1928-2010

Posted by Labyrinthian in

Frazetta was responsible for some of the most breathtaking sword and sorcery artwork ever created.  Rather than talk about him and his work further I'll let his work speak for itself.

Conan Pictures

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

Recently some photos from the new Conan movie were leaked.  Though not of the highest quality they give a little insight into what category this movie is likely to find itself in.

I call it the dumpster.

I had little hope for this movie, the budget isn't huge and their casting seemed questionable, to put it kindly.  But I couldn't help but tell myself, "Hey... It's Conan.  This movie could definitely be cool."  I mean you don't need a ton of money to make a great Conan film, right?  Conan shouldn't be some prissyed up movie with so many special effects that the actors spend most of their time in front of a green screen (I'm looking at you Episodes 1-3), it should be gritty and primal.     

But enough of what this movie should of and could have been.  Let's take a look at what it will be.

Sadly this is the best picture.  It shows a guy suspended in a cage over what looks like some type of pit.  Ritual sacrifice to some demon or god?  Sounds like Conan to me!  But shouldn't the guy be a woman and at least be scantly clad?

Men ride through woods wearing bad costumes.  One of them looks like Friar Tuck.  Sigh...

 Man with chariot coach. 

A first look at our would be Hero.  Where to begin?  Well let me start by saying that this is the guy who was cast as Khal Drogo for A Game of Thrones.  He seems well suited for that role.  This one?  Not so much. Though I must admit I'm more confused with his outfit than anything else.  What kind of armor is that?  Why does he have mail on one armor only?  Sigh....

Here is a closer shot.  Once again we see the head scratching costume.  Jason Momoa obviously bulked up for this role, but it is far from enough.

Again, what little hope I had for this movie is all but gone.  I want it to be good, I pray that my instincts are wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

Time will tell.


Posted by Labyrinthian in


A New Gaming Convention in Central CT

One of the members of my group made the pilgrimage to GaryCon this year (yes, I was very jealous) and came back with an idea to start up his own home brewed, low key convention in central Connecticut where he lives.

Wanting to help I designed a couple of Logos for him and a flier to be posted in gaming shops around the state.  We are trying to spread the word, so please feel free to print out a copy of the flier and post it at your local gaming store if you live within striking distance of CT. 

There is a Facebook group, if you are interested, but make sure you check out the official Fal-Con website.  It has all the details on the convention as well as a forum for people to discuss a variety of topics.

Ironman 2 Review

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

I really liked the first Ironman movie.  It exceeded my expectations, which admittedly were somewhat low.  Considering the greatness of the first movie there was no way my expectations would again be low so when I went to see Ironman 2 last night I expected greatness.

I got goodness instead.

The film isn't bad, but it isn't great either, unlike its predecessor.  Ironman 2 has some problems, only some of which I'll get into because I don't want this review to turn into a rant about the things I didn't like about the movie, and because I want to keep this spoiler free.

My major complaint about the movie is that it is terribly unfocused.  The first film had a central plot and kept to it the whole time, there were no more characters than one needed to tell the story and the Avengers crossover was kept to a small scene after the credits.  In contrast Ironman 2 just has too many things going on, has far more characters than it needs, and beats you over the head with SHIELD, almost as though the producers said, "Hey let's take 20 minutes of Ironman 2 to act like a commercial for the Avengers movie."  Don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to the Avengers movie, and I liked the little teaser in the first film, but this was excessive.   

Note: For those of you going to see it, Ironman 2 has a small scene after the credits so make sure you stick around. 

Another thing that kind of bothers me about this film is that the plot for the enemy is inherently the same as the first film; Tony Starks technology gets used against him.  Look I'm not asking for the Mandarin here, but if Ironman 3 has the same general premise then I'm not sure I'll be able to sit through another 2 hours.  I really hope when they make a third film that they are a little more creative with the plot and don't just go back to the same well. 

Though all I've done is complain so far, as I said above, this is a good movie.  Robert Downey Jr. is again flawless and hilarious as Tony Stark.  One of my friends actually suggested the movie be called 'Tony Stark' instead of Ironman because everything interesting that happens in the movie is Stark out of the suit.  While I'm not sure I agree with that Stark is once again a hilarious narcissist on a campaign of flawless self promotion, as he should be. The special effects again are excellent, the suits all look great, and the music was well chosen.  Overall I give the film a B/B-, a downgrade from the A/A- I gave the first film but still a solid outting. 

Five Signs of GM Burnout

Posted by Labyrinthian in ,

GMing a tough job.  The strain of running a game for months, or even years, begins to wear on people sooner or later.  When this starts to happen there are warning signs.  Here are the five most easily recognizable.

1. Lack of Enjoyment
Once you no longer look forward to the game you know that action is called for. It is a game afterall and the entire point is to have fun. If you aren't then you are burnt out. This is often times easier to spot in yourself, but if you look closely you can spot it in others as well.

2. Angry
Conversely anger is a sign easier to spot in other people. When I speak of Anger as a sign I mean anger for no apparent reason, or just generally being short tempered. A burnt out GM is often angry and just about anything can set him or her off.

3. Defensive
Simple and honest questions can be taken the wrong way, and offense can be taken where none was meant. Often people who are frustrated with the rules (see below) fall under this category as well. Being the GM can often be a lonely job and can lead to the feeling that the players are ganging up on you. If you feel this way really step back and ask yourself if you rationally think that is the case, if the facts don't support your feelings then you are probably burnt out.

4. Stressed
Dreading the upcoming game? Often put off your prep or blow it off altogether? Wish you were doing anything else but working on your game? These are signs of burnout as well. GMing is a stressful job, people are counting on you to supply them with a game regularly. It's a lot of pressure and a lot of work and can leave you feeling like you have little or no free time. Again, this is a game and is supposed to be fun. Feeling stressed or trapped is anything but.

5. Frustration
This one often pertains to either the actions of the players or to the rules system itself.  For me and my group this usually comes in the form of the latter.  We have played 3rd edition for the most part over the last few years, but the GM usually finds the rules frustrating, even hamstringing, particularly at high levels.

Burnout: A GM's Perspective
Consider me a cautionary tale because I learned the hard way about GM burnout.  In fact, I would say that I burned out about as bad as it is possible to do.  I had been running a game for over a year called Nordis.  It was story driven, with a finite ending. I had done a lot of work on it, and at first it was great. The players were having fun, and so was I.  But as the game dragged on over a year with the players more involved and more interested in side quests than the main plot of the game things started to take a turn for the worse.  What's more the players were reaching the level threshold where Save or Die situations were becoming more and more common.  In the end the game petered out without the completion of the final adventure.  I was crushed, I was disappointed, and I was horribly burnt out.

When the time came to run a new game my group does what it usually does when we are seeking a new game, people make suggestions and list the games they are willing to run.  I had been working on this game for a while at school called Archipelago, sort of a Firefly meets Pirates of the Caribbean campaign.  I loved the idea, felt passionately about it, and the other members of the group were excited about the idea.  I felt really worn down, and the bitter taste of the end of the Nordis campaign hadn't left my mouth yet, but I thought I would be fine.


I will always look back on that campaign as a failure, and more so a disappointment.  Though the game ran for about a year it was a tough year and not as enjoyable as it should have been.  I was burnt out at the beginning and by the end I was a crisp husk.  I would say at one time or another I exhibited all five of the signs above.  The game became a chore that I no longer looked forward to, and that's when I knew it was time to get out from behind the shield.

It wasn't all bad, there were enjoyable memories from the campaign, but I think the best thing I took away from it was a lesson of when enough was enough.  For me, I never plan on running back to back games ever again. For the last few years I've gone back and forth with the Professor and that has worked out well for me.  It allows me to play for a while, get inspired, and recharge the creative juices. 

But enough of my cautionary tale.  Here are some solutions to GM burnout...

1. Take a Break
The nuclear option to rectify GM burnout is to step away from the game altogether. This could mean playing board games for a while or it could mean going fishing with your extra time. Whatever the case you are far from the table pursuing other interests.

2. Change Sides of the Screen
This is, in my opinion, the best option available.  You are burned out running the game, so let someone else take a turn behind the shield.  Not only does this give you a break, but it gives you a chance to see how someone else runs things.  A great GM will make you a better one, so learn as you go.  You can also take notes on the great things they do and incorporate it into your games when you go back to GMing.

3. Double Up
It may seem strange to suggest adding another game to your schedule, and indeed if you find yourself stressed because of lack of time and too many responsibilities this probably isn't for you.   But if you do have the time and you are just burned out because of lack of ideas or inspiration picking up a second game in the role of a player can be a great thing.  It provides you with all the benefits I mentioned above with the added bonus of being able to implement them as you go. 

4. Change it Up
Maybe it's time for a new campaign or some serious shake up in the one that you are currently running.  Give the game a fresh feel somehow and you may find yourself with renewed interest.  Be careful though, you may find this is only a temporary fix.

5. Keep yourself Happy
GMs focus on making their players happy, but they must also learn to make themselves happy too.  If you aren't having fun and enjoying the game you are going to burn out, no matter how happy your players are.  Take some time to consider what elements of the game you like.

First Look at Thor

Posted by Labyrinthian in

The film Thor is still a way away, not set to be released until 2011, but a picture has finally surfaced of the tittle character.  For those who haven't seen it, here it is.

This movie could easily turn into a train wreck, but I find little to complain about from this one limited look at Thor's costume.  At least we  know that the casting for this film is definetly better than that of the upcoming Captain America movie.