Journeyquest Episodes 1&2

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The wait is over, JourneyQuest episodes 1 AND 2 have been released!

Episode 1: Onward

Episode 2: Sod the Quest

Episode 3 will be released October 5th with a new episode coming every week until the end of Season 1. At that point they are hoping to have a season 2, but it all depends on the popularity of the show so get the word out, people!

Understanding Fantasy Classes: The Cleric

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On my group's recent camping trip, after we had stopped gaming for the night the Professor and I were up just talking about gaming.    I recently read some really eye opening articles on the Ranger posted on other sites that really challenged my notions of what the class really is.  We discussed the issue for a minute and then he posed a very interesting thought, "If the Ranger is bugging you then stop and consider the cleric.  That will really blow your mind."  

I found that a confusing thing to say, the Cleric had always seemed one of the most straightforward classes to me, so I asked him what he meant.  He replied, "Well, he isn't a priest, that's for sure."  I opened my mouth to reply, but then got what he was saying.  A normal priest, even in medieval times, was not a soldier trained extensively in warfare including the use of any number of weapons and all different types of armor and shields.  Why would a run of the mill priest train in the use of plate armor when chances are he could never afford it, and would have little or no use for it?  

So if I accepted that the Cleric wasn't a priest, then what was he?  Well clearly he was more.  He has the piety and devotedness of a priest with much of the same martial training that the Fighter receives.  Knowing that Gygax and Arneson must have drawn their inspiration from somewhere, we discussed possible sources both from history and from the various works of fiction that inspired Dungeons and Dragons.  We had a strong belief that Crusade era catholic priests were the strongest influence on the class, but we had no way of confirming our suspcions. 

As it turns out all we needed was our trusty 2nd edition AD&D Player's Handbooks.  There it specifically states, "The Cleric is similar to certain religious orders of knighthood in the middle ages: the Teutonic Knights, the Knights Templar, and the Hospitalers."  So this confirmed our suspicion that the Crusade era was the the period of time that really defined the Cleric.  Further confirmation of this can be found in the following paragraph where it says, "...Clerics, being reluctant to shed blood...are allowed to use only blunt, bludgeoning weapons."  This is in line with the Catholic church's policy at the time that discouraged the shedding of blood (something of an irony given the time period).

The confirmation that the main inspiration for the Cleric were knightly orders of the middle ages creates another problem the Professor and I had discussed, The Cleric vs. The Paladin.  Because the Cleric is clearly so martial, he is essentially a divine warrior, but then so is the Paladin.  I've always been a proponent of each class having their own Shtick, their own thing that makes them special from all the other classes.  When classes start getting too close together they start stepping on each other toes.  That is what seems to be the case here as both the Cleric and the Paladin are based on Christian Knights.

Obviously I'm not saying that the Cleric and the Paladin are the same.  Even though they are based on Christian Knights, they are not based on the same Knightly order.  Paladins are based on a religious Knight archetype like Galahad and Percival while Clerics are based on the three above mentioned Crusading Orders whose primary job it was to protect and care for pilgrims making their way to the holy land.     Yet still these are Knightly Orders that held similar values and similar motivations.

To compound the problem Clerics and Paladins are given very similar powers.  Now obviously each edition of the game is different but Paladins typically get two of the Clerics principal abilities, albeit in diminished form, Turn Undead, and Divine Spells.  Healing wounds, something of a specialty of the Cleric, is another ability that overlaps into the Paladin's list of skills.  To give a recent example, Pathfinder gives Clerics the ability to use turn undead attempts to burst heal in a radius around him.  The Paladin can use his lay on hands attempts to do the same thing and because his Charisma is far more valuable to him than to a cleric he will likely have a higher score often allowing the Paladin to have more of these "burst heals" than a cleric.

These overlaps in mechanics are as big a problem as the overlap in overall character concepts described above.  So the question is how does one resolve these issues and give each class a its own clear character concept and it's own mechanical advantages.  It seems to me that the key lies in making the Cleric a Priest rather than Warrior Priest.  That isn't to say that the Cleric need to have no warrior skills whatsoever, but certainly they should be scaled back.  Eliminating heavy armor is one step that Pathfinder has already taken to scale back the Cleric's martial power, and though I was somewhat shocked at the same time, I am beginning to think the move was perhaps a good idea.  Clerics in most games have spellpower that rivals arcane spellcasters so even though it may seem unbalancing in many games to scale the Cleric back into a more traditional priestly role, the fact is that in many games the Cleric is an overpowered class.

Certainly we see this is the case in 3rd edition D&D (3.0, 3.5 and even to a lesser extent Pathfinder).  Game developers have said that they went out of their way to make clerics great because few players have traditionally wanted to play them.  Give the fact that their healing magic makes them almost vital, game designers wanted to make sure that players would want to play them.  In other incarnations of D&D, and other games like it such as Hackmaster, the Cleric is always among the best classes that a player has to choose from, and no less vital than in 3rd edition. Hackmaster posses a unique ability among fantasy games that I have played in that it can deliver the changes to the Cleric that I want without a single house rule.  In the new edition of the game Clerics of different gods are almost a different class onto themselves.  Each religious order has its own specific information like armor allowed, weapons allowed, special powers, etc.  Even if one needed house rules to get some separation between the Cleric and the Paladin I think it would be worth it. 

 The pious priest is a classic fantasy paradigm, and one that deserves to stand on its own.  By making small alterations in both the flavor of the class and in its mechanics I believe one could create a Cleric that is far less martial and far more priestly.  This would give the Cleric his own niche separate from the holy warrior Paladin and allow each class to have very different moments in which to shine. 

Second Annual Camping Trip a Rousing Success!

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My group's second annual camping trip came to a conclusion this Sunday and I'm happy to report that it was even better than lest year.  This year we changed things up.  The Professor was behind the screen rather than me, we placed Aces & Eights rather than Hackmaster, and we were in Sturbridge MA rather than Plymouth.

The Campground 
Last year we stayed at Myles Standish state park near Plymouth MA.  I have a laundry list of complaints about it, including things out of its control like the weather being absolutely freezing.  They had a designated Fire area, which was tiny, ensuring all of us were chilled to the bone the entire time.   Let me just say, I grew up in update Vermont on the Canadian border... I know cold.  Hell I like cold, but this was too much even for me.  Bear got sick on the trip and spent most of the time sleeping, I got an ear infection and everyone else came down with a cold or the flu.   Despite all that we had a good time, but I wouldn't say we spent much of the weekend comfortable.
This year was totally different.  Wells State Park provided us with two isolated tent sites.  The weather was absolutely perfect, and despite being much warmer there were still less bugs.  The layout of our adjoining campsites couldn't have been better suited to our needs.  We had an excellent area around the campfire with which to do our gaming and a couple of picnic tables where we had our battlemat for when a shootout broke out.  I couldn't have been more comfortable... I had great food, a great game, and great friends.  More than ever I highly recommend your group look into its own weekend camping getaway.  It is cheap and easy for everyone and as I said, it is a great time.

The Game
As I said we took a break from our usual realm of Fantasy and delved into the mythology of the Old West with Aces & Eights.  Those who haven't had the pleasure of playing the game really should check it out.  It covers all the great Western tropes; horse chases, cheating card games, trials, drinking games, cattle drives, gunfights and more!

The Professor opted to forgo the alternate history that the game presents and focus on the real history of the West.  The game was set in 1870 in San Antonio.  The Legendary Texas Ranger, Richard Morrison, had died under suspicious circumstances.  The four PCs were summoned to the reading of Morrison's will as he left them something.

These characters were pre-generated by the GM, but each player was allowed to submit three character concepts ahead of time which the GM used as a model.  I played Augustus Bachman, a young bounty hunter with a "by any means necessary" philosophy.  Revil was playing Davis, a handsome and charismatic gambler with a silver tongue to keep him out of trouble.  Trip was playing a southern gentleman gunfighter named Doc, though one could only call him a true gentleman by having a very loose definition of the term.  Finally Bear was playing Gustav, a German immigrant and gunsmith.

Smith and Wesson Russian
As I said each of these characters gathered at the Bank in San Antonio to hear the last will and testament of their friend and Hero Richard Morrison.  He left most of his processions to the great state of Texas or to the Rangers themselves, but he did leave some very queer items to each of the characters. Augustus inherited a boxed limited edition cavalry colt, Davis inherited a railroad lantern, Gustav a book complete with maps, and Doc got a beer stein. Within each of these items a clue had been hidden, which our characters worked out eventually.  These clues pointed us to the New Mexico territory.

Before we could head out that way to investigate though we had a lead on a known criminal who was suspected to be involved.  We rode out of San Antonio in pursuit but before we could reach the criminal, Smalls by name, we came across one of his allies.  Things got heated when we accused him of lying about his intentions and Augustus reached for his Smith and Wesson Russian and shot the "lying bastard" in the gut.  The man west flying off his horse and the gun he had been trying to draw had flown from his grasp.  Just that fast, the fight was over.

It was awesome.

We didn't have long to brood on our victory, however.  The Gunshot had warned smalls of our approach and sent him into flight.  We rode in hot pursuit... the Chase was on!  This is another cool mechanic that A&8 has.  It relies on playing cards to simulate the various types of terrain that one encounters.  Different cards mean different things depending on the type of terrain you are riding through.  As we were riding through plains very few cards would present obstacles.  Poker chips are also used to keep track of your mounts various resources like agility and stamina.  A lot comes into play in a chase.  Your horse, your skill at riding, the terrain, and a multitude of other factors.  It all makes for an exciting experience as you try to close with your prey.

Davis, having a fine Arabian mount chased down smalls well ahead of the rest of the group, but it was Augustus who whipped out his Sharps Carbine Conversion and shot Smalls off his horse as Davis closed the distance.  Davis wanted to take Smalls alive and give him a chance to surrender, but Smalls was drawing a shotgun and forced Davis' hand.  Davis fired off a round from his pistol but missed the outlaw by about two feet.  Before any other member of the group could catch up Smalls drew back the hammer on his Parker Shotgun and pulled the trigger.  Those who have played A&8 before know how this story goes... Davis was torn to pieces and killed instantly.  Smalls fired the other barrel at Doc as he drew close, but missed.  Doc returned fire but also missed.  Augustus closed the last bit of distance on foot and loosed a barrel from his Colt 1868 Shotgun.  He did not miss.  Small, like his last victim, was blown away and killed.

With that lead now a dead end we focused on riding out to the New Mexico territory to follow Richard Morridon's clue.  We battle some Comanche on the ride out there and likely would have been killed had it not been for the fact that they were all armed with some of the worst weapons (single shot musket) in the game.  After they expended their single shot they came at us with tomahawks, but were quickly gunned down.  After that we rode on in relative peace and found the secret Morrison had tried to lead us to, his secret family stashed away on a quiet lake in the New Mexico territory.  With their help our PCs were able to confirm that Morrison's long time enemy, Carson, had been the one to kill him.

We rode back to San Antonio equipped with this new knowledge and even some evidence, but as Morrison's friend and attorney Charles confirmed for us, it was not enough to convict the man.  With the legal option out the only road open to us was good old fashion Western Justice!  A gunfight just seemed too risky though.  Carson had a number of armed men in his Victoria street residence so we knew we would be outgunned.  Allowing Morrison's killer to live simply wasn't an option so we decided to splurge on a plan that just wouldn't fail.

We spent all the money we had accumulated on TNT, loaded up a wagon and ran it into Carson's house while he was sleeping.

The End.

It was awesome.

The Excursion
We use our Sunday to take a trip to a local attraction.  Last year we went to King Richard's Faire, a renisance fair near the Myles Standish. This year we opted for Old Sturbridge Village, a recreation of the New England town as it appeared around the 1840s.  It was a lot of fun, and set in a time period close to the time when our weekend's game was taking place.  We had a great time and even learned a great deal about the time period.

Bear and Trip at Sturbridge Village
We stopped for dinner at the Piccadilly Pub Restaurant on the way back, reminiscing about the weekend and looking forward to future trips.  It was a great experience and I can't wait for next year.
The Blacksmith was the best part

New Game of Thrones Teaser: Raven

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I love the visual style on this trailer.  Absolutely stunning. 

Breaking Down HBO's Behind the Scenes look of A Game of Thrones

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Recently HBO showed a quick behind the Scenes look of A Game of Thrones.  I thought I would post it for your viewing pleasure and go over some of my favorite parts.

0:12 - GRRM explains that, "These books are very adult fare. It's fantasy done for adults." An obvious observation to those familiar with the source material, but when you do shows or movies based on books you can't assume that everyone watching the show or movie has read the books. I like that they put this in early. It is a sort of preview to the preview, letting people know what they are about to see. It gives a glimpse into the tone and feel of the series and also explains that, though this is a fantasy show, this is not a show for your Harry Potter loving nine year old, this is a show for YOU.

0:27 - BJ Weiss, A Writer/Producer for the show says, "It's a story where everyone is pursuing their own interests and following their own code and this provides a much richer story than the guys in white beating the guys in black." I love this quote because it means that Mr. Weiss understand the source material and what makes it great. A Song of Ice and Fire is highly political, very complicated, and has many of the greatest characters in modern fiction all working toward goals that do not necessarily coincide with anyone else's, even that character's allies. These complex and highly realistic characters are one of the principal things that make ASIF great. Weiss knows it and understand it, ensuring that he will hold to that for the entire series.

0:35 - GRRM again shares some of his wisdom by explaining, "The entire series is fused with a sense of magic, but there is very little on stage magic... I think too much magic can ruin a fantasy." Avid readers will recall that this last statement is one that I hold to and even wrote about in the past.  It is the rarity of magic that ensures that it is so special in ASIF, while so many other fantasy stories magic quickly loses its luster due to over exposure.

0:37 - Great shot of Viserys Targaryen!

0:54 - "George Martin is the creator of this world.  He came to set a couple of weeks ago and he said 'It's like walking into one of my dreams." GRRM is a man who is passionate about his work, and is dedicated to ensuring that ANYTHING that bears its name is up to snuff.  From board games, to video games, to Calendars, George reviews it all and ensures that it meets a high standard of quality to make sure that his fans won't be disappointed.  It takes a great deal of his time (much to the chagrin of those impatiently waiting for A Dance with Dragons) but in the end he wants to protect the integrity of the work and protect his fans from shoddy products looking to cash in on the brand name.  I like that.  GRRM has been very involved in the HBO series to date, reviewing casting tapes and doing some episode writing himself.

0:59  - GRRM speaking of visiting the set, "It was this incredible moment of, 'My God they got it right!'  There it is!"  This leaves no doubt that GRRM is 100% on board with HBO's work.  I can think of no higher endorsement of the series. As said above GRRM is very protective of his work, and this quote shows that HBO is meeting, if not exceeding, his stringent quality standards.

1:11 - Great shot of Tyrion Lannister! Tyrion is a very complex character, and in my opinion one of the best characters in the series. I was happy when they got Peter Dinklage because I think he is a great actor that can really bring the character to life.

1:14 - One of my favorite shots. Bran and Arya making faces at the camera. Arya is another of my favorites and I have great hopes for Maisie Williams, the young actress portraying Arya.

1:19 - A shot of the Dire Wolf pups. They used Siberian Huskies, by far my favorite dog, so naturally I loved it.

1:25 - A shot of the new Daenerys Targaryen, Emilia Clarke. I was a little concerned after Tamzin Merchant was replaced because I thought she would be amazing as Daenerys, but Emilia Clarke looks beautiful astride Daenerys' Silver.

1:27 - Another recast role that I was hesitant about about Catelyn Stark, but this shot of Michelle Fairley looks great!

Overall I loved this. Everything looks great, and if it were possible to be more excited for A Game of Thrones this would definitely have done the job!

JourneyQuest Trailer!

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At last the good people over at Dead Gentlemen, the Makers of The Gamers and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, have released the trailer for their upcoming web series, JourneyQuest!  Here is the summery:

Following a group of dysfunctional adventurers on a quest to discover and destroy the mythical Sword of Fighting, JOURNEYQUEST is a comedic adventure through the fantasy world of Fartherall, where intellectual orcs, incompetent wizards, and holy zombies form the living (and not-so-living) backdrop to an epic story of unrequited love, burning passions, and severely reluctant heroism.
And running away. Lots of running away …

Folks, I give you my personal guarantee, this will be amazing and you will definitely want to check it out! 

Red Letter Media reviews Star Trek... The Star Trek

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Red Letter Media strikes again with its review of JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek.  How does Mr. Plinkett feel about the film?  Have a look!

Worldbuilding of a Different Sort

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I'm sure many GM's feel the same type of frustration that I do... You have this crystal clear vision in your head of this amazing campaign world, but how can you convey all that to your players with just words.

Well you don't have to rely just on words.  I recently picked up Terragen 2 by Planetside.  This amazing software allows to create breathtaking landscapes, a real boon for people like me with no artistic ability.  I've only had a few hours to mess around with it (not nearly enough time to really get to know all the nuances of such a complex program) and I've done a couple of test runs with the program.

There are some downsides to this program.  The first is that it is fairly expensive, $399 to be exact.  It is also fairly complex and can be intimidating for first time users.  Luckily there are some great tutorials over on YouTube you can see to help you dive in.  Finally this program is a real memory hog.  It requires 1GB of RAM to run but recommends 4.  Rendering the above pictures took quite some time, and the setters were not pushed through the roof.  Yet another reason I need a new computer.


Self pity aside I highly recommend this software for GMs who want to present sweeping landscapes to their players and immerse them in a highly detailed environment.

Note: I didn't get into making videos in Terragen because I haven't explored that feature yet.  Like the Tutorials, you can see some pretty amazing sample terrain videos over on YouTube.