Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raging Owlbear Interviews Chris O'Neill

Continuing my "interview series" (used very loosely) this month, I speak with Chris O’Neill, co-founder of 9th Level Games, best known for the comic RPG "Kobolds Ate My Baby!"  9th Level has also broadened its offerings in recent years with card and board games like Schrödinger's Cats, Knuckle Sammich, Bearicades, and Hot 16.

This month, 9th Level launches its newest Kickstarter, Tragedies of Middle School, a collection of tongue-in-cheek RPG horror games about the nightmarish experiences of pre-teen grade schoolers. Tragedies of Middle School includes 21 short-form storytelling RPGs, LARPS, and activities for only $10 in PDF and a mere $20 in print.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Gargantuan Dragons invade Owlbear Lair!


Gargantuan Red and Green Dragons from
the Pathfinder Battles miniatures line.
I’m a bit of a miniatures nut when it comes to dragons (or really, just a miniature nut... period). I was lucky enough to chance upon the Paizo website when they had both the Pathfinder Battles Gargantuan Red and Gargantuan Green dragons temporarily in stock over the summer. Both of these models have been out of print for some time, but Paizo occasionally gets restock from random distributors. The Gargantuan Red Dragon is complete sold out now, but Paizo.com still has the Gargantuan Green Dragon in its store (last chance to pick one up for under $50 with shipping).

I was extremely surprised to see the Gargantuan Red come back in stock, and I’m pretty certain I got one of the last, if not the last one on their shelves. I had been hesitant to buy both of these models earlier due to luke warm reviews, but the Green and Red were the only chromatic dragons I did not yet have in the Gargantuan/Colossal size category. No one else, to my knowledge, has put out a pre-painted green dragon of this size, and the larger pre-painted red dragons are all ridiculously priced on the secondary markets. I kick myself to this day that I did not pick up the ICONS Colossal Red Dragon when they were only about $60!

Both models are beautifully sculpted. From an artistic standpoint, they really do stand out with very dynamic poses. However, they both suffer from what I consider a serious design flaw when it comes to tabletop play… They are both looking up. Both poses have the neck and head craning in something akin to an upward roar. From an artistic standpoint, I suppose I understand why the sculptor went in that direction, but I am disappointed that they are not looking down at the PC miniatures with an “I’m totally going to eat you!” menace.

The Gargantuan Red also has one wing folded inward in what appears to be a packaging consideration. I may try to use the heated water method to see if I can get a little bit more spread from the left wing. The painting on each is reasonably good, although I think the green dragon's color palette could have used a little more contrast.

The Pathfinder Battles Gargantuan Dragons are slightly smaller than the amazing WotC ICONS from 2006 - 2007.
From a size perspective, the models are unsurprisingly smaller than the legendary ICONS miniatures from Wizards of the Coast, but they are decently large, and considerably more bulky than the Elder Dragon models that came out later in the D&D Miniatures line.

While these may not be my absolute favorite dragons in my collection, they are impressive models and I am glad I was able to pick these up for retail pricing. The secondary market for large dragons is quite ridiculous. Don't wait until they are gone!

The Gargantuans fit favorably well in size category with the huge WotC Elder Dragons from 2009 - 2010.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

GM 101: Basics of Stealth and Hiding in D&D

Dragon Magazine #88 cover by Jim Holloway
Why is stealth so hard in D&D?

Based on recent social media chatter, it appears GM’s have some confusion when adjudicating stealth and hiding, and players believe their Rogue skills give them Advantage more than the rules as written would suggest. A re-review of the rules as written with a few examples should help.

To break this down a bit, let’s start with the rules as stated in the SRD 5.0 (bold emphasis added).
___________

Stealth

Make a Dexterity (Stealth) check when you attempt to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, or sneak up on someone without being seen or heard.

Hiding

The GM decides when circumstances are appropriate for hiding. When you try to hide, make a Dexterity (Stealth) check. Until you are discovered or you stop hiding, that check’s total is contested by the Wisdom (Perception) check of any creature that actively searches for signs of your presence.

You can’t hide from a creature that can see you clearly, and you give away your position if you make noise, such as shouting a warning or knocking over a vase. An invisible creature can always try to hide. Signs of its passage might still be noticed, and it does have to stay quiet.

In combat, most creatures stay alert for signs of danger all around, so if you come out of hiding and approach a creature, it usually sees you. However, under certain circumstances, the GM might allow you to stay hidden as you approach a creature that is distracted, allowing you to gain advantage on an attack roll before you are seen.

Passive Perception

When you hide, there’s a chance someone will notice you even if they aren’t searching. To determine whether such a creature notices you, the GM compares your Dexterity (Stealth) check with that creature’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score.
__________

So there are a few things that are implied by the above rules that could be stated more clearly, or at least clarified with examples.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Raging Owlbear interviews Frank Mentzer

Source: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
This past week I was delighted to welcome Frank Mentzer as a guest in my first video chat. I hope to do more of these with other industry folks in the future, but that's for another day. Forgive my rough style, as I don't usually do interviews, but this opportunity was one I just could not let pass by.

In the chat, we talk extensively about Worlds of Empyrea, his new game setting coming to Kickstarter on October 2nd, as well as anecdotes about his life before, during and after TSR Inc in the early 1980's.

Full disclosure: I did not ask for, nor was I offered, any compensation for this interview. It was my absolute pleasure to talk with Frank as a fellow gamer and fan, and I would be pleased to chat with him again at a future date. I hope I don't come off as too fan-boyish, but I found him to be extraordinarily open and friendly.

Highlights


A couple weeks ago, Frank's website leaked several names on the Worlds of Empyrea project which are mostly unconfirmed (as of this writing) such as Janelle Jaquays, Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Dee, David "Diesel" LaForce, Larry Elmore, and Erol Otus.

Box contents will include perfect bound books, maps and an introductory adventure. Jeff Easley planned as designer of the box covers. Pre-generated characters in small brown character folios reminiscent of OD&D box set.

13:25 Hoping to release Worlds of Empyea in game system specific box sets -- RuneQuest, Savage Worlds, D&D 5e, AD&D, BECMI, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Pathfinder, and Swords & Wizardry all hinted. Chaosium and Pinnacle Entertainment were specifically noted in the discussions, and RuneQuest is one of Frank's favorite game systems. (Hints also at sci-fi toward the end).

15:10 / 23:04 Darlene (World of Greyhawk) confirmed as art direction and cartography. Alyssa Faden (Dragon Kings, Bethorm) also confirmed for cartography and game maps. Hints at an "Anna" which very well could be [unconfirmed] Anna B Meyer (Midgard game setting).

52:00 Looking to release Empyrea box set for Gen Con 2018 and more details about the box content.

Frank also dropped two exciting names off the record which I cannot reveal, but suffice it to say, D&D fans will be thrilled what these folks will bring to the realm.



Video Index:
00:00 Introduction
00:50 Empyrea - TSR/RPGA origins
03:16 Contrasts between Gary's Greyhawk game and Frank's Empyrea campaign in the 80's
05:48 Distinction between I12 intellectual property and Frank's new setting
07:52 Reminiscing about early internet chat room play
09:18 How is the content for Worlds of Empyrea being developed?
10:11 Eldritch Enterprises side bar
11:25 Talking about the setting format for Worlds of Empyrea
13:25 Intent to releaseWorlds of Empyrea for multiple game systems -- RuneQuest, Savage Worlds, D&D 5e, AD&D, BECMI, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Swords &Wizardry...
15:10 Darlene as the Art Director and doing the large maps, and other well known TSR names adding art and other content. Roughly 35 contributors developing content of some variety.
17:57 Community crowd sourcing setting content as a future project
19:53 Future project to develop a global non-profit gaming database allowing gamers to connect, game together and share community ideas/content.
22:30 RPG Creators Relief Fund - http://www.rcrfcharity.org/
23:04 Darlene and Alyssa Faden contributing to cartography and game maps... Hints at an "Anna" which very well could be Anna B Meyer (unconfirmed).
25:14 Box set content: Maps and perfect bound books, full color bleed. Aiming for top quality contents and product design like you would find from one of the larger game companies. Jeff Easley planned to design box cover. Liz Danforth (Tunnels & Trolls) invited to contribute production efforts or artwork? [unclear]. Character folios reminiscent of OD&D brown books.
29:52 Discussions with Chaosium on a RuneQuest-specific version of the Empyrea box set
31:04 Talking about the history of TSR and breaking into a job during the early days
34:04 Getting the Basic / Expert set project
36:45 Legacy and importance of the RPG design community
41:40 Development of Basic and Export into BECMI
46:20 Life after TSR
48:33 Coming back into game publishing
52:00 Empyrea Kickstarter details
54:07 Genre variants for Empyrea to match the theme of the different game systems, including sci-fiction or space opera.
58:00 Frank's play style

Friday, September 22, 2017

D&D in 3D (printing)

Mixing existing OpenLOCK and OpenForge tiles,
I modified some arched corners for my dungeon.
You may have read in an earlier post that I funneled some funds that might have been spent on other terrain into a new 3D printer. It was a bit daunting, because there seemed to be a lot to learn just to get started, but I found an excellent entry-level printer, the Monoprice Select Mini V2, for around $250 (including the first spool of filament). [PS - Don't buy one off Amazon, they still only have V1's. Go direct to the Monoprice web site].

First Impressions


First, I must say the MP Mini is an amazing entry level 3D printer. The build area is a 120 mm cube, or just shy of 5 inches along the X, Y and Z axis. Note, this does mean some models may be a bit large to print without breaking them into pieces, but printers with a 6’ x 6’ build area are more than I was prepared to spend and I was ok with compromise on this one point. If you do have a little more to spend, consider one with a slightly larger build area.

The Mini V2 comes pre-configured out of the box. Sometimes a little plate-leveling is required, but there are a few YouTube videos to assist the learning curve on this. I had a small struggle getting it just right, but all in all, it wasn’t a major issue and the Facebook communities were a huge help. I selected PLA filament, which is better than ABS for my purposes (and no poison fumes), and I was off to the races!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Chronicles Kickstarter

There’s a new Kickstarter on the block!  (Well, that’s pretty much true every week… but this one piques my interest)

UPDATE 09/15/17: Unfortunately, Chronicles looked like it was not going to fund, so the designers have decided to cancel and review how they might revamp the product. I wish them the best of luck!

Chronicles: The Game

I was lucky enough to meet the guys from Happy Gorilla at 1D4 Con in West Virginia, and I got to try Chronicles out in a demo skirmish. Chronicles: The Game takes the traditional war game niche (like 40K, Warmachine, Hordes, Malifaux, etc) and aims to make the genre more accessible to the board gaming fans (Blood Rage, Conan, Rising Sun, etc).

Full disclosure: I am not a war gamer. I enjoy the occasional casual game of X-Wing and Imperial Assault, but I don’t play heavy miniature war games like 40K, Hordes, Warmachine or their like. Also, while I have met Happy Gorilla guys at a con, I have no other ties, personal or business, with them.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

D&D Beyond: Impressions, Pricing, and Licensing

Just in the past couple weeks, Curse officially launched D&D Beyond and published all of the pricing arrangements for the service. This is not a full review, but just a few impressions on the tool, the pricing and Wizard's content licensing.

First, the Good


As a product, D&D Beyond is slick. The interface is reasonably easy to pick up (the search features could use some minor improvements for usability, but that's mostly nit-picking). All in all, it’s a well polished reference engine. 

All of the content from the SRD and adventure supplement PDFs (as published on the Wizards.com web site) are also included for free. For instance, Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm and other spells from the Princes of the Apocalypse player PDF is included in the free tier. As a player, you also get 6 unlocked character slots for free.

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