Josh Beckelhimer is an early backer of the project. He requested and received an early preview copy of the adventure, and reviewed it in detail at his website Fantastical Beckelhimer. I have reproduced the entire review below, but have also made some comments where appropriate to address some of his open questions. Thanks to Josh for the review!

A Review – Lost Hall of Tyr (Kickstarter Edition)

As I am writing this up Lost Hall of Tyr: A 5e Adventure (Dungeon Grappling support) just needs less than $400 to be funded. If you read my previous post you know that I am pretty excited about this project.

Gaming Ballistic: About $225 to go as of this post!

Also, Douglas Cole sent me a Review Copy for me to read through. And these are my spoiler free thoughts on it.

In this current state Lost Hall of Tyr is 52 pages (not including the cover and back cover).

  • Introduction/Background – 4 pages
  • Adventure – 19 pages
  • Wilderness Travel Rules – 3 pages
  • Bestiary – 16 pages
  • Quick Start: Dungeon Grappling – 2 pages
  • Preface/Legal Jargon/Table of Contents/Art
  • Placeholder Pages – the rest of the pages

First, and like my previous post, the layout is great. The coloring and the borders for the layout really have set the bar on what a 5th Edition adventure should look like. Yes, a thousand times better than WotC’s layouts for their adventures.

Gaming Ballistic: I expect a page of Kickstarter Backers, at least six pages of maps, a page of scenario flowchart, Table of Contents (no index) as a first pass as to extra pages beyond simple adventure content. If we start punching through stretch goals, the page count may increase.

Introduction/Background

This section gives a brief description of the setting and where the adventure will take place. And rumor has it there is a campaign setting in the works for where this adventure takes place.

Also, there is a brief story that sets up the adventure and the hook for the characters. There is also information on how to tie this adventure into your own setting. Though, there are two things I want to address:

  • 1. No where in the Introduction or the Preface does it state what level the characters should be and how many characters the adventure is designed for.
  • 2. There is a weapon mentioned in the introduction, “magical against all foes and as a +1 magical weapon against a creature type.” (I left out the type of weapon and creature type) But I don’t know if it is meant to be +1 against all foes and a +2 against the creature type or is it supposed to be treated as non-magical +0 against all foes except magical +1 against the creature type.

Gaming Ballistic: Fair cop on the scenario parameters; it was supposed to be printed on the back cover, which isn’t done yet. It’s designed around 4-6 characters of Level 3-6, and I’ll make sure that’s reiterated in the interior of the book.

For the sword, one of the neat things about 5e is that a weapon can be magical but provide no bonuses – there are several spells and power-ups that let mundane weapons strike foes as if they were magical, and this matters for creatures who have resistance or immunity to damage from non-magical weapons. So the sword is magical against just about anything. It gets a small bonus against a particular type of creature owing to how it was created. 

Adventure

*When reading through this the maps were not included just the placeholders for where they would be.*  

First, there is something that needs to be addressed before I continue on with this section. There is NO flavor text. As in, there is no blocked text that is dedicated to the GM to read to the players. Personally, this doesn’t bother me at all. This might be a turnoff for some but I think this also helps with adapting this adventure into whatever setting the GM is running.

I like the writing layout Douglas has done with this adventure. He has created four different categories that helps the GM with running the adventure.

  • Challenges – Describes the challenges that the PCs will have to overcome in this section. Whether it is NPCs or an obstacle that is their way.
  • Concealed – Describes some skill checks they may be needed to achieve a challenge. Also information that may be hidden from the PCs.
  • Alternatives – Describes some alternative ways to deal with the challenge in the section.
  • Rewards – Describes the rewards/treasure the PCs can find in this section. Some rewards are just being able to bypass the challenge.

Though, this adventure was written for 5th edition, there is enough information with this writing layout that the adventure could easily be converted to another system.

Wilderness Travel

This section of the book shouldn’t be treated as something optional. Surviving in the wilderness is essential to this adventure. This adventure is a fairly long trek and a challenge within itself. In this section there are all sorts of rules and information on how to survive in the wilderness. Such as, how much food/water the PCs should have, hunting/gathering, preserving food, weather and climate. Again, this shouldn’t be optional in this adventure.

Gaming Ballistic: I’m very glad that Josh likes the additional wilderness travel guidance. However, for groups that are more of the “let’s just kill some bad guys already!” variety, it’s quite possible to play without using these. In general, though, I think that being able to use the environment as a potentially deadly challenge adds some real flavor and spice to a scenario, and I’ve tried to make it more meaty with the addition of the section on Wilderness Travel.

Bestiary  

This section of the book describes all the NPCs that will be found in this adventure. There is a description for each NPC and their stat blocks. There are familiar monsters that most GMs should know but some of them have been modified to fit this campaign setting. Such as, the goblinoids are considered fae in this setting. There are a total of fifteen NPCs in the Bestiary.

Gaming Ballisitc: One fun note here is that the final PDF will make extensive use of hyperlinks for navigation. So when you see (for example) there are 18 (or 18,000) goblins, you’ll see it as “18 goblins will attack the party,” or the equivalent, with the (curently italicized) goblins taking you directly to the bestiary entry. There will also be return navigation, so you can hop back to the encounters that have the monster. There’s plenty of room for this in the layout, but of course it’ll have to wait for the final layout until we implement it.

Quick Start: Dungeon Grappling

This section of the book is also very important and shouldn’t be ignored or treated as optional. Douglas has created an awesome system when it comes to grappling. The preface of this adventure also describes the importance of this system. If you get this adventure and you plan on running it I highly recommend that you read through this quick start guide and know how Dungeon Grappling works and then show your players how it works. Some of the Challenges in this adventure use this system so it is important to know. Encourage your players to take advantage of this system. You can learn more about Dungeon Grappling here.

Gaming Ballistic: There’s no doubt I love me some grappling – especially when it’s the monsters doing the grappling. And eating. Or dragging you back to its lair. But while I think the grappling rules (“DnD grappling rules that don’t suck!”) are excellent and add a lot of dimensions to the scenario, they are optional. I mean, you should use them. And you should love them. But if you don’t, well . . . the scenario is still fully usable.

I didn’t have any art or the maps but from this Review Copy I could run this adventure now without any of the maps. And that is an important thing to me; being able to just use the text to run an adventure. I look forward to receiving both my PDF and Physical Copy after it is completed. There is still plenty of time to back this project. $7 for PDF backer level and $20 for PDF and Physical Copy backer level. Also, the more money this project receives the more that will be added to it!

Gaming Ballistic’s Final Word:

Thanks to Josh for writing this review of Lost Hall of Tyr. I’m glad my enthusiasm for the adventure comes through, and he’s correct that this is based on the campaign setting for my Dragon Heresy RPG, which is 400,000 words and roughly 790 pages of eventually-to-be-released goodness currently in editing with Ken Hite. 

For now, though – I hope that you enjoy the adventure, and spread the word so that we smash the funding goal and continue into the stretch goals!

I was at GenCon’s 50th Anniversary this past week, and I had the honor of observing the first of Gaming Ballistic’s Dungeon Grappling demo games, and playing in the second. Here are my thoughts, for those that are considering its use:

Summary

It’s not as scary as you probably think.

Qualification

I have 20+ years experience with D&D in general, maybe five or so with Pathfinder, and a month or two with 5e. I have always felt like grappling, in general, has gotten less attention than it deserved in pretty much any system, including all editions of D&D, and have had characters/moments in-game where I’ve found myself grappling (with the rules and/or the enemy) and found them a bit awkward. At the point of the convention, I had not read the Dungeon Grappling book (and still haven’t as of this writing—but I will), though I am quite familiar with its spiritual-ancestor, GURPS Martial Arts – Technical Grappling, so I did have a basic understanding of how it works beforehand.

Observations

In my brief exposure to the Dungeon Grappling system, I found it to actually be very easy to understand and smoothly integrated. It uses the normal attack-damage mechanics. “Control” is just damage of a different sort, the accumulation of which inflicts one of a handful of “grappled” conditions. Those conditions are well-defined and sensible, using established mechanics. A character can “attack” to add more to his own control, reduce his enemy’s control, aid allies’ grapples—it’s very intuitive. It works the same against larger or smaller opponents. The book has all the right cheat-sheets in easy-to-find places. I know the book does delve into more detailed grappling situations—and I generally like the more crunchy stuff—but really, the little bit that I observed is all you need to make grappling in D&D a bit more interesting, and it’s simple enough that I couldn’t give anyone a good reason to not use it.

And, I’m told Dungeon Grappling addresses that burning question I’ve always had in D&D and never found and answer for: how far can you throw a halfling? 😛

Note from Gaming Ballistic: Pretty darn far if you’re an Ancient Red Dragon

My 2¢.

Based on a long-standing “I should probably see this, because I enjoyed the Sly movie well enough, played the RPG once, and love Karl Urban in just about anything” desire to watch this one, I was finally nudged over the edge by a recommendation on G+.

So I watched it last night.

Dredd as played by Karl Urban was a bit more multidimensional than I’d have thought. I was surprised a bit by his “be gone when I get back” line to the beggar. I also didn’t get quite the level of fear of the Judges that was conveyed to me in the RPG.

I played this once in High School, and our GM told us after a long, drawn-out shootout that had we just shouted out “OK, SKEGS! WE ARE THE LAW!! PUT YOUR FACES ON THE FLOOR OR FACE SUMMARY EXECUTION” that we could have likely bypassed the entire shootout due to pure primal fear. That was my only real exposure to the source material.

Otherwise, impressions:

I did not find any completely egregious, oh-my-god-no mistakes with firearms handling or technology. Most weapons other than the (um) LawGiver pistols were conventional. The tactics used by the Judges weren’t completely idiotic, though they could have paid more attention to Apone from Aliens (“Watch those corners!”) in the Peach Trees maze.

The basic plot – escape from a sealed deathtrap – was entertainingly simple, and gave the actors a chance to work with a known environment and explore it well. When the doors came down in the beginning, I found myself thinking – OK. That’s one way to go. But it worked for the movie, and was an important part for avoiding the usual pitfalls: why didn’t they call for backup? They tried. Why didn’t they just leave? They couldn’t. Why couldn’t they just turn off the building? It was actively under control by the Enemy. Why didn’t the bad guy magic users use their own spells against the PCs? They did. Constantly.

I found Mega City One utterly believable, in that it was not wall-to-wall dystopia and dark, and many scenes could have been (and clearly were) set in any modern-day cityscape.

There were giant buildings 2x the height of the old World Trade Center (which was 110 floors, IIRC from memory) but many times larger in cross-section. Note that the quoted population of Peach Trees was 75,000 folks. Unbelievable? Not at all. It’s only 375 folks per floor, and if the average dwelling is 3.75 occupants (for easy math), that’s only 100 units per floor, or 100,000 square feet if each unit was, on the average, a two-bedroom place similar to a NYC apartment. Seem huge? It’s only 100 yards on a side. The World Trade Center was about 70 yards on a side and was half the height.

The buildings of Mega City One seem to basically be three cubes stacked on top of each other. If a story is 10′, more or less, and Peach Trees was 200 floors high (plus some superstructure which we’ll ignore for now), that means that the sideways dimension is on the order of 665′, or 200m on a side and 600m tall. It’s hollow-core, but even allowing for that, we’re likely looking at 30,000 square meters per floor, or about six million square meters, or 65 million square feet. That’s 865 square feet per occupant, suggesting that someone did their homework here. That’s either very, very large apartments (unlikely), or a density artificially lowered by it being taken over by a horrid criminal gang.

Loved the part of rookie Judge Anderson, though there were one or two moments where I thought her powers were conveniently forgotten (but then again, distractions happen). Her plot arc was much more evolutionary than Dredd’s, of course – he’s the established character, and she’s the newbie. She gets the most room to prove herself and change, which – spoilers – she does.

Lena Heady was credibly bonkers as the primary bad guy. She showed evidence of not being stupid, which was good, and combined at least some sense of long-term planning with a “social compact” score in the negative range. Utterly amoral and vicious, and reminiscent of a female joker without the makeup (though with the bloodstained smile).

All in all, it was an enjoyable film, though not one to watch with the squeamish. There’s a lot of blood and slow-motion (or perhaps Slo-Mo?) scenes of bullet impacts and spouting squibs. I’d enjoy watching Urban and Olivia Thirlby reprise their respective roles.

One blog I love to pop in and read is The Monsters Know What They’re Doing, by Keith Ammann.

Each post breaks down a particular monster or monster type, looks at their writeup and stats, and assumes that, you know, the monsters aren’t dumb. They’re optimized for filling their ecological, magical, or theological niche and don’t suck at it. 

What does that mean? It means that your encounters will get a hell of a lot more interesting and flavorful. A pouncing predator will hide. It will wait for the right moment. It will strike and try and kill its food and drag it away pretty instantly. It will not stand and fight in a pitched battle, and if threatened or injured before it has a kill, it may flee. It may well return.

But by looking closely at how each monster type should behave and best utilize it’s listed stats, and also how the “fluff” and description of the critter places it within its niche, he comes up with concrete, actionable behaviors that will make each fight or potential fight (because maybe you can frighten off a predator with a threat display) feel different than others.

Each monster writeup in The Book of Foes contains a short nugget on how the critter fights. Keith’s blog takes that to 11 each writeup with the kind of detail and care that sings the song of a man who loves his topic.

He’s also just released a book to ensure that the PCs should know what they’re doing too: Live to Tell the Tale. Since I love supporting this sort of thing for reasons including healthy dollops of both altruism and self-interest, I highly recommend checking out his stuff. Even if you don’t play 5e, how he thinks about tactics and abilities is transferable to any game.

I backed the Kickstarter by Goodman Games promising a collection of essays entitled “How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck” out of genuine interest and curiosity in the subject matter. 

In the first place, advice and considered thought on how to write adventure modules (which I’ll refer to as adventures or scenarios interchangeably in this review) can only help me consider how to make my own adventures should I put on my GM’s hat athwartships again.

On the other hand: I’m a game publisher now, with one in the can (Dungeon Grappling), two on the way (Venture Beyond and Dragon Heresy), and at least one or two more under consideration. All of those will need support in one way or another, and adventure support, while seemingly universally less profitable than core books on a per-unit basis, is taken as a strong sign of a vibrant well-supported game line. A good adventure showcases the rules, engages players, and generates conversation and “buzz” about the game that is way better than abstract reviews or other considerations.

So, I backed it with interest, and received the hardcopy a week or so ago.

Continue reading “Ballistic’s Report: How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck”

I love fighters. Paladins too, but I love fighters. Even when magic and other superpowers are available, I tend to play characters whose main mode of interaction with bad guys is to beat the bejeezus out of them. Partly this is a quirk of mine: when it comes time to sit down and game, I’m usually looking for  a way to unwind, and delving into “what spells or powers do I have now?” isn’t as fun for me as clever ways to do more direct action. When I played “Commander Samurai,” who usually just went by the title “The Commander,” in the GURPS Aeon Campaign, I mostly played him as Batman – ghosting into the situation with a ridiculously high Stealth skill, attacking with fists, guns, or telekinetically-enhanced versions of both, and then vanishing again. He had other powers; we eventually rewrote him because I didn’t use them.

Anyway: to return. I loves me some fighters. When I reposted my take on the Samurai from a year or two ago, a helpful poster aimed me at an Unearthed Arcana dedicated to the topic, specifically the samurai. I read through it, and had thoughts.

Fighter Archetypes

In 5e, what you’re really adding isn’t different character classes in most cases (this is good), but instead adding Fighter Archetypes – which basically means you’re adding thematically unified sets of powers that show up (for the fighter) at different levels. For fighter, you get Martial Archetype boosts at 3rd level (on selection), and then 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th.

The 3rd level abilities usually define the archetype. The rest are power-ups.

The four new archetypes presented are the Arcane Archer, the Knight, the Samurai, and the Sharpshooter. Continue reading “Review – Unearthed Arcana: Fighter”

I’m a member of the Indie Game Developer Network. So when a member wrote that his Kickstarter was mid-swing, and a surfeit of real-life obligations prevented him from doing marketing for great justice (nod to Zero Wing). I offered to take a look at his product and review it.

The Book of Nouns

Well, yeah. The book contains about 80 different write-ups, categorized as landscapes; cities, towns, and buildings; events; people. There are twenty of each. There’s typically a full-color photograph of the thing in question, and a few pages of writeup, in 6×9 format. Every entry ends with some thoughts on how to use the idea in play.

It’s a straight-forward concept, and one might wonder if it’s needed in the age of Google? I’ll throw down an answer, which is that the world and it’s history is a vast and unruly place, and in order to search for something, you need to know it exists, or be very clever in your search terms.

This book takes some places you might or might not have heard of, people who have done great things (“terrible . . . but great,” to borrow a phrase, in some cases), cities and other events that make a place noteworthy, and then served ’em up to you as a jumping-off point for ideas.

Examples

I won’t spoil it, of course. But there are some very interesting entries in there.

Son Doong Cave

Oh, megadungeons. Not real. Too fake. Too contrived. Could never exist.

Hah. Then you’re not aware of Son Doong Cave – which I was not. Five and a half miles of caves (that’s 2,900 10′ map squares, or if you do four squares to the inch for your graph paper, you’re talking something like a map that’s sixty feet long). And that’s just the linear dimention. Some of the caves are 600′ wide and (more impressively, perhaps) 450′ tall, which is enough to easily support some pretty horrifying avian threats. Like dinosaurs. Just sayin’.

Tell me you can’t see great encounters happening in here? Continue reading “Review: Archive – Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs”

Over on his blog, Brandon Stoddard offers up an in-depth analysis, from his perspective, of a giant list of feats in the Fifth Edition rules. He might have thrown in some Unearthed Arcana in there too.

You might read his analysis and conclude he’s totally off his rocker. You might agree with every point. Regardless, he makes his case and gives you the reasons he’s saying what he’s saying, so you can fight it out with tact and eloquence.

I really grooved on reading his stuff, so I’m going to comment on his stuff, but I’m also going to give some insight into the Feats in Dragon Heresy, and see if they pass muster based on what he’s noted, in a follow-on post. Some may, some may not. I was inspired heavily by Fifth Edition Feats by Total Party Kill games, though I made changes as required and needed for Dragon Heresy. The single feat in SRD5.1 means you have to start somewhere. Continue reading “Feat Design and Dragon Heresy”

Preamble: Dungeon Fantasy

Steve Jackson Games is conservatively being bold. They are trying a purpose-built RPG, powered by the GURPS engine, that takes the self-contained model to its logical conclusion. They are supporting a high production value release that they funded in a successful Kickstarter.

This release follows what I consider a pretty successful pattern for generic games. You see it for Savage Worlds, you see it for GUMSHOE, and you see it for Fate. (The various DnD games can be considered an inverted degenerate case – they were written specifically in this mold, and it takes work – like was done for d20 Modern – to break out of that mold.)

In any case, it distills all of the material from the many Dungeon Fantasy subsystem releases and many potential candidates from Pyramid issues and says “this is what you need to play Dungeon Fantasy.” The game will be released with five books, each somewhat thin, but enabling simultaneous at-the-table consultation. That’s the same pathway I’m taking with Dragon Heresy, and for the same reason (though with three hardcover books rather than five softcovers). Here’s the text from the Kickstarter page:

  • Adventurers (128 pages). GURPS is famous for letting you play any character you can imagine. Dungeon Fantasy keeps this flexibility while trimming away unnecessary details, concentrating on just what matters to monster-slaying, treasure-hunting action: Pick from 11 classic professions and nine playable races, customize your alter-ego using quick-start templates and a powerful point-build system, and gear up with an equipment list that offers dozens of weapons and lets you assemble exactly the suit of armor that fits your image.

  • Exploits (112 pages). Learn how the heroes actually use their abilities and gear. That means combat, of course – and dozens of other activities, whether your thing is sneaking around, swinging from the scenery, exorcizing evil, or getting rich through cunning deals in town. This book also describes countless bad things that can befall adventurers (poison, traps, dismemberment, lava pits . . .), as well as good things, namely loot. And it’s full of practical advice to the Game Master who leads this three-ring circus: challenging the players, keeping the action moving, settling arguments, and much more.

  • Spells (80 pages). What would fantasy be without magic? Adventurers features four spellcasting professions (bard, cleric, druid, and wizard), and this volume describes over 400 spells to help you customize them. It also includes complete rules for how spells work – whether their power comes from the gods, Nature, or creepy tomes of forbidden wizardly knowledge.

  • Monsters (64 pages). Once the adventurers are ready, and armed with weapons and magic, it’s time to test their mettle! This catalog starts you out with more than 80 things that want to bite, claw, grab, sting, and curse the heroes – not just the predictable orcs and zombies, but also several Dungeon Fantasy originals. Each offers notes on tactics and variants, and the whole collection comes with advice and rules for adventurers dealing with monsters . . . and monsters dealing with adventurers.

  • Dungeon (24 pages). I Smell a Rat is a simple (but not simplistic!) quest designed to show new gamers the ropes. Like any classic hack ‘n’ slash adventure, it starts at the inn. From there, the heroes will find themselves facing traps, enemies, and unexpected twists – and finding treasure, although not necessarily gold and silver. Advice and “adventure hooks” let the Game Master challenge advanced players or spin the tale into a series of adventures.

The Kickstarter raised over $175,000 within Kickstarter itself, and then hit more stretch goals based on external orders. The stretch goals funded delivery of several more PDF-based support releases in the coming years. I also have to wonder now that SJG has embraced CreateSpace if they’ll make the new titles available via POD as well. Once you have the InDesign files, and once you say from the get-go “I will design to the annoying CreateSpace margin requirements” then providing POD is pretty easy, and would satisfy those that want physical copies of GURPS releases without forcing SJG to do offset runs that tie up inventory and funds. Win/win.

In any case, this is a long preamble to say that this post covers the first of the promised releases – the Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy issue of Pyramid Magazine, which features articles by some fairly big hitters in the Dungeon Fantasy space. Matt and David both provide adventure support, and Peter reflects on his multi-year Dungeon Fantasy campaign and distills wisdom. Christopher offers up some creatures to kill and eat the PCs. Continue reading “Sunday Review – Pyramid #3/98: Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy”

This is a repeat of an SJG Forums post made by Assistant Line Editor Jason “PK” Levine.

*** *** *** ***

A wise company looks to the future while carefully minding the past, and it’s in the latter spirit that we’ve offered back catalogs of our classic magazines. Roleplayer, which started as a newsletter and then evolved into our in-house magazine over a run of 30 issues, actually predates GURPS. The “house organ” position was later filled by Pyramid Classic, our full-color, 96-page magazine that also went for 30 issues before transitioning from print to online as “Pyramid Volume 2.”

In addition to being filled with useful articles and interesting editorials, these these magazines offer a window into the past of Steve Jackson Games. As such, we’ve had them available on Warehouse 23 for some time now (see links in the paragraph above). But we know that some people are completionists — they want it all or want nothing! — and it is for our fellow obsessives that we’ve created two new half-priced bundles.

The GURPS Roleplayer Bundle gives you all 30 issues of Roleplayer for just $30, and the Pyramid Classic Bundle similarly delivers all 30 issues of the first volume of Pyramid for just $75. You can think of these as “half off,” “buy one get one free,” or “a 50% savings” (well, okay, a 49.75% or 49.99% savings if you want to get technical), but it all adds up to the same thing: a way to snag ’em all without breaking your budget.

So strap on your archaeological ludographer’s jacket and delve back into a time when physical skills cost more and carrying capacity was linear. For only by understanding the past can we move forward!

GURPS Roleplayer Bundle

Store Link: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/SJG30-8399
Preview PDF: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG30-8399_preview.pdf

Pyramid Classic Bundle

Store Link: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/SJG30-8899
Preview PDF: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG30-8899_preview.pdf