Storm King’s Thunder

stormkingsthunder_header

Since the onset of 5th edition Wizards of the Coast has endeavored to bring us grand adventure concepts, Dragons, Devils, Demons, a villain of legend. In Storm King’s Thunder they certainly don’t go smaller in scale, and I’m not just talking about the physical size of the main adversaries either. Even beyond the size of the giants faced throughout we are faced with the Savage Frontier, one of the most enormous untamed regions in all of the Forgotten Realms, and a tale as big as any Shakespearean drama. Something is amiss with the giants of the land, they are simply out of control. The characters may be dwarfed in size but someone will have to help stop the madness, the smallfolk must be put to the task.

Storm King’s Thunder represents the fifth such Super Adventure produced by Wizards of the Coast since the switch to it’s 5th Edition of the game. In the past many of these adventures included heavy involvement from third party game makers, like Kobold Press or Sasquatch Game Studio. This time, beyond having additional assistance from the whole WotC team & Forgotten Realms elite R.A. Salvatore, this story is almost exclusively Chris Perkins’ baby. Frankly it is yet another strong entry into the Super Adventure pool of games available for DMs to run for their player. I’m excited to say I’ll be running it myself.

Quality of the Product

Now that their are five adventures, spread over six books, I can really start to showcase these books on my shelf. I’ve put some of these books through the ringer too. Lent them to kids at the Library, paged through them multiple times, and they have really held up well over the years. I have no reason to suspect this new addition to the ranks will fare any worse.

img_20160927_082335

The artwork isn’t just pretty to look at. The art team recognized it’s duty to really add to the grand feeling to it all. As mentioned above, the story structure of this adventure has a real Shakespearean feel to it, and they did well to bring that feeling to the page with some amazing two page spreads and some we fleshed major players.

The Campaign

The course of this campaign will bring characters from level one to level ten and beyond. It is interesting to note that, without giving too much away, the problems being faced here all stem from a major shift among the race of giants themselves. The players represent the smallfolk of the world trying desperately to save themselves from that fall out, and it may just require issuing a helping hand to some giants themselves to return some order. Things will get very messy for the more diminutive races of the world if they don’t step in.

A quick read through of this adventure makes it feel a mite linear but there are actually several points where the characters will be choosing a path that, while not changing the story as a whole, certainly offer a different perspective. Things are not as Sandbox driven as the previous two installments, but I honestly can’t see why the players would care. If they are interested in helping out the choice to continue this adventure is never going to feel forced, it really does flow very well.

giantslayer

Additional Content

I want to give a particular shout out to the layout of this book and to some specific design choices. I love that right at the beginning of the book the DM is given a rundown on the main NPCs for their arsenal. This “Dramatis Personae” section is a two page breakdown of the NPCs, each getting a brief description and direction to where in the book you can find more information on them. I’m also a huge fan of the Adventure Flowchart, for a quick reference of the various chapters each portion of this book has and for information on what level your characters should likely be when they get there. I wish I could show this, but that would be a bit of a spoiler for those prepping to play this game.

The Appendixes are very helpful for the DM, as one would expect. Of these Appendix A is the most interesting as it gives helpful advice on how to bridge other adventures into this one. I particularly like the way they suggest weaving Out of the Abyss and Storm King’s Thunder together.

A glaring omission for Storm King’s Thunder is the lack of any character options at all. To me it has become apparent that WotC has made the decision to allow the Dungeon Master’s guild be the main resource for players, and by that I mean if we want player option we have to make them ourselves. I was really hoping for at least some new character backgrounds for the Savage Frontier. The closest we get to something like that is a section at the beginning of Chapter 3 that adds details to the denizens of the Savage Frontier. I will note that while writing this I asked Chris Perkins himself about the decision not to include character options this time around and he directed me to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. I need to actually look at this book, pretty sure it’s the only one Wizards didn’t send me for review.

In Conclusion

Another solid outing. I continue to be impressed by the content WotC is churning out, if a bit let down that it is solely focused on selling to the Dungeon Master. This adventure shows me that while Wizards can utilize third party studios really well for great content, they don’t need them. There are some excellent, creative, minds at work in this company. I’m excited to see what comes next!

-Melvs

 

Kickstart that Geek! Sun Spots – A Call of Cthulhu RPG Scenario

The Sun Spots Kickstarter will run until October 9, 2016.

My aim was to write this review last Thursday, but life got in the way. Apparently Dave Sokolowski did not need my article in the least to get funded! First off, congratulations on funding Dave. Secondly, let’s see if I can’t garner just a tad more attention eh?

Lovecraftian horror/lore/gaming is a particular love of mine. Sadly, I rarely dabble in that third category though. I’ve read the rulebooks, and I’ve played in a Call of Cthulhu game from time to time, but never as much as I’d like. So naturally when Dave gave me the chance to dig into some of his material for this Kickstarter I loved getting the chance. What I didn’t know going into this review was the story behind it’s gestation. It would be unfair to say that this is the only Kickstarter I’ve reviewed that was a true labor of love, all Kickstarters are, but I found Dave’s backstory particularly endearing. The project was initially set to be handled with the assistance of famed Cthulhu mastermind Keith “Doc” Herber, whom Dave had only just begun a report with when his untimely death shocked all. So Sun Spots comes to us as a bit of a testament to Doc’s work, and what I see so far looks great! He Who Laughs Last Cover.indd

Sun Spots is a Horror themed RPG Scenario that uses the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition ruleset. Set in the 1920’s the adventure begins as a simple mission to find a missing person only to unfold into something far more grand, and terrifying. Rival powers surround the players who find themselves in the unseasonably warm town of Red Valley. Things seem normal at first but that is soon to pass.

What I have in front of me now could already suffice for a fully fleshed scenario were I to want to run the game myself. Frankly it seems this Kickstarter is mostly to round out the edges and fully realize the potential of Dave’s vision. As stated on the Kickstarter page itself the funding will help pay for more art, better maps, and even some last touches of editing.  I see no reason not to expect this project to be fully realized, especially because the thing has already funded.

review_ss_jason-art-6_red-valley

Currently the Kickstarter is at nearly $9,000, very close to doubling its original mark of $5,000. Already obtained are the following two stretch goals:

  • $7500: More Art — Add four more b/w half-page illustrations by our amazing artistReuben Dodd.
  • $8500: GM Kit Part 1 — Provide Playtest notes illuminating the various lessons learned throughout the years of playtesting this, as well as provide a full transcript of the first playtest from 2008. This will be available as a PDF with every pledge $10 and above.

At the $10000 mark we will see this stretch goal realized:

  • $10,000: Red Valley Visitor’s Guide — I will work with Gregory Geiger to incorporateJake Coolidge’s hand-drawn map of Red Valley into a 1920s-style visitor’s guide handout. This will be available as a PDF with every pledge $10 and above, and will be provided as a print copy for the Deluxe level ($70) and above.

As always I like to peruse things and see what levels I would be personally drawn to. Here are my picks for backer levels of interest.

Digital Spot – $10 or more

Receive a PDF copy of Sun Spots via DTRPG, plus all stretch goals. Also have your name added to the list of Kickstarter contributors.

INCLUDES

  • PDF Copy of Sun Spots via DTRPG
The Digital Spot is your typical PDF buy in offer, and I’d say you’d be getting you money’s worth and then some with this thrifty option. Perfect for those of us with a little less scratch in our pockets.

Deluxe Hard Spot – $70 or more

Receive a hand-signed, hardcover version of Sun Spots, plus a digital copy via DTRPG, all stretch goals, and your name listed as a Kickstarter Contributor. You will also receive hard-copies of the three maps and any scenario handouts.

INCLUDES

  • PDF Copy of Sun Spots via DTRPG
  • Hand-signed, Hardcover book of Sun Spots
  • Hard-copies of 3 maps & any scenario handouts
 The Deluxe Hard Spot is your go to for the luxury purchase in my estimation. Hard copies galore! The perfect purchase of a connoisseur.
Head on over to the Kickstarter when you get a chance, or at least spread the word to ensure your fellow Cthulhu loving friends hear about it. Looks like it’s going to be a great game!
If you want to know more about the project beyond what’s written here of on the Kickstarter page, head on over to Dave’s webpage Weird8.
-Melvs

Piracy in Theah! John Wick’s 7th Sea

“Let’s play a pirate game!” Who hasn’t either heard this exclaimed or shouted it themselves when contemplating their table’s next set of adventures eh? Over the years there have been a number of games suited well enough for a game on the high seas, generic systems like Savage Worlds, or maybe even a game that integrates the concept within like Iron Kingdoms. None have ever been quite as quick to the tongue as 7th Sea however and now, fresh from a successful Kickstarter run (and the starting of a whole new company, John Wick Presents) we have finally received a second edition of the game. Let’s be honest though, this is more of a re-branding of the titular title, utterly new and cinematic in nature, the new 7th Sea is upon us.

cover

The version of this product I will review is the pdf format of the game, available from Drive Thru RPG for $24.99. At this price point you will receive:

  • The Core Rulebook in a Low and High resolution format
  • Character Sheet
  • Two World Maps
  • The Quick Start rules

You’ll find zero complaints from me regarding the design, layout, and imagery of this product. It is flat out gorgeous. It really makes me consider getting my hands of the physical copy of the book some day, if for no other reason than to have it sit on my shelf looking pristine while I use the pdf for game-play so as never to touch it. As is evident from the style chosen to introduce those behind this book (a well drafted mock up of a movie poster) there is a push to showcase this work as a grand cinematic feature. This style choice does not disappoint, I had some real fun parsing these pages and loved all the artwork within.

After an introductory work of short fiction, the well written “A Day’s Work” by Jennifer Mahr, that goes a long way into giving its audience a feel for the world of Theah and its heroes (no worries I’ll not ruin it, great read) we get ourselves into the meat of the book.

Chapters one and two are all introductory pieces into the 7th Sea and an expanded introduction into the world of Theah itself. The continent of Theah is loosely based on our real world version of Europe and Asia of the pertinent time periods to the age of piracy. An interesting tidbit we receive right off the bat is an emphasis on how the world of Theah handles diversity, in that peoples of all nation, sex, and creed are to be treated equally. This is a great idea for the game table anyway, so including it in game (with a good rationale for why it is that way) is a nice touch. Further through chapter two we are introduced to the various nations (their etiquette, governments, and even food, clothing , and customs), Religion, Guilds, Pirates and Privateers, and more. Some of the items touched on here are broadened in their own chapters, like Secret Societies. Spanning just over 100 pages these chapters give you just what you need to have a feel for the setting.

splash

I adore every chapter’s two page splashes. Some utterly epic work.

Character creation, as described in chapter three, comes across fairly simple with enough choices to address even the most fiddly of players. An interesting process starts this creation off. A list of twenty questions helps to guide a player into fleshing out just who their character is. Questions like “How would you physically describe your hero?” might assist you in the mechanical aspects of the upcoming creation and yet there are also questions like “Is your hero in love?” that speak to more “fluff” related items. After reading through this section I can easily see how a veteran of the game might simply skip it but I’d urge any player to use this list as a jumping off point, it really looks like it might add some much needed depth!

Honestly, once you have a concept for your character (something the aforementioned section will produce) the remaining choices simply fall into place. Traits detail core strengths, next your character’s nation and background add bonuses to and Advantages, then you enhance Skills gained through your Background or add new ones, and add some extra Advantages. These are the major mechanical aspects, and your concept will help you choose them quickly. After that there are two items to add on to a character that I feel are pretty unique. Arcana is essentially a version of horoscopes that add extra bonuses to certain styles of play, and then you come to Choosing a Story. This last bit is much more abstract, as you aren’t bound by the suggestions they lay out, but as I mentioned there are suggestions (and a helpful template). Your story appears to be the mechanism for how your character advances in “level” or rather how one increases certain Traits\Skills or earns new Advantages. Complete your story, earn the pre-ordained reward. I will note that there is one last step of some finishing touches to work on after this though, wealth, languages, secret societies, etc.

Chapter four addresses the mechanics of play. There is a simple three step system to recall for any situation. The GM sets the scene, a player may decide to take an action and if the GM feels that action is what’s called a “Risk” the player will need to roll dice, lastly the results of those rolls to resolve the Risk. Obviously things may get more interestign than that but thems the basics. One thing I like is the section starting on page 172 that lays out a fictional back and forth between a GM and a player to showcase how such situations play out. I’ve seen this trick done many a time in RPG books and I always like it.

Once the die are cast and totaled, called the Approach in this book,  the GM must then decide if the player has succeeded and created an Opportunity for the players, a Consequence, or both. Great care is taken to ensure any GM knows that it is far more interesting to mix the two and to liven them up from a standard “You\They take wounds” situation where possible. Make it cinematic.

Getting deeper into this chapter the rules allow for all sorts of adjustments, from both the GM (ala something called the Danger Pool) or the players (Hero Points, Flair, Pressure). Details get rounded out about dealing with wounds, because sometimes the Consequence truly is taking a sword to the gut, and there is even a nice section on setting up a “rush of furious activity” known as a Dramatic Sequence. The mechanics can seem a heady at first, but the deeper you read (and after parsing the various examples) you’ll get the gist rather easily.

duel

All I’ve spoken on only encompasses the first two thirds of this book. The next four chapters cover various character options, the many styles of sorcery available, dueling maneuvers, how to sail a ship, and the various secret societies a player can belong to. Then, to wrap things up, we have a strong finale chapter dedicated to assisting GMs (from novice to veteran).

7th Sea is a very different game from its roots with its original Roll and Keep system, and it stands to be seen which players may prefer. The new system is well fleshed out though. Attention has been paid to the minutia, and we have a very complete game. It is an interesting blend of fiddly mechanics and emphasis on storytelling that I find myself interested to dive into. I get the impression my regular gaming table would not approve of the “leveling” mechanic in the game, but I honestly love the idea of setting out to actually complete story arcs and goals, and then being rewarded for doing so.

If you find yourself craving that cinematic feel of piracy on the big screen, this is your game. If you love the idea of taking a character along a storied path, this is your game. If nothing else the book is chock full of excellent artwork, and fantastic lore usable in any piracy game. There’s a reason this project raised over 1.3 million on Kickstarter, it is grand!

sailing

Get out there and sail those seas!

-Melvs

 

 

Gaming in Gothic Horror

Gothic Fiction

Obviously this topic is on my mind of late, as my upcoming Ravenloft game lurks ever present in the back of my mind. A horror is tough to run at a table, let alone going further down the niche of Gothic style horror. So what sets this style of play apart from your regular gaming campaign? What kind of work behind the scenes and on game night must you do to correctly set the tone? Well, here’s hoping some of the ideas I have for my upcoming Ravenloft run might assist you.

UNDERSTANDING GOTHIC HORROR

I think the first step for something like this is to understand just what Gothic horror represents as a genre. While all your regular horror tropes may appear in this subgenre, your slashers, beasts, death, and despair, a truly Gothic setting must also up the ante on pure tragedy. It’s villains are best when served up as either heroes gone bad or someone who gave into their craven desires and then strive for said desires, never to be sated. Ravenloft is filled to brim with horrifying figures of tragic circumstances. Strahd von Zarovich is the prime example, namely because so few do not know his legacy, he forever seeks someone to fill the place of his one true love whom he will never again be with. His jealousy and rage caused his downfall and he became the horror he is to this date.

I think one of the best things in the Curse of Strahd Adventure Path was the fact that the vampire lord was not idle, true villains of Gothic horror rarely are. They are not eveil lords content to sit back in their strongholds awaiting the PC’s to storm the gates after conquering their minions. In a Gothic setting if you draw the eye of the monster you seek, you will become wrapped in their games.

Gothic Fiction 02

Gothics are often referred to as Romances, and with good reason. Even if there is not the physical love between two or more people it is all about “romantic” ideals. Look to the typical hero of a Gothic tale. Victor Frankenstein can hardly be called a hero but his romantic notion to bring the dead back to life created his own horror on Earth. The best of heroes in a Gothic setting are typically less capable than you would see in other genres. The hero of Dracula was Professor Van Helsing, not the crossbow wielding adventurous guy you may have seen in other depictions, but instead an older gentleman with his own set of flaws. He doesn’t discern the true nature of the issue until it is too late for one life and he is not capable of saving all in his care as he drives them to track Dracula back to Transylvania. Heroes in these stories are rare, they are also often flawed.

Essentially the truly Gothic tale will be one where the heroes clutch and claw about, looking for the cause of the dismay and confusion that surrounds them, only to eventually have all the clues snap into place. The best realization of the horror that surrounds them then should be a simultaneous feeling of dread and despair, sometimes even for the monster they seek.

HOW TO BRING THAT TO THE TABLE

To give a Gothic game that truly dreamlike grandness it deserves can be hard, both the players and the GM often need to be invested in the story. This isn’t the type of game that lends itself to a “battle a week” format very well. There needs to be a leadup to that point, and it can often work best when the fight isn’t even entirely fair. Though I will say I have no intention of going full on Lovecraftian on them, if I wanted them to have no chance I’d just run a Call of Cthulhu based game.

I know I’m already urging my players to have connections to one another but I think I’m going to go one step further and have them, for whatever reasons their characters have, residents of the same small village. In this move I plan to start their troubles somewhat small, get them involved on a personal basis early on. Their characters will know, and presumably care, for every member in the village. I can’t go too much further into this though because some of my players actually read this stuff.

l021b-most-haunted-house_1

Potential game night location

For some of the ambiance, I plan to incorporate music and sound into my game as much as possible, utilizing Battlebards as I’ve mentioned many times over the last few articles. Hopefully I can even dim the lights or something but I have learned that D&D by candlelight doesn’t work well, people just can’t see a damn thing. I’ll ask that phones be placed away from the table, I can’t stand people on their phones while I’m running a game.

In game I’ll be pulling creatures from the Children of the Mists supplement I described in my previous article a lot. Ravenloft can be a place of straightforward dangers like banditry and such, but I want my enemies to have dark purpose and I hope to convey it.

IN CONCLUSION

There are a ton of things I could throw onto this page about my plans but it might ruin some of what’s to come. I hope the guys go for it, I’m pretty excited. Stay tuned to the site because I’ll probably work up a few post game write ups, or at least let you know some of the things that have worked\not worked for me. If you have advice for a burgeoning Gothic Horror GM, let me know in the comments! I don’t profess to be an expert yet, this is my first run at it.

-Melvs