Hey all, Melvin Smif’s Geekery will return in January 2017. Hope your remaining holiday season is fantastic!
Hey all, Melvin Smif’s Geekery will return in January 2017. Hope your remaining holiday season is fantastic!
*Hey everyone, I’m pleased to announce the debut article from a good friend of mine, Nick, a.k.a. Uncle Grumps. The guy simply knows more than I do about Warmachine/Hordes. He’s the guy who introduced me and he’s a driving force for why I still play. I think I even beat him once. So whether he’s Krushing you with Khador, Mincing you with Mercs or Minions, PLASTERING you with Protectorate of Meno… you know what… just please enjoy his article. – Melv
What’s up, Jerks? This is Uncle Grumps and I’m here to talk about Warmachine/Hordes.
First of all, an introduction is in order. I’ve known Melvin since grade school, and yes, I do have an endless amount of embarrassing stories I could divulge. I started playing Warmachine/Hordes in 2009 and immediately fell in love. My main factions are Khador, Mercenaries, and Minions. I also have a small smattering of Protectorate of Menoth and Cryx. I would consider myself to be a casual player, although I have played in my fair share of local tournaments. Since I’m a bit more knowledgeable about WarmaHordes than Melvin, I’ve agreed to help him out with a series of articles to showcase the game. In other words, I’ve hijacked Mel’s website and he’s not getting it back.
Today, I want to take a quick look at two recently released solos. First up is Major Harrison Gibbs, a mercenary model that works only for Cygnar and is a Partisan for that faction. From Privateer Press’ website:
Available as of 11/09/2016
“A natural survivor and ruthless pragmatist, the man known as Gibbs is as capable on the battlefield as any professional soldier. As a cook in a Cygnaran trencher company, Gibbs was stranded behind enemy lines and was forced to adapt to survive. Wearing the uniform of a dead officer, he introduced himself not as a cook but as Trencher Major Harrison Gibbs and has become a vital member of the Llaelese Resistance.”
Quite a backstory, eh? Major Gibbs’ model is full of small, characterful details that reflect this background, such as the frying pan and spatula tied to his pack or the holes worn in his scavenged overcoat.
A glance at the front of Gibbs’ card reveals a stat line that is thoroughly average. His speed, MAT, RAT, defense, armor, and command are all middle of the road. Gibbs wields a standard military rifle with one notable exception. When you make an attack with his rifle you can choose one of two attack types: a standard rifle shot or an AOE 3 POW 10 grenade shot. Gibbs is also packing a club with middling range and damage but crit brutal damage for a bit of extra oomph. Top it off with Assault and Tough, and you have a solo that isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
The back of Gibbs’ card contains a plethora of useful abilities. Dodge allows him to advance 2” after an enemy attack misses him. Feign Death means he cannot be targeted by ranged or magic attacks while he is knocked down. Gibbs also has Reposition (3”) which allows him to advance 3” after an activation in which he did not run or charge. His Leadership (Llaelese) ability grants Feign Death and Reposition (3”) to any Llaelese warrior models in Gibbs’ command range. For now, the only models with the Llaelese keyword are Ashlynn d’Elyse, Anastasia di Bray, Gastone Cross, Groman Di Wulfe, Ragman, Sgt Nicolas Verendrye, the Thorn Gun Mages and Gibbs himself. However this is likely to change once Privateer releases a Highborn Covenant-style Llaelese theme force. Last, but certainly not least, is the Hot Meal ability. This ability allows Gibbs fully heal all friendly, living, Faction, warrior models in his command range once per game. Yes, this includes your Warcaster.
Major Gibbs is an interesting collection of survival and buffing abilities. His synergy with Ashlynn is obvious. Giving the speedy Warcaster Feign Death, Reposition (3”) and the option to fully heal once per game is huge. He can also grant these abilities to key Llaelese support solos like Gorman or Ragman. As great as his buffing potential is, you shouldn’t discount his combat prowess. His ability to throw out 3” POW 10 AOE’s and then Reposition out of harms way can be devastating to clumped groups of warrior models. As of right now, Gibbs has more to offer a Mercenary army than a Cygnaran force, but I foresee that changing in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if Privateer released a Cygnaran Trencher theme force that features Gibbs.
The other solo we’ll be taking a look at today is the Blighted Nyss Warlord from the Legion of Everblight. From Privateer Press’ website:
Available as of 11/09/2016
“The warlords of Everblight’s Legion enter combat armed with the double-bladed claymore – a weapon requiring remarkable dexterity and coordination to wield. With it, a blighted Nyss warlord scythes through enemy ranks, severing heads and limbs alike with blinding strikes.”
The Warlord is a melee combat monster. His stat line is average for a solo except for his low RAT and exceptional MAT. His double claymore boasts the same range and damage as the swords of the Blighted Nyss Swordsmen along with the Weapon Master ability. The back of the card is where things really start to get interesting. The Warlord’s first listed ability is Blade Shield which gives him +2 DEF against ranged attacks. This provides a slight increase in survivability but a concentrated effort can still take them down at range. Next up is Cleave which grants the Warlord one additional attack if he destroys an enemy model with a melee attack. When this is combined with Overtake, which lets the Warlord advance 1” after destroying an enemy model, it gives the Warlord to strike multiple targets at unexpected angles. The Warlord also has Precision Strike which allows his controller to choose the column or branch damaged when attacking warjacks or warbeasts. He also grants Blighted Nyss Swordsmen in his command range Precision Strike thanks to his Leadership ability. Finally, the Warlord’s double claymore has the Decapitation ability. This doubles any damage that exceeds the ARM of the target. All of this combines to make the Blighted Nyss Warlord a veritable killing machine.
You’d hard pressed to find a Legion army that couldn’t benefit from a Warlord or two. Thagrosh, the Messiah can empower Warlords to hit harder and more accurately with Manifest Destiny. The extra attack and placement from Rhyas, Sigil of Everblight’s feat can help a Warlord to get even more out of Overtake. You may find it challenging to deliver the Warlord into melee, especially after your opponent sees the havoc it can wreak on his or her models. A Swamp Gobber Bellows Crew can help ensure the Warlord arrives intact and ready to rock.
That’s all I’ve got for today. I’m moving Gibbs and the Warlord to the front of my painting queue. Hopefully I’ll have some photos to share soon. Feel free to post any comments or questions you may have. Complaints can go straight to Melvin. ‘Til next time, folks!
– Uncle Grumps
For 42 years people of all ages have found themselves seated around a table with a group of friends crafting stories and rolling dice as they adopted new adventurous personas. Yesterday I received the news from Wizards of the Coast that the original Tabletop Roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons was to be inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. Games are imbedded into our daily lives these days. Even if you have never played D&D or one of the thousands of other tabletop roleplaying games out there, you likely grew up playing videos games, or have been introduced to games via your smart devices. We take the style of games these days for granted, not knowing that so many of the “common” game concepts we utilize stem directly from D&D. The idea of a character having a pool of health points, accepting a quest of some sort, and most evident of all gaining experience points and becoming stronger for it. These were all originated in this 42 year old product.
Here is the official press release:
It’s been 42 years in the making! Today, we’re excited to announce Dungeon & Dragons as a 2016 inductee to the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum for Play in Rochester, NY. Since it was first published in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has inspired millions of gamers to create stories and adventures and it has brought people from all backgrounds together to share those experiences.
Director of D&D at Wizards of the Coast, Nathan Stewart, was in Rochester to accept the award and witness history, as D&D was officially inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. It is not just a proud moment for Wizards of the Coast, but also for parent company, Hasbro. John Frascotti, president of Hasbro Brands said, “Dungeons & Dragons embodies Hasbro’s goal of creating the world’s best play and entertainment experiences and we are extremely proud to see D&D be inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame alongside many other brands in our portfolio like Twister, Candy Land, The Game of Life, Mr. Potato Head and the Easy-Bake Oven. D&D has enabled fans to create their own stories for more than 40 years and we look forward to continuing to inspire imaginations by providing amazing play experiences.”
These long time players and fans of the brand at Wizards of the Coast were elated by the nomination, noting:
“D&D has become a rite of passage for children of a creative temperament. It’s incredible to think that what started as the marriage of tabletop wargames and pulp fantasy novels has become the iconic storytelling pastime for multiple generations.” – Mike Mearls, lead designer, Dungeons & Dragons
“Perhaps the greatest innovation of Dungeons & Dragons is that it provides a way to play pretend with rules. I think when older kids and adults discover the game, they tap into a style of play from early childhood that they’ve forgotten. The game unleashes the individual imagination of each player while, at the same time, it draws them together to tell a story. You can discover a lot about yourself and each other in a very short time and in a fun way. Friendships that last a lifetime frequently form while playing Dungeons & Dragons.” – Matt Sernett, game designer
“Dungeons & Dragons is not just a game – its legacy has been a part of our culture for generations. But perhaps its most important influence is with the positive impact it has made on children and adults in the form of enhanced social, math, analytical, reading, writing, and creative skills and friendships that have lasted for decades. It is an honor to be part of a team that continues to fuel an inextinguishable spark of imagination for years to come.” – Shelly Mazzanoble, associate brand manager, Wizards of the Coast
Congratulations are certainly in order, and a big thank you from me. D&D has had an immense impact on my life.
I received a message from a follower of the blog inquiring where I’ve been. I wanted to assure everyone I’m still out here, I’ve just taken a bit of a break from the blog until life cools down a bit. I’ve been very busy! Hopefully I can get back to writing soon. Thank you all for your patience.
P.S. I hope everyone going to Acadecon this weekend has a blast! I’ll be thinking of you all while I enjoy the wedding festivities of a good friend of mine.
Here are some of the fall releases for the tabletop skirmishes wargame Warmachine and Hordes from Privateer Press!
Available as of 09/07/2016
Love it when I can get a little love for Retribution! On first look the Lys Healer doesn’t really shine as a must have unit, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be very effective in the right circumstances. A very temperamental solo to say the least. Her Power of Faith ability will help against knockdown effects and we Retribution fellows tend to hate those. A feature I tend to like is her Move to Assist, this gives her a ton of movement range on the field and can possibly get her right in the thick of a spot where she’s needed. She’s going to be burden to some lists but unless you need her she’s a bit of a point soak.
comes with the following abilities:
Available as of 09/07/2016
The Northkin Shaman seems like a interesting beast. The longer I look at this unit, and I’m not a Trollblood guy, I’m seeing the most useful feature being its Freak Storm magic ability that not only allows for a cloud effect of a sizeable margin but also allows for the Northkin Shaman to teleport a distance away from where it stood upon casting the effect. If you have the faction allotted amount of two of these you can really wreck up some line of sight. Having a decent ARM and a fair number of boxes may give it some sustainability unless someone gets serious about taking it down.
If you do find yourself not churning out AoE cloud effects every turn the Northkin Shaman can pack a decent punch with the magical ability Frostbite or can control the board a bit by lowering defense with Cold Snap, a magical ability that gives enemies the Chiller effect.
The Northkin Shaman has the following abilities:
Available as of 10/12/2016
Now here are some nasty ladies. Stats are all average, even for their double Magelock Pistols, but their abilities are where they really begin to shine. One especially nasty ability is their Blood Mist attack. If I recall correctly Blood Mist, an attack type that turns boxed enemies into a sizable cloud effect AoE, used to only work against living units. I noticed on this card though it now effects living or undead models. Not sure if you put two and two together but I can see a few shots being taken against some of your own units if it proves more favorable to put them down for a cloud effect! The group also houses the Black Penny as an attack type, always a nice feature for any ranged unit to ignore that melee DEF Bonus.
If this group finds itself in a melee situation, not advised, they aren’t without tricks. Using their horns, and an average MAT, they can do a bit of damage. What you are really hoping for is the critical because they pack a Critical Knockdown ability as well.
The Satyxis Gunslingers have the following abilities:
That’s all for now folks! be sure to visit my Warmachine and Hordes page to find photos of painted figures and other posts about this great game and the spinoff roleplaying games Iron Kingdoms and Unleashed.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
At the $10000 mark we will see this stretch goal realized:
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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m gearing up for a Campaign set in the Ravenloft setting, so I’ve been scouring the DM’s Guild for a few resources to help out. Since I went ahead and purchased many of them sight unseen I thought I’d let you all know my thoughts. I will say before I even spell out details about each product that I suggest them all as a purchase.
In this fiendish supplement the character choices presented typically take on a darker tone, as they are representative of character options for actual denizens of the Ravenloft setting. When Curse of Strahd hit the scene it was all about characters from Forgotten Realms being drawn into the Demiplane of Dread, not so here.
There are no new classes to speak of in this supplement but there is at least one new archetype for each of the core classes represented in the pages. Archetypes like the Oath of Blood for a Paladin striving to hold off their vampire nature after suffering the curse or the Reanimated archetype for a Sorcerer who has already died but now roams the plane as a risen magic user particularly stand out as unique to the setting.
There are three new races to choose from. The Vistani, bold choice to go full blooded, the Crag Dwarf, a version of the classic dwarf that has evolved a bit of dexterity not seen in its cousins, and the Dusk Elf, which represents more of a stylistic choice than a trait based one (thought it does offer access to some supplement specific feats).
Other items of interest in the supplement are new spells, feats, and even some monsters and NPCs for the GM of your game to play around with.
My review would be that the archetypes are strong, setting specific, choices. essentially they are worth the price of the book alone. The only thing I didn’t like about the book were the races, the author boldly went for something new rather than cribbing from the past but it just didn’t pan out. The remaining character options are great though!
I liked the first foray into new Archetypes from Jeremy that I figured I’d pick this one up as well. I am not disappointed. Not only does this second helping include more in the way of character options for players but we get a healthy dose of setting lore for GMs to utilize.
Once again every character class gets a new Archetype to play around with. I especially love the Rulership Domain for Clerics, just thinking of playing as some zealot of the Lawgiver is giving me flashbacks to being an Inquisitor in an old Warhammer Dark Heresy RPG I played in. Other options added are more Races and subrace options, we finally see the Caliban which is represented as a variant of the half-orc here. The Ravenkin is a really neat idea too, no where near alike to any character class you’d normally play as. You are basically an intelligent, slightly larger, Raven. Crazy fun spellcaster class.
The new GM stuff is my favorite thing though. Love getting my hands on any details I can regarding the Core.
There are some redundancies in this book, as in things seen in the previous one. So keep that in mind.
Over the years I have turned to the website The Fraternity of Shadows often for game prep in Ravenloft, and often just to read some good gaming concepts. My buddy Jacob B. introduced me to the site when he was running Ravenloft for us in 4th Edition D&D because he was using a version of the 4th Edition Ravenloft Campaign Setting crafted by David “Jester” Gibson, the author of this entry into the DM’s Guild.
So, obviously this is a different version of the same thing the previous two items offered. Character options for the most part and a smattering of GM tools. If I were to choose between Heroes of the Mists and the Ravenloft Archetypes books I’d go with this product here, although it would be a tough choice. Jester, and the gang over at The Fraternity of Shadows, are simply more familiar to me and are a bit more closer to the original feel of Ravenloft.
The most glaring flaw is the lack of a table of contents but after reading through you get a great selection of Races, Class options, etc. but in this supplement they do a great job of adding in Backgrounds and even some setting specific items\magic items.
Towards the end of the pdf there is an excellent chapter to help a struggling GM run a game in Ravenloft. Teaching you the basics of mood and even adding in rules for Madness and Horror.
There’s only one supplement I felt I needed to grab for setting specific monsters and that was Children of the Night, also from our friends over at The Fraternity of Shadows and their publisher 5 Minute Workday Publishing.
Once again written by David “Jester” Gibbons, with help from another Fraternity member Andrew “alhoon” Pavlides, Children of the Night contains over 100 pages of just the right type of skin crawl inducing beasties you need to fuel your late night excursions into the Demiplane of Dread.
The vast majority of these monsters are updated versions of creatures found in the pages of Ravenloft supplements of old. The mechanics all appear to be well fleshed out for the new 5th edition, I can’t wait to throw some of these guys at my players.
*This review is lifted straight from my review of Curse of Strahd*
From Ember Design Studios LLC. author Lucas Curell, The Song of Aracos is considered to be a companion piece to Curse of Strahd that takes a paragraph from the introduction in CoS, written by Tracy Hickman, to heart…
“Strahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it – he travels as he desires to any place in his realm or his castle, and (from his perspective) the more often he encounters the characters, the better. The characters can and should meet him multiple times before the final encounter…”
— Curse of Strahd pg 10
The adventure is a ghost story, written for five characters of 6th-level and centers on a child’s struggle to reunite with her mother. After an introductory piece of fiction, that perfectly fits the Ravenloft flair I love, the adventure starts right out of the gate with some action with an encounter that makes pulling the players into the story-line easy for the DM. From there the players are led down the rabbit hole of helping not only another man recently trapped in Strahd’s realm but a spirit in need of respite. The trouble is, Strahd is well aware of the character’s movements and of those who seek their aid, and he is not one to lay dormant as the playthings in his interest make their moves.
Curell weaves elements of the main Adventure Path into his adventure with deftness, you’ll never feel that your playing through something not of WotC’s make. He even includes the randomization of the Taroka Deck. The setting, and NPCs involved all fit perfectly with Strahd just as terrifying as ever. Adding in a win and lose circumstance for the players matches up well with the way such things are handled within the actual Adventure Path. I especially like the potential rewards that players can obtain from doing well.
In my opinion this is a must have for anyone planning to run Curse of Strahd for their table, though it can be used as a stand alone adventure. Honestly, it’s a perfect example of what a great idea it was for Wizards of the Coast to open up their content for talented creators through the Dungeon Master’s Guild. Head on over and pick it up!
Rats in the Streets is the newest offering from Ember Designs Studios for a party of adventurer’s of 3rd level. I loved The Song of Aracos so much I had to get my hands on it. After paging through it I think it will make a great side quest for one of the game nights in our Ravenloft Campaign.
While mostly an urban adventure, with much less stress on the horror elements present in Song, we do still have some of the trappings of Ravenloft. Namely in the lead villain’s cursed nature.
The fact I plan to use Rat’s in the Street for Ravenloft goes a long way in showing its versatility as an adventure for your table. This is a great little urban crawl for any group that gives them a satisfying romp against a gang of criminals terrorizing the streets.
By the time my table gets here they might actually welcome something a bit more straight-forward as a fight against a group of street toughs. Though, there are plenty of fun surprises in store for them too.
So there you have it, those are the items I picked up to help me out. Plus, I plan to utilize Battlebards heavily now that I have a hang of their site. Not sure what I’m talking about when I reference Battlebards? See my recent review.