Archive for September 2016

Pathfinder Horror Adventures

horror-adventureAt GenCon 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing wesley Schneider. He is the editor-in-chief at Paizo but also a contributor to their newest release, Horror Adventures. He was kind enough to give me a copy of it and the book, Bloodbound. Life has been busy but I have finally had the time to dig into Horror Adventures and share my thoughts on the book.

The book itself is a gorgeous artifact. It is a 254 page hard bound book. The interior is full color and continues in the tradition of the other books using the iconic heroes as the subjects of the art throughout the book. I always love the art in the Pathfinder books. It is well done and evocative of the themes and mechanics that are found throughout the tome. I especially appreciate the work done on the index. It makes finding specific things much easier and in a book this size it is important.

Horror Adventures is a tool box. It gathers together game mechanics, character options, spells, monsters, and advice to allow both players and game masters to run horror games using the Pathfinder system. The book is filled to the brim with useful information and tweaks that can be made to run a great horror game or campaign.

I am just going to hit the pieces here that stood out for me.

The first thing that I love about this book is that it takes the time to address expectations from both the player and the game master side. From the game master’s perspective, it addresses the need to understand whom you are trying to scare or creep out. Are you trying to scare the characters or the players? Both are viable options but require different ways of handling the game and a different level of consent. I like that the authors of the book make this distinction. Trying to scare your players can crossover into territory that can be very uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to the players about what they can handle and having a system in place to just stop if things become unbearable it important in games like this. From the player’s perspective, it addresses the need to give up a level of control on the character. Your character has to be afraid of something and react poorly to situations or the power of a horror game is muted or lost.

The authors also take the time to address the differences between a fantasy adventure game and a horror game. In horror, the process is loss and degradation of resources. This leads to the loss of most of the characters in a horror setting save the few lone survivors. In Fantasy, the progression is the opposite direction. Characters get stronger and stronger an collect more and more resources. The authors point out how this does not make horror impossible. They show how the threats scale despite the inevitable triumph of the player characters. There are several techniques highlighted in the book for making this possible. In particular, I like how they call out players to give their characters family, friends, and goals. These things create more in depth characters and also give them things to lose in a horror game.

Another thing that stood out for me was the addition of Corruptions. These are templates that you would add to a character after they have been exposed to something horrible in the world such as Vampirism or Lycanthropy or due to choice, Lichdom. Corruptions provide a system whereby characters have certain benefits and drawbacks from these conditions. This allows for the player to struggle with both the power that comes from the whatever they have garnered as well as fight against the descent into darkness. These formalize processes that are more vague in the standard Pathfinder game or are easily overcome with a single spell. Thus, a series of games is strung together to overcome this path of destruction.

A great idea!

The books provides plenty of options for making changes to player characters. There are new racial benefits that fit better within a horror setting as well as class archetypes that create some terrifying villains for players to face. My favorite player facing changes are the story feats in this book. Twisted Love is my favorite. This is a feat that is very much a riff on Strahd from Ravenloft. You are mistaken for a monster or villain’s lost love. You gain a certain benefit for having this feat and an additional feature for completing the storyline. I love that there is this call out in the book and that this trope is something mechanically supported by this book. I can not wait to give it a try!

The book also provides a plethora of mechanics around fear, madness, curses, and setting to help create an environment that is inimical to the lives of the heroes. In particular, there are rules for creating domains for powerful evil creatures. This dovetails nicely with the story feats allowing game masters to recreate Ravenloft or any domain of dread that they may want to utilize. The rules give directions on how the domain is formed, the rules that would hold sway within it and how the borders are closed and ultimately how to destroy one. It allows cooperative group to come together and craft a story together to explore a specific trope of horror for a while within their own heroic fantasy game.

Paizo has created a great toolbox for for horror fans with Horror Adventures. It provides players and game masters with plenty of new bells and whistles to add to the game along with excellent advice on how to run any type of horror game you would like in Pathfinder.

Four bear paws out of four! A definite must have for any fan of horror or fantasy gaming.

 

Scarlet Witch No 10

Scarlet Witch 10Much like Doctor Strange, I had not mentioned the Scarlet Witch in a while.

After reading the 10th issue in the series, this is something I must remedy.

As always David Aja does the regular cover for this issue and it is stunning as usual. This issue features a winter scene in front of a Japanese pagoda. The title is written in the Japanese style next to Kanji and the names of the creators on this issue. Aja use of three colors to create such striking images is just breathtaking. His simple artistry on these covers makes me wish for lithographs of these covers to hang in my home.

The interior art on this issue lives up to the gorgeous cover. The first page is a simple one page piece. It is a snow covered field with a small fox wandering across the forlorn landscape with a few twigs the only other relief from bright white of the cold snow. A simple haiku is featured in the upper right corner.

Simple, elegant, and gorgeous.

The rest of the art throughout this issue has a definite edge to it. The way that Zama does the faces of all the characters, save for Scarlet Witch, adds gravitas to each of them. These are characters with a history that we are only glimpsing a single encapsulated moment. In addition, we are seeing these character as they deal with the grief of losing a loved one which also echoes from each line on a character’s face.

The story of this issue is also fascinating. After the gorgeous opening page, we get to see an aged man writing Kanji while contemplating the things that he has not done. We learn that he has learned of his coming demise and, despite all of his accomplishments, can only worry about what he has missed. Then his fate comes for him.

Wanda comes to Japan to investigate the death of the Aoi Master, Hiroshi Tanaka. She did not know the man but felt his death on the other side of the world. This is a mystery that can not be left unanswered. So, like a good detective, she begins asking questions. Through these questions we learn about the life of the Aoi Master and what he meant to this part of the world and these people. His loss has left a whole, but the hole also is a clue. Wanda learns sometimes it is the piece that is missing that provides the answer as opposed to finding the piece itself.

I’ll not spoil the ending for you.

I have to give this issue of Scarlet Witch four out of four bear paws. It has gorgeous art and excellent storytelling. Everything works together to create a one and done story that I could not ask for more. Scarlet Witch is a title that has not faltered in either of these arenas, even when it was forced to participate in the Civil War 2 story line. You would be remiss to not pick up this issue of Scarlet Witch.

Doctor Strange No. 11

doctor-strange-11-2016It has been awhile since I have talked comics and a bit longer since I have mention Doctor Strange. With the new Doctor Strange movie coming out in a couple of months, I thought now would be a good time to revisit his comic.

Issue Eleven picks up after the Fall of Magic storyline. The Empirikul had swept the earth destroying as much magic as it could. Many masters of the mystic arts and seats of power were destroyed in their wake. In the final battle, magic was able to survive by Doctor Strange accepting that he could no longer proceed in the way he had. He had to accept the mistakes of the past as well as their consequences.

This issue begins with Stephen meeting with dealers in a back alley. They are peddling mutant growth hormone. Doctor Strange is attempting every avenue to find a way back to his former power. This last ditch effort ends even more poorly than all the others. He is left for dead in a dumpster, only to be revived by the touch of an ethereal watcher that appears to be the Ancient One. Stephen returns home where his librarian, Zelma Stanton, is working at discovering which spells work and which don’t in this new age of magic. He then goes for a walk to see how the city fares since the threat has now passed. The imagery is of a much more subdued magical environment. Subdued, but not safe.

Unlike earlier issues, his attempt to assist a passerby suffering from a magical parasite ends poorly and he returns to his now dilapidated Sanctum Sanctorum to better arm himself. As he attempts the rescue again, we are treated to a flashback. Stephen is offered an elixir by Mordu to heal his hands. Stephen refuses and violence ensues. He then returns to the Ancient One to begin learning. Stephen picks himself up and returns home to recover and begin learning magic again in this world after magic was pushed to the brink.

The art in this issue is good. Nowlan and Romero do an excellent job at capturing the rough and beat down look of a world that is recovering. I like how the give a desperate and battered appearance Stephen throughout the book, even in flashback. In particular, I like how they handle the last page of the issue. We return to the bar with no doors for the reveal of the next big bad. They bring Mordu out of the darkness without bringing him fully into the light. I liked how they accomplished this.

Issue 11 does an excellent job of wrapping up the Fall of Magic storyline. It sets up a new status quo while still maintaining the weirdness factor which I came to love from the first issue. The art is good but is a bit outside of what I enjoy seeing in superhero comics. A solid three bear paws out of four. Well worth a read for comics fan as well as a nice series to help you get ready for the movie.

 

7th Sea

7th_sea_cover_V17th Sea is a game that captured my imagination when I first played it. The idea of a game that revolved around piracy, intrigue, romance, and swashbuckling adventure was something that I loved. I wanted to play in games where I could swing from chandeliers and rescue my paramour, race to the side of my comrades in peril, and slide down the sail of an enemy ship to defeat the villainous captain. It was something my group played for awhile but then drifted back into Dungeons & Dragons.

The kickstarter for 7th Sea reignited these passions and I quickly backed at the level to get myself a print copy of the book. I was also able to interview Rob Justice, one of the designers behind this new version of 7th Sea, at Gen Con. After some time with the book, I thought I would give my thoughts on this new iteration of 7th Sea.

Let’s start with the book itself.

This is a prodigious tome at 303 pages all of which are glossy full color. The layout is done so that it presents the information without being cluttered or distracting. There are two things that stood out about the book. First, the cover piece is phenomenal. It is a dynamic piece that captures the adventure and flair that is the heart of 7th Sea. The piece also places the female character front and center. I Loved that they made this choice for the cover piece. Second, there are two page illustrations for the start of each chapter. These pieces are beautiful as well in addition they capture the tone and purpose of the chapter they precede.

Now to the meat of the book.

7th Sea leads off with some short fiction to give you an idea of how ideas that can be found within it’s pages. A Day’s work does this admirably.

My standard edition of the book which I have signed.

My standard edition of the book which I have signed.

It provides a nice framework with which to view the ideas that are going to be presented throughout the book. This was important for me as I tend to refer back to the fiction, when present, in a roleplaying book as proof of concept. I ask, “Can my players do what happened in that piece of fiction that I just read?” If the answer is yes, then I am happy. The answer for A Day’s work is also a yes.

The book has the standard introduction to the game. In 7th Sea, this consists of breaking down the game into what types of adventures can be found within. These are broken down into pairs; Swashbuckling & Sorcery, Piracy & Adventure, Diplomacy & Intrigue, Archaeology & Exploration, and Romance & Revenge. Each of these pairings give a brief description of how this pertains to the game. I appreciate that it calls out the tropes that you can expect to find supported within the game. It sets a new player or game master up with a solid idea of what types of games can be played and help them to plan accordingly. This section also provides a brief overview of the important parts of the game world. It creates a nice foundation for understanding the setting material that follows and sets up the reader to better understand the world of 7th Sea.

Before getting to character creation, the book takes the time to introduce the world of Theah. The first section of this deals with the Nations of Theah. It takes each nation in turn and talks about it’s makeup. It goes through and talks about, the politics of the land, the recent past, current situations, as well as delineating how daily life for the different stratas of each nation appears. Special attention is gent to how each nation is special and what this means both at home and on the geopolitical board. The nations are the bulk of this section. The rest is dedicated to the other powers that are found in Theah, the Church, Pirates, and Secret Societies with the lion’s share of the information being given over to the church as it’s influence is so pervasive. I liked descriptions of the different nations. I have a few quibbles which I will bring up later. In particular, I like the breaking down of Avalon into the separate nations that make up this Kingdom. Instead of a united front, it creates a nation with more depth that I want to explore. I also like the addition of the Sarmation Commonwealth. It brings a new flavor to the Theah. The commonwealth has a prussian feel that is refreshing to see in a roleplaying game. It is nice to see Poland and surrounding countries being given some exposure.

On to the important part, character creation and game mechanics!

Character creation is a simple affair. It starts like most games do, with a concept. To help you refine this concept, there is a list of 20 questions to help you better understand the character you are creating. One of the important questions that needs answered is what nation does your character come from. The answer provides a few advantages further along in the creation process. You then put points into the traits; Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits, and Panache. Each starts at a 2 and you may assign two more points at this stage. You will then apply your nationality bonus which provides a further trait bonus. The next step is to choose two backgrounds. This provides the player with a set of skills, personality quirks and advantages. The backgrounds range from y

My pirate edition of the book which arrived while I was at Gen Con.

My pirate edition of the book which arrived while I was at Gen Con.

our standard pirate to more nation specific things such as a Knight Errant from Avalon. Once you have made your choices for backgrounds, you then have 10 points to spend on further skills. This is where you will be able to buy a skill up to the starting maximum of three. This is advantageous in that is allows you to reroll a single die on a risk involving that skill. This could make the difference in having enough raises or not. You will then have 5 points to spend on Advantages. There are many choices in this arena with some being designed specifically with each nation in mind. You will then choose your character’s arcana. This is one of the ways that your character will generate Hero points throughout the game. They are presented in a fashion to resemble the Sorte deck that Fate Witches use in game as part of their sorcery. It is for flavor only though as you pick what you characters Virtue and Hubris to better reflect the concept you chose at the beginning of the process. The process is rounded out with Stories and Details. Stories are how a character improves. The player decides what they are trying to improve in the next few sessions of the game. They then create a one to three step story that addresses the steps to achieve this story and receive their reward. Details is somewhat self-explanatory as it deals with wealth, Secret Society Membership, and what-not.

The creation process is not difficult. If you have a solid concept, the choices just flow into place. If you do not, the twenty questions are designed to help to get a better grasp of the character and make character creation simpler. By far, Stories are my favorite part of character creation. They give players a level of narrative control that I like. The book does not say to work collaboratively on the stories but I feel that this would be a great way to get players invested in the story as well as get the game master invest in the player’s ideas as well. For me, this would take the responsibility of story generation off of my shoulders as game master and share it proportionately with the group. A good thing in my opinion.

The mechanics of 7th Sea are easy to grasp. If there is nothing at stake with an action, you do not roll dice. If the opposite is true, then what takes place is a risk. This situation can either be an action sequence or a dynamic sequence. An action sequence is a set piece where time is of the essence and the consequences are immediate. A dynamic sequence is piece where the drama is drawn out over time and each action takes up a large stretch of time, such as a state party. Once the scene is set, the players decide the approach that they will be taking to address the risk. This indicates the skill and attribute which will be used to create a dice pool for the risk. The game master then sets the consequences for not overcoming the risk as well as an opportunity that can be seized by the players in the scene. The player then collects dice equal to the number of his skill plus trait and looks to create collections of dice equaling 10 which are called a raise. A raise is used to lower consequences as well as take advantage of an opportunity.

Simple really.

I love all of these mechanics. The idea of each scene being a risk is nice. It sets up the idea of only rolling when things are important in a nice fashion. I especially like how the dice mechanic works. The player takes dice to create raises. Any leftover dice can be offered to the game master for purchase. This makes it so that the player can choose to make no raises and offer all the dice up for the exchange of a hero point and a danger point. This places more power into the hands of the players both for the level of opposition that they face as well as their ability to respond in kind. This allows for skill iterations that make higher skills important. For instance, at a skill rating of 4, the player has the ability to create two raises with dice adding up to 15. A definite advantage. The ability generate hero points is also nice. They are used for many things such as activating arcana, advantages, and as an extra raise. Definitely something that needs to flow freely to keep the game moving.

I have mentioned in a prior post that I love the diversity that can be found in the book. It takes the time to mention that different ethnicities can be found all across Theah. This makes it simpler for players to have a broad range of characters. In addition, the designers also note that women are just as capable of being whatever they wish in Theah as their male counterparts. The art, though still not completely balanced, presents women in as active participants within the world which is a nice switch from what the standard has been in the table top roleplaying game arena. It is in the art that 7th Sea soars for us in the LGBT community. There are two pieces that show same sex couples in a romantic kiss. These pictures are well done and portray the romance of the situation in line with the 7th Sea setting. I can not say that have ever seen pictures like these in any other game.

To be able to see myself in the art for a game is an important thing.

There are a couple rough edges that stick out. First is the index. I am happy that the book has one. The issue though, is that it is rather sparse. With the book tipping the scales at over 300 pages, a more thorough index would be appreciated. Second, despite the powerful imagery presented via the art in the book, this diversity does not appear as much in the text. We have a picture of two musketeers having a kiss and two lady sailors doing the same. Nowhere in the text does it address how this is taken by their societies. I know that space is limited but a few lines here or there addressing this would be nice. The same could be said of the treatment of women. The text states that women hold the same positions as men in Theah. Further reading shows that in places like the Highland Marshes and Vodacce seem to have the same backwards views about women as their historical counterparts. I would have liked to seen these ideas as things to kicked over. The lack of a map is annoying . I love the map that is at the front of the book but it is not easy to reference. They put a lot of effort into this beautiful piece of cartography to then not give it to us in the book.

Overall, I love 7th Sea. The art is gorgeous and the mechanics are inspired. Everything comes together to create a game that captures the look and feel of swashbuckling adventure. I want to get into a campaign and watch how the story mechanic unfolds over time.

7th Sea is definitely worthy of four bear paws out of four. It should be on your gaming shelf.