…and so begins a new Paizo adventure path, The Curse of the Crimson Throne. Judging by beginnings, it looks to be at least as good as the previous one; Edge of Anarchy (by Nicolas Logue) sets up the action quite nicely. It’s also an urban adventure set, which is a nice change of pace and provides lots of varied encounter options.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the story is set in the city of Korvosa, where the failing health of the king is about to cause civil unrest and worse. The players are people who originally just set out to get revenge on a certain crime boss, but quickly get sucked into higher-level dealings.
It’s quite nice. On the plus side, it’s a set of loosely connected mini-adventures, which gives the thing quite a bit of flexibility. On the minus side, that same flexibility can be a problem; the players are expected to do some very specific things based on sometimes very flimsy clues and prompting. Also, the beginning link from the crimelord thing to bigger issues is extremely tenuous, I can easily see players either missing it entirely or deciding to ignore it. I’m pretty sure that this thing needs quite a bit of extra GM work to make it play naturally, because you have to have a “plan B” and “plan C” ready for every time the players do something other than what’s expected. Which will be “most of the time”, most likely. So, unless you want to blatantly railroad things, read this through at least twice and do some extra prep before running it.
Is it worth that? I’d say yes, easily. The main plot is quite interesting here, and the whole urban environment thing opens up tons of opportunities. In addition, the encounters themselves tend to be pleasantly varied (no, it’s not only combat all the time). In order for this to work the PCs also need to have approriate motivations, but to Paizo’s credit that’s discussed at some length in the Player Guide to this adventure path. It’s actually nice to see a D&D adventure that takes a stance on what types of motivations the players need in order for things to work, not just “generate some characters and declare them a ‘party’”.
Other than the adventure, the book(let) contains the usual assortment: an article (this time on the local gypsy variants), a fiction “Pathfinder journal” piece, and some new monsters. I’ve always liked the fiction bits in these, and this one was especially good. I’m a tiny bit annoyed at Paizo’s near-1:1 copying of some things – the Varisians are (fantasy) gypsies down to styles of dress, then we have a people who are pretty direct Native American copies, and then there’s the fantasy Egypt copy of “Osirion”, etc etc. It probably wouldn’t have killed them to throw a bit of extra originality into those. I like Exalted’s style of mixing things up a lot more – you might get a vaguely Babylonian culture that’s mixed together with African tribalism, or a people who combine bits of Viking culture with Native American stuff. It creates cultures that are a lot more interesting and have recognizable “handles” without being copies, whereas here they just seem like generic copies with little flavor of their own. It’s not a huge problem, just a small gripe I have.
Overall, a good start to a new city-based adventure path, we’ll see where it goes.
After the somewhat shaky “Dragon-Blooded” book, I’ve really liked the new Exalted hardcover “splatbooks”. While some more anal rulesmongers like to whine about lack of playtesting with some specific charms, I don’t care that much – the ideas have been excellent and the writing good. Special mention goes to the “Lunars” book, which totally reinvented the Lunars and switched them from a boring “yarr, we’re barbarians!” role into being a fascinating group of Darwinist society builders.
So now we have Abyssals. While the original (1st ed) Abyssals wasn’t bad at all, this one is wonderful. Somehow, they’ve made the Abyssals both nastier and more understandable, at the same time. The first part of the book pulls together all the details on what happened when the Solars originally kicked Primordial ass, as seen from the other side. While a lot of this info has been available before, there are tons of small new details here and the whole thing is written in a clear fashion; it makes figuring out what makes the Abyssals (and the Deathlords and the Neverborn) tick a lot less headache-inducing. The Deathlords get great writeups, with some much-needed expansion and clarification on motives and abilities. Much weight is placed on how the Abyssals are complete slaves, and how the deck is stacked against them should they try to be anything else except evil death-dealers (Resonance is nasty now). On the other hand, many options for rebellion are presented.
After the initial overview section, we get the standard character creation stuff, then a long section on Abyssal charms (with some very nice innovations, for example the new Mirror Charm concept), then a section on Necrotech. A discussion on gamemastering an Abyssal chronicle finishes up the book.
If you’re running Exalted and want to use the Abyssals / Deathlords in your game, you want this book. No question. I think it’s one of the best new hardcover splatbooks – it paints the Abyssals in shades of grey while keeping those shades firmly on the “black(ish)” side. These aren’t cartoon villains – unless you want them to be. The art and comics are a mixed bag; some great, some not so, but nothing really bad. A few of the comics are very funny, and the one at the end continues the Arianna / Prince of Shadows / The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears story begun in earlier comics.
Female players (or female characters, especially when played by a man) have always been a touchy subject in rpgs. On one hand, you have people who go on about how women are no different from men, and how there should be no difference anywhere. Then you have the “men are from mars, women from venus” crowd, who insist that women are just so totally different that you need a completely different approach for everything. And then there’s the majority(?) who recognize that mostly it’s no big deal, but that there are certain differences due to the way society shapes us.
Anyway, I just wanted to point at the latest episode (#42) of The Gamemaster Show, a podcast about gaming. It discusses this issue at (great) length, and I have to say it’s a damn good episode. I especially loved the tiny bit near the end, where one of the guys says that theoretically it should be easier to play a woman than, say, an elf… but it really isn’t, since there is 0% chance of an actual elf sitting down at your game table and telling you how badly you’re playing an elf, how you totally don’t understand the pressures elves operate under, etc yadda yadda.
It’s a funny thing. I actually used to have a (small) problem with people playing opposite gender in rpgs, way back when. No idea why, it was a long time ago, and nowadays it’s routine for us to have no direct correlation between player and character gender (though I suppose it’s still most common to play your own gender, since it’s easier in many ways)… but yeah, it can be a touchy issue.
As players, I really haven’t noticed girls/women being any different from guys. Perhaps there tends to be a slight bit more emphasis on social and inter-character situations, but… dunno. Our current Exalted group has 3 girls & 2 guys as players, and they’re not exactly a “peace and love” bunch of characters. In addition, one of the most pacifist characters of the group is played by one of the guys. So while stereotypes may (or may not) have some relevance statistically, on the individual level they cease to matter. We’re all people – but face it, it takes really long until young guys figure out that “girls are just people”. Maybe that’s one source of the “there are no girls in gaming” myth.
Ok, a quick “heads up”: John Wick’s new game, Houses of the Blooded, was opened for IPR print pre-orders on Monday. There are two options: the normal version (which also includes PDF), and a hardcover limited edition. The limited edition has a slightly different cover to the standard one, and also includes a CD with the book PDF, over an hour of music suitable for the game (“Blood Music”), and graphic files plus fonts suitable for creating your own game handouts etc.
The limited edition is also extremely limited. Only 100 copies will be printed, and after I placed my order some 10 minutes or so ago, there were only 25 copies left. Expect them to sell out over the weekend. So, if you want to get your hands on this, place your order fast. Preordering the normal edition will save you $5 vs normal price, but there’s no huge hurry on that one.
John details the two editions in this blog post.
About the game itself: it’s about Love, Ambition, Opera, Obsession and Tragedy (capitals intentional), set among the “Ven”, a race which could be elves, or high-born humans, or C.J. Cherryh’s “atevi”, or anything in that vein. It uses lots of rules cues from Spirit of the Century, and in all ways it sounds extremely cool to me. There is a preview download available on the game’s web page, in case you want to get some more idea of what it’s like.
“The Ven language has only one word for both ‘love’ and ‘revenge’. Just a slight change in pronounciation.”
A game of romance. A game of revenge. A game of invisible wars and sorcerous blood. A game with no victors. Only casualties.
Sector Zero is supplement for Paranoia XP, the new version of the Paranoia game. It’s a set of three “missions” (pre-gen adventures) which can all be classified as “punishment duty” (Sector Zero being Alpha Complex slang for such). Now, experienced Paranoia players may wonder about that – isn’t life in Alpha Complex already punishment duty in itself? Well, not necessarily; there are always various shades of “bad”, and the new version of Paranoia encourages games that actually may see clones surviving for a game or two. Or not.
So, let’s see. We’re given “Bubblegum Run”, in which the Troubleshooters are sent to watch over some kids, and to investigate a certain bubblegum shipment. Sounds harmles, right? Well, obviously, wrong. Most Alpha Complex citizens have zero experience with “kids”, and here we learn why.
Next up is “The Dinner Party”, in which the team is tasked with setting up a formal dinner for a bunch of Indigo citizens. Considering their normal culinary sophistication is limited to choosing between Red or Stripy Tast-EE-Gruel, this may (=will) present a few tiny little challenges.
Last but not least we have “Lightning Rod”, where the team is sent to the upper reaches of Alpha Complex, to guard the top of the dome against Communist infiltators. Since this happens a mile or so above ground and is already quite dangerous, it would be cruel and unusual to throw subverted robots, insane military personnel, mad scientists and dangerous experiments into the mix. Maybe that’s why all that and more is included.
All in all, a worthy set of Paranoia missions, well suited as continuations to an earlier failed mission. And let’s face it, pretty much all missions fail, so these can be used almost anywhere.
Paranoia XP continues to be a brilliant reinvention of a classic game. If you haven’t already checked it out, you are ordered to do so at once, Citizen. It’s Mandatory Fun Duty.
Just heard that RedBrick has managed to negotiate the rights for the game Blue Planet. This is great news; I’ve been really impressed by what RedBrick has managed to do with Earthdawn and Fading Suns, they use PDF and print-on-demand publishing in a very effective way. Now they have Blue Planet, a fantastic hard-scifi game with an enviromental focus, and one which has been in limbo for quite a while. While I have all the 2nd ed books on my shelf, one of the books (Ancient Echoes) is already in the “very hard to find” category. RedBrick intends to do a reprint, which should make a lot of people happy.
Blue Planet: a game in which you can play a cybernetically enhanced killer whale, while keeping the tone quite serious. Good stuff.
More and more, companies and individuals are exploring alternatives to the traditional ways of publishing and releasing stuff. Two new examples saw the light of day just now.
First off, we have Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) releasing a whole new album, just scant months after the last double-disk instrumental set. This time around, the whole thing is absolutely free, you can download “The Slip” in various digital forms, without needing to pay Trent one dime (or having to deal with DRM or other nonsense). Trent says that he intends to also release the album in more traditional CD form later, but for now the digital download is a “free gift to the fans”. Apparently his previous “decide how much you want to pay” foray with the Ghosts set was a success – or else he just wants to thumb his nose at the big record labels. Or maybe both. Me, I’m not complaining, I’ve really liked the new NIN stuff – lots of energy and actual melody, instead of just industrial drones.
The second has to do with roleplaying books, where the guys at Pagan Publishing / Arcdream decided that they would like to publish a new Delta Green book (which is at least partly complete already), but all their cash is tied down in other book projects. The Ransom Model to the rescue! So, we now have a new Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity book ransom running; you pledge $50, and if they manage to raise the full $20,000 there will be a print run and you’ll get a copy of the book. If not, you don’t get charged anything and they’ll possibly publish it later via more traditional means, but there’s no guarantee or timeframe on that. So in effect, it’s a binding pre-order for a book, which also gauges how much interest there is for the thing. Very cool, and Greg Stolze has been doing it for a while now with his Reign supplements. Because it’s a printed, hardcover book, international customers will need to Paypal an extra $25 to cover shipping if the book goes to print.
Personally… well, a new hardcover book filled with more Delta Green goodness? Of course I’m in. Besides liking the ransom model in general, Delta Green rocks and the writers on this one are once again first-class. Here’s hoping they get enough pledges so we’ll get the book sooner instead of (much) later. It’ll cost me $75 with international shipping, but with the current $-vs-euro rate that’s about 50e which is quite a normal price for a big hardcover book.
So… if you like NIN, hop on over to their site and download the new album as a gift. If you like Delta Green, pledge your $50 and support the excellent cause of “pay great writers to create tons of cool new modern Cthulhu stuff”. Can’t really go wrong with either choice.
I think the blurb tells it all:
It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year… For EVIL!
The miserly villain Doctor Scrooge hides behind legal technicalities as he steals from the pockets of the impoverished… explorer-gone-mad Jacques Frost preys upon the peoples of the north with his resurrected prehistoric murder monsters… the immortal Baroness Blackheart quests for the Elixir of Life, threatening to destroy all foundations of happiness for mankind… meanwhile Antiochus the Defiler and his spectral Seleucid Squad attack anything sacred or holy…
… and it’s up to Nick Saint — Codename: Secret Santa! — his Reindeer Men, their Chanukah allies, and you to save the holidays from their vile clutches!
So yeah, Spirit of the Season is a small Christmas/Chanukah expansion for the pulp game Spirit of the Century. It’s mostly a listing of NPCs, some on the “good list” and others on the “naughty list”, with stats provided for both SotC and for Truth & Justice. It’s more a booklet than a book, really.
Nothing earth-shattering, but good fun (hey, pulp heroes called “Codename Dancer” and “Codename Cupid” can’t go wrong!) and a nice toolkit fo building a Christmas-themed pulp oneshot, with the forces of Santa fighting the evil Jacques Frost and Baroness Blackheart – or vice versa.
Do you want to run a Christmas-themed pulp oneshot game? That’s another question (but of course you do!).
The first of Paizo’s “urban” standalone adventures, Gallery of Evil by Stephen S. Greer is a fun little romp.
It’s set in a high-class district of Absalom, a city in the Pathfinder game world of Golarion, but it could be transplanted to pretty much any D&D city with minimal effort. The plot is nicely nonstandard and involves paintings with murderous intent (yes, really). The villain of the piece is not just another stereotype “evil guy”, there are actual motivations involved… nice, for a change; all too many D&D adventures have “bad guys” doing bad stuff “just because they are evil”. Also provided are some pages of detail on the part of the city the events take place in, with a list of important people and places with some plot hooks – very nice in case the players go into freeform mode, and also useful in case you want a pre-populated section of city for some other game.
It reads like it should provide a fun evening or two of play. It’s fairly straightforward, and as written the players are almost spoon-fed clues about what’s going on. Were I to run it I would probably tweak it to make it a bit less linear and to involve a bit more actual player investigation. Matter of taste, I guess.
In any case, this is yet another classy stand-alone module from Paizo. I can’t find anything much to complain about here; the straightforward nature of the scenario can’t really be called a “fault”, since it does make this runnable with minimal prepwork and it’s easy enough to provide more complications if needed.
Spires of Xin-Shalast, written by Greg A. Vaughan, is the conclusion to the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. It starts out very strong, with a great sequence involving dwarven ghosts and a Wendigo spirit. After that, the party is supposed to make their way to the ancient city of Xin-Shalast, and while it’s pretty good it has some problems. To be fair, though, most of those problems are due to the fact that it’s a huge place, and the page count limit here just doesn’t allow the writer to do it full justice. A GM running this would either have to keep the players on a very tight railroad or do quite a bit of prepwork. The final confrontation reads like it should be a titanic battle – which may or may not be your thing.
Overall, I’d give this whole adventure path something like a “four stars out of five” rating. The first half is excellent, with varied moods and encounters and fun subplots. The second half is still ok, but suffers a bit in my mind from being a combatfest most of the time. Maybe that’s the way D&D adventures tend to go as the level increases, but still…
Besides the high amount of combat, another problem crops up in that some of the plot connections between the parts of the “path”, and even within the parts themselves, are quite vague. The players are apparently expected to follow the plot with very meager leads at times, and I found myself wondering at times “why on earth would the players do what’s expected here?” With a good GM and some prepwork I’m sure that those problems would be minor (and ideally not even noticed by the players), but I think it’s fair to warn prospective GMs of this “adventure path” that it would be a good idea to read the whole thing, or at least some parts in advance, before starting a game. That way you can start dropping hints early, and provide lots of alternate plot hooks for players in case they miss the “default” ones. As they will, more often than not.
As far as main plot went: pretty standard “ancient bad guy is waking up and needs to be stopped” thing. I found the use of the seven deadly sins as a central power motif to be a bit hokey, but hey… this is D&D, hokey is part of the game. It worked well enough, though I’d love to see a main plot that wasn’t a variation of “ancient evil rises”. That’s… been done. A lot.
In case the above sounds too negative: I found this to be a high-quality set of linked adventures, with lots of really cool ideas and settings. Some GM tweaking will be needed, but that’s the case with pretty much anything.
I’m looking forward to the next adventure path, the city-based Curse of the Crimson Throne. It sounds interesting, and urban scenarios often offer lots of nice social interaction. The second half of Runelords took place mostly in the wilderness, which may also have been a factor in my feeling that it was combat-heavy.
On the other hand, the main plot of Crimson Throne seems to be… wait for it… “ancient evil rises again!”. The goggles! They do nothing!