Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Product Review: Dwarves of the Ironcrags

We thought we'd post a review of a new Pathfinder product in case anyone was interested.

The product is the latest Open Gaming book titled "Dwarves of the Ironcrags", a gazetteer of dwarven equipment, magic, lore, and monsters. Written by Wolfgang Baur with assistance from Adam Daigle, Michael Furlanetto, Brandon Hodge, Joshua Stevens, Dan Voyce, and Open Design Patrons.

Reviewed By Ken Loupe

Chapter 1 - History Lore and Culture

The first few pages of the chapter detail the 14 dwarven cantons. Cantons essentially are democratic dwarven settlements. Each canton has what they are known for briefly detailed, but not so much as to not leave a DM plenty of free reign to make any one home to his campaign. Also detailed here are the forgotten cantons, the northern clans, and the dwarves of Zobeck.

On the whole, very interesting background information. The second part of the chapter details canton society. The caste system of the dwarves and the rights of each of the members as it pertains to dwarven law are detailed. As well as how the cantons handle trading, mining, and the forge. The third part in the chapter speaks briefly of the gods worshiped, and the ways with which dwarves go to war and how they treat their dead.

Of special interest in this section is the dwarven mourning and burial ceremony.

Chapter 2 - The Most Honorable and Righteous Fraternal Order of Illuminated Brothers

Chapter 2 details a secret society of dwarven craftsmen and mages. Ceremonial dress, proceedings and symbols are detailed. Also offered are two prestige classes:
  • The Illuminated Brother. There are three orders of Illuminated Brothers. Rite of Most Worthy Esoterics (arcane spellcasters), Preceptory of the Iron Forge (warriors), and The Lodge of Trowel and Chisel (generally rogues, and perhaps divine casters). All three orders gain roughly the same benefits highlighted by choosing certain benefits at each subsequent level. I really like the way this class is given the opportunity to have so much diversity in one single class. I honestly think with many of the choices though, that this class can be overly powered. For example, many of the chosen benefits are essentially bonus feats. House Not Made with Hands gives +2 to any of the 3 saves. Arts Parts and Points is a free feat where prereqs are met. The Attentive Ear gives 5 free skill points. Temple of the Body is the Toughness feat. All of those possibilities can be had at 1st level in the prestige class. While I do believe a DM can go a long way with using this class for his or her NPC’s, it may be pretty powerful in the PC’s hands.

  • The Silent Master. The main prerequisite is attaining 4th level in any order of the illuminated brother class. Silent masters are the leaders of the Brotherhood. A good effort at a spy, or secretive prestige class. Free silent spell feat is very nice. Again though, I think it may go over the top with immunity to mind effecting and later divination spells which also include limited wish and wish spells.
Lastly in this chapter three magic items of the brotherhood are detailed. All interesting and useful tools to any game centering on dwarves.

Chapter 3 - The Kariv

This chapter details the gypsies of the Ironcrags setting, the Kariv. I am happy with the large amount of setting info in this chapter. Quite honestly, more, and much better done than I expected. I personally have seen many different attempts to inject the classic gypsy into a campaign setting. Most of those have left the meat of the gypsy out, and just sort of hodge-podge added them.

This effort is pleasantly very different. The glance into Kariv hex magic was very well done, and perhaps in the future a class of some sort can grow from the hex spell list detailed. I for one would love to see some form of hex casting class as an arcane casting class.

Also detailed at the end of the chapter are a variety of Kariv feats. Another great effort at opening the eyes to the sorts of things the Kariv are and do. I must say this is a fantastic setting chapter. Perhaps the chapter was intentionally left open for DM’s to add to the classes which I am in favor of. If not, I really hope for another supplement adding more to the Kariv as this reader for one definitely wants more.

Chapter 4 - Dwarven Magic

Fairly self explanatory, NEW SPELLS! A very good list of spells created by the dwarves and their derro cousins. Much of this chapter is of course a pick-and-choose for DM’s as to what will fit their games. I will highlight a few efforts that I found particularly interesting.
  • Armor of the Mountain, a 2nd level wizard/sorcerer spell. That gives +4 to AC as well as immunity to paralysis and petrification. As an added bonus it does d6 +1 per caster level to adjacent creatures.

  • Earthglide, a 4th level wizard/sorcerer spell. That gives the earthglide special ability for a round per level.

  • Ladas Secret Servant, a 3rd level cleric spell. Which creates a small ball of light that provides d6 + wisdom mod healing at a range of close for 1 round + a round per level.

  • Rune of Mardikon, a Cleric, Wizard, or sorcerer 4th level spell. After the rune is triggered any in the runes area must reroll any d20 rolls and take the lower roll.

  • Rune of Velund, a Cleric, Wizard, or sorcerer 4th level spell. After the rune is triggered any spell cast in the area must beat an SR of 16.
Also we have some new dwarven magic items and weapons. A couple I particularly liked are:
  • Hammerfall Shield. Which will let you summon a black bear, or two wolves depending upon the respective emblem on the shield once a week.

  • Wolf Cloak of Wintersheim. Which grants the wearer cold resistance 10 as well as the ability to polymorph into a dire wolf.
Again, a nice chapter with some setting specific spells and gear. The more I read the more I like the setting.

Chapter 5 Monsters

Another very good chapter with new and interesting beasties. I will again speak on a few of them.
  • Derro Fetal Savant. Born from the derro societies madness these twisted creatures are used by the derro as shock troops. They have a magic jar ability they use to inhabit their enemies and wreak havoc in that enemies body while their victims souls are placed in the paralyzed and motionless fetal savants body. I don't honestly know if this is one of the coolest monsters ever or some crazy guy took the wheel in monster creation. Any DM can have loads of fun with this little guy!

  • Fellforged. Another very cool creation. This being a golem designed to hold a spirit of the dead. The golem holds a wraith in it's body. The wraith still has some abilities to use it's powers. Like a Con drain with a slam attack. It also still has Light Sensitivity that transfers to the golem it inhabits. A perfect surprise to throw on your unsuspecting party as well.

  • Stone Dead Dwarf. The last monster I will review is actually a template for a dwarf that gives himself to the earth he loves. The dwarf is actually turned into an outsider and is tied to a specific area as a guardian. With the accompanying detailed ritual to give rise to these creatures, it is very helpful in filling out what could be a dwarven kings honor guard, or perhaps the guardian to an ancient dwarven tomb.
As far as the monster section goes, I can see so many uses for all of the material provided in this chapter.

Final Score: 8.5 of 10.

I think this is an exceptional piece on its own or easily placed in any homebrew setting. The details on the cantons, and the dwarves of the north give plenty of background without really pushing you a certain way. The Kariv chapter could and should be used by anyone wanting a gypsy feel in any of their games. Chapters four and five are very solid and do a good job of giving very interesting options to try out. My only potential downside is likely me nitpicking over power-gaming opportunities with the prestige classes. Of course those are to each his own, myself, I like a more low-powered feel to a game with me behind the screen.

That's our first review. If you know of another Pathfinder-friendly product you'd like to see reviewed, please email us.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pathfinder Resources

I recently was lucky enough to make friends with someone who started a site called http://www.pathfinderdb.com. PathfinderDB seeks to be a holding place for fan created content for Pathfinder. You will be able to create and share custom races, classes, prestige classesm monsters, NPC's, adventures, feats, equipment, spells, and much more. The content will be moderated for quality and appropriateness so there should be a high quality of content there. Right now the site has no real content as it is intended to open the gates timed with the Pathfinder Final rules release on August 13th. I highly recommend people keep an eye on that site and post your content when you create something in order to share it with the community. The more resources we have for excellent Pathfinder material the better!

Cavernia Playtesting Results

Ok, JohnCon 2009 is over. We ran a nice long Cavernia session (using 3.5 rules not Pathfinder) and we received some valuable comments from the players that is leading us to make some minor tweaks to some of the mechanics (a couple of spells needed some minor tweaks).

We have now decided that with the imminent release of Pathfinder we would just go ahead and drop plans for releasing under 3.5 rules and go all Pathfinder instead. Due to the closeness of Pathfinder to 3.5 rules that's really not as hard as it might seem. In addition, we are now in the final editing/clean-up phase where we are fixing typos and adding a bit more details to some of the thinner sections.

We are moving next into the stage of acquiring art. If you know of anyone who would like to get their art into our book please let us know. We have an extremely limited budget but we can buy a few things. Ideally we would be looking at some sort of profit sharing scenario but if anyone has any other ideas we're all ears.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cavernia Playtesting....

Well we are approaching our 3rd annual informal gaming convention amongst ourselves we like to call "JohnCon". JohnCon is basically a 3.5 day weekend where I get rid of the wife and kids and have the gang over for 3.5 days of uninterrupted gaming goodness. Last year I ran a massive, non-stop high level 3.5 game that was intended to be the closing chapter on my last long running campaign. We played from Thursday 7pm to 2am, got up Friday around 9 then played till 2-3am again. Got up Saturday and played ALL FREAKING DAY Saturday till 2-3am then finally got up Sunday and wrapped things up by noonish. Needless to say the house was a wreck having all of the guys over, what with all of the snacks and beverages etc but in all it was pretty fun. I was, however, wiped out after DMing for that long. That was a truly herculean effort and I don't think I could/would do it again, though I do enjoy DMing.

So this year I told the guys that I want someone else to step in and run something at least part of the time. I still want to run something for one of the days, just not the entire weekend. So Brian has chimed in that he'd like to run Cavernia Friday and Sunday, which is good for me! We get a chance to playtest some of the new things and I get a break.

My other buddy is probably going to run a high level 4E game Thursday evening (we all gather at my place after everyone gets off of work on Thursday) and I am probably going to run a Castles and Crusades game all day Saturday. I'm considering running an old RPGA module that had a scoring/point system detailed in it as well as it had specific time requirements, ie, the players get 3 hours to complete task X then do scoring etc. I'm thinking it should be fun.

Come on July for JohnCon '09 and come on August for Pathfinder RPG FINAL!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Summon Monster

Forgetting for a minute how much Summon Monster sucks compared to Summon Nature's Ally, does anyone else wish Paizo would put out fancy printed 3x5 cards with all relevant stat block info for every monster listed on the Summon Monster (and Natures Ally) spells? I found a place online with all of the Summon Monster spells but they (of course) have just standard 3.5 formatted monsters, AND, every one of them has SOOO MUCH TEXT in the Extraordinary and Spell-like abilities sections that it would be effectively impossible to run the monsters in a session quickly and easily. With that said, I have completed going through the Summon Monster IV and V creature lists and Pathfinder-ized all of them (changed Listen/Spot to Perception and Hide/Move to Stealth etc) as well as paring down the big blocks of text to much more managable levels.

I even copied and pasted all of the monsters and then tweaked them as if they were summoned by a caster with the Augment Summoning feat (+4 Str & +4 Con).

This should be pretty convenient in sessions now.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Campaign / DM Style

I'm going to talk about two different types of campaigns (and by extension I think DM's).

One type of campaign tells a story with the PC's as the stars or main characters in the stories. The PC's are the heroes of the book and each session follows a serial, episodic format, with key cut-scenes and very dramatic moments. The DM closely controls and monitors timing and pacing and tries to ensure that certain story elements happen at just the right times.

Another type of campaign simply provides a world with options to explore, and doesn't give much concern to who explores it. The world exists with or without the PC's and the campaign tells itself in a chaotic fashion over time. PC's come and go and individual sessions do not follow a structured format and do not end on key dramatic moments, they are more likely to just cut in the middle of a fight or just after a fight, depending on player stamina.

I tend prefer the latter, both as a DM and as a player but both can certainly be appealing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dungeon Design

Some thoughts have crossed my mind related to dungeon design. Do you think that, in a classic dungeon-crawl type scenario, that a dungeon should have about the number of encounters required to gain a character level? Such that if PC's enter a dungeon as level 1 PC's, right about the same time they mostly clear the first level of the dungeon, they gain a character level? If so, that would seem to suggest that the average dungeon level should have 12-15 encounters, of which some are very challenging, and some are less than challenging. While I'm on that subject, how long do your players take per encounter in real game time? Meaning, in my campaigns each encounter takes roughly 2 hours of game time, which seems like a lot. We do generally follow a timer rule in order to keep things moving but just curious if my 2 hour experience is that same with other groups.

Gaming Tools

Google Documents
I use Google Documents for all of my campaign notes. I share out all of my house rules with the players and then have the players post electronic (PDF, Word, etc) versions of their character sheets in Google Docs as well. I create a new Google Doc with a picture of the monster for each encounter and then in the session I share the doc with the players (or give them the public URL to the Google Doc). All the players have laptops at the table and we run a Yahoo Conference. I drag the URL into the Yahoo Conference and then the players click the link, revealing the picture. I also pre-roll all Knowledge checks and then include that information in the Google Doc so that when the players view the pic they also see the info they know. If there are any special effects, like Gaze effects, I also have a line in the doc that says "All players make Fort saves".

Remote Gaming
Brian (my Cavernia co-creator Brian) moved to Georgia and plays in my current Pathfinder campaign via webcam and a voice conference. We post the camera near the battle-mat so he can see everything pretty well. He also maintains a Google Spreadsheet showing the dungeon floorplan as I describe it. We sometimes take pics of the tabletop with our camera phones for future reference.

Battle-Mats & Blocks
We tried various things. We had a blue gridded battle-mat but it was always stored folder so there was always an annoying crease down the middle. We also use 1" blocks that Brian made by cutting 1"x1"x8' lengths down to 1" blocks. He then painted most gray and some black. We find that the gray blocks can serve as walls in a dungeon, 2x2 make a wagon, 1x2 makes a horse, you can stack them to resemble pillars or put under a flying PC or monster. They can be trees or boulders, or virtually anything else you can think of. We use the black ones as doors when we are using the gray ones as walls.

We are currently using a glass table-top laid on top of a large gridded piece of paper. We use dry-erase markers to lay out the dungeon or encounter areas and sometimes overlay that with a battlemat for special encounters when we don't want to erase the dungeon (because the PC's are returning to it later).

Google Sites
I use a Google Site for my current Pathfinder Beta campaign. I have all of the house rules as Google Docs embedded in the Google Site pages. There are some nifty tools that work with Google Sites and you can embed Google Gadgets.

I'll post some more notes on tools I am using/have used in the past.

Gnome Bankers

In my current (non-Cavernia) campaign, gnomes created an international banking system. Balances were magically kept up to date so that PC's could drop money off at their nearest bank and have it available at any other branch anywhere in the world, for a small fee of course. This allowed PC's to avoid carrying around immense amounts of loot especially now that they have started an international air shipping company (not officially yet).

Small Talk

As a DM how do you handle the first session of a new campaign? Do you assume all PC's know each other and just jump right into the adventure, or, do you develop elaborate hooks that somehow conveniently tie each of the PC's into the first adventure?

For the longest time I have been doing the latter, trying to bend over backwards to construct well-defined hooks that motivate the PC's into the adventure, but over time I found it becomes a large chore trying to maintain the hook. Some PC's accomplish their goal and then the player becomes distracted and disinterested, lacking direction and I have to jump in and try to hook the PC again somehow.

I've decided that in my next campaign I am going to try something new. I am going to use the first session of the next campaign as a time for all of the player's to get together and construct their PC's together. Previously each player created their PC in a vacuum, on their own before the first session. They would carefully craft their PC and then I (and they) would hope that they didn't step on any other player's toes (or had theirs stepped on). Occasionally there would be some cross-over, but usually the players did at least make sure not to play the exact same classes. In my next campaign I want the player's to work together for the entire first session on building their PC's together, discussing the roles each PC will try to play, as well as working out a shared background amongst themselves. I will provide setting details and then let them work out the background specifics. Hopefully that will let me focus more on building a more classic "sandbox" style campaign that they can explore. Oh yeah, and I am planning to ask that all players make sure that their PC's are at least partially motivated by a pure love of adventure, as I don't need any of those "reluctant" hero sorts that I have to constantly be babying back into the adventure. Only pain in the butt players make those sorts of PC's! ;)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What makes an awesome campaign setting?

A bit about me
Hello! I'm Brian, I stopped having birthdays at 40. I have a 10 year old son who wants to be the next Tony Hawk. I lived most of my life in Michigan, but moved to Georgia in '07. I'm not a writer, but I like to pretend I am. I'm really a computer programmer but I like to pretend I'm not.

I've been playing D&D since the early 80's. I was the DM for my first group of players and always loved the creative aspects of the hobby. I've been "published" as a 3D & 2D artist...

  • 8/6/06 - Darkness over Daggerford (Ossian Studios) - module for Neverwinter Nights
  • 4/29/08 - Mysteries of Westgate (Ossian Studios) - module for Neverwinter Nights 2

Since '91 John has been my DM more often then not. There was a void for a period of time we no longer speak of, but that's in the past. Oh... and then one time in a game of Battletech my mech unloaded on John's mech (my ally) in the back with everything I had... I was bored and had been in the corner of the battle mat all day. That's in the past too, but he still mentions that from time to time - go figure.

What makes an awesome campaign setting?
John and I tend to see D&D through a similar lens and I was thrilled when he invited me to work on Cavernia! He had laid out a really cool idea for a world driven underground and I was immediately interested in helping out. As I started helping out with Cavernia, the one question I asked myself was what makes an awesome campaign setting?

My answer was the same answer I gave myself when I built my own campaign worlds. I've always felt that a fantastic, rich, multi-pantheon setting is key to a successful campaign. As a DM that looked at other campaigns for guidance, I never liked exhaustively boring theology write ups, but I did want enough meat to get the creative juices flowing.

Cavernia is shaping up to be just that. As I write my first blog ever, I'm in the process of putting spit-n-polish on one of the pantheons. I'm taking the time to get into the head of every deity in this pantheon by using personality quiz techniques for writers from a book called What Would Your Character Do by Eric and Ann Maisel. The results have been very satisfying as I feel the entities are getting very "real" personalities.

The other nice thing about a well fleshed out set of pantheons is that they tend to spawn adventure ideas. If, as a DM, you imagine the NPCs of your world going about their business and some are dedicated to a god, adventure ideas just start spawning from the natural conflicts that would occur. In my Soltyde campaign, I got an entire plot out of the Hextor/Heironeus deities from the 3.5 PHB.

So, that's just one of our goals. I'm sure we'll write about more in future blogs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Welcome to the Darkness

Who are we?
I'm John, I'm 41, am married with three daughters, and live in Royal Oak Michigan. I work for a smaller, regional bank, headquartered in Troy Michigan in I.T. I have been playing since around 1979-80 and have had many awesome years enjoyment from this hobby. I have never been published (never tried) but in honesty, I never tried either. I have been running my current campaign ("Thundain") since mid-2004. My previous campaign began at the release of 3.0 ("Cimmeron") and lasted until Thundain began. As you can see I have a history of running pretty long campaigns (maybe not so long as some people certainly). Anyway, a month or two ago I had decided to show my notes for my next campaign to my buddy Brian (currently playing the halfling rogue/cleric Romey Wanderbuck in Thundain) to get his thoughts. Pleasantly enough, Brian liked what he saw and shortly thereafter we decided to collaborate on the design and perhaps eventually try to actually sell the product of our labors.

What's Cavernia About?
Cavernia is the name of the world/setting I had started on and shared with Brian. It is designed for use with either standard DnD 3.5 or using Paizo's Pathfinder rules. We plan to release a PDF on both RPGNow and DriveThruRPG with a target price of $4.99. This PDF will describe the world of Cavernia, a world where the people live deep in the dark caverns and tunnels after having fled a global catastrophe hundreds of years earlier. This book will fully describe all of the major PC races, including underworld races for use as PC's. It will include very detailed religious details for all of the player races, detailed decriptions of areas of interest, significant NPC's, and many many other details. We will be releasing some preview details over the next few months, both here and on the Cavernia Google Site.

When Will Cavernia Be Available?
We are targeting August 2009 for the PDF to be available, roughly timed with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game final rules release. Check back for conversation related to our progress and whatever else pops into our heads.

That's about all we have right now!