Saturday, August 27, 2011

Getting to know pen & paper

My 4e starter kit arrived Thursday, and I've spent the last two nights reading through the solo adventure and the mechanics of the DM guide. It's been fun. I do like how you build a character through the narrative, and how it walks you through your character sheet. I just made a dwarven fighter, and he seems pretty effective--though I'd gladly exchange his greatsword for an sword/shield combo. This is not an option with the starter set.

I was surprised how many hp and such a first level character has (29 for my dwarf). I had read that level 1 is similar to level 5 of older dnd, and that seems about right. The monsters are pretty effective too, though. A goblin minion has a 15 AC, a +6 hit modifier, and does pretty significant damage.

After creating my fighter, I'm itching to work though Heroes and figure out how to roll up a character from scratch so I have more freedom and choice. Maybe later this weekend. I will probably make a cleric, rogue, and wizard using the starter set just to learn the rules of those classes, as they are nicely spelled out in the solo adventure.

The adventure that comes with the starter set seems fun. I will probably need to modify it, though. Counting my henchman, our crew will include three PC's--all novice players--and I'm worried that an adventure written for four PC's will be too hard. Fortunately, it looks like I will usually just need to pull out one npc per encounter to balance it for 3. Should be ok.

Mechanics of the encounters are fun. I see the reason for the power cards, because powers can become hard to track for a beginner like me. It looks like the standard (non-essentials) character sheets are designed to work better without cards, but I can see printing them for my players even after they have moved past the starter sets. Probably depends on how much time I have. I may be making monster tokens in that free time...

Anyway, I'm having fun. The dnd stuff has distracted me from Forbidden City, which is my current NWN mod that I'm playing. It's fun, but almost too open ended. At this point I'm just trying to find one last (I hope) boss to finish off the module, SP I'm scouring the city. I'm pretty ready to be done, so I hope I find it soon...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Learning to DM via Pen and Paper blogs

Dungeons and Dragons!Image by Chorazin via FlickrAs I mentioned a few days ago, I'm thinking of starting a small campaign with my nephew and maybe a few other family members.  As I've waited for my 4/e stuff to arrive (darn you super saver shipping!), I've taken to reading a few pen and paper blogs.  Here are a few of my early favorites:
This blog chronicles a DM's early attempts (starting about three years ago) to start playing a DM.  This post includes a host of very helpful advice and information.  I'm particularly excited about his made-at-home tokens and status markers.

Roving Band of Misfits
This seems like a fun, general D&D 4/e blog.  They have a very good podcast as well that I'm now subscribing to.  I much prefer it over some of the other offerings I've tried.  They do some fun crafts, like this cheap beholder miniature.  I'm also really diggin' their Two Page Mini Delves series (I'm linking to the second in the series, which is fairly new).  Since my "campaign" will invariably need to involve the use of very small dungeons and such, these are perfect...and have a nice flourish of creativity that keeps them from being a simple hackfest.

Sly Flourish
This is a site that is specifically dedicated to providing tips for DM's.  He is hawking his books via the site, but his content is very good and very helpful.  I was very happy to find his "Start Here" link, which lists many of his more helpful posts.  His 4/e buyer's guide very helpfully turned out to recommend exactly what I've already purchased, so that was reassuring...and it helped me realize that I will want to get that monster vault at some point, along with some tilesets.  I may buy at least one of the books on his site, as the freely available stuff seems very good.

Dungeons Unlimited
This is a newer site, but it's neat.  Basically, the guy is posting some of his many dungeons that he has created.  They're absolutely lovely, and should be printable for later use should I decide to use them.  I would love to get a hold of the mapping software he uses, though apparently it is no longer downloadable.

That's what I've found so far.  Any others I should be watching closely?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reviewer's Remorse

Back in the day, I wrote eleven official vault reviews for NWN1 (you can find them in my sidebar).  I ran across one of them today while searching for planescape modules.  It's for FK The Shadow Relic, a bridge module between SoU and HotU, and I wrote the review in summer 2006.

The review is a pretty mixed bag.  It highlights some of the successes of the module.  I still vaguely remember some of its amazing visuals, and a have a huge slant towards planescape stuff.  But it also frustrated the hells out of me at times, and that definitely comes across in the review.

The module at this point has 8 votes.  I just cast the 8th.  I hadn't wanted to vote earlier because I felt like I had already had my say.  It was just the 4th vote the module had received since my review.

Now, the module had been out a year when I reviewed it and had only received four votes.  Clearly it wasn't marketed particularly well, and its vote/download total is abysmal.  And a glance through the comments indicates that it was frustrating to a lot of players.  But there's no way this module shouldn't at least have the 10 votes it needs by now to appear on the top 10 list.

One of the main reasons I got involved in the reviewer's guild was so that I could bring exposure to underappreciated/overlooked modules.  I had at least one success with that: my review of Tiberius's Saleron's Gambit 3 did play at least a small role in getting his modules the attention they deserved.  But the counter to this is a module like this one.  I liked it and tried to hype it, but ultimately the author and his module may have lost an opportunity for more success because of the review.

I think I was largely fair.  But I still feel a sense of regret at the whole affair.  Blah.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Celestial Chronicles, Part I

My vote: 8.5 (Good, qualified recommendation)
Character: included lv. 6 human rogue
It all begins with what you find in this rock.

This is an interesting little module.  It tells the story of a young archaeologist who lives in an ultra-oppressive regime.  While archaeologists aren't exactly known for their rebellious nature in most settings, here, historic knowledge is repressed and guarded by the regime.  This can place a archaeologists in a precarious spot if they "dig too deep."  In this tale, our protagonist uncovers an amazing artifact...but just as she does so, things go horribly wrong.

The story and setting are interesting, and has loads of potential.  I wasn't as excited about the execution of the module.  Most of this adventure takes the form of a linear escape run, where you battle your way through a series of (fairly repetitive) encounters as you flee.  Combat is frequent, but not very challenging.  There is a significant part of this module that uses an entirely different setting, which is a cool twist and I won't spoil it (though I will say it had a certain Ressikan feel to it--if you must know, look it up!).  But even there, you end up traveling on a long, linear path, battling repetitive encounters once again.  There are absolutely some cool moments in this module in which you, as the player, really don't know what is going on (in a good way), and a few characters that are interesting and could be developed a great deal.  The custom music is nice, as are some of the scripted cutscenes.  But overall, I kind of felt a bit lukewarm toward the mod.  I would love to see a more well developed module in the future, however, because the ideas behind the story are terrific.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Planning a 4/e adventure

So I've ordered my DnD stuff and look forward to its arrival next week. And I've gotten parental approval from the nephew's mom, who also was interested in playing. So we're on track for a fun party-of-three adventure (I'll play a third party member, largely as a henchman). My wife is thus far completely uninterested, but that means she can watch our kids during the games. :)

I'm going to start with the Starter Set adventures, as that will help them roll up a first character and learn the most basic game mechanics. It will also give us a basic adventure to help me learn the ropes of a DM. After that, however, I'm getting interested in designing my own adventure.

Or an adaptation of an adventure. While I have an old module idea that I eventually would love to try in pen and paper, it would be fairly involved and perhaps too mature for an 8-year old. So I'm thinking that our first several adventures might be adaptations of NWN modules. Snickersnack!, which I just finished the other night, could be a great opening module, assuming I can recreate the humor of the kobolds (and find a more level-appropriate quest reward). It's simple, short, and fun. And Cave of Songs is another that might translate very well: powerful ideas, but very little required long dialog and a lot of stuff that could be cut or embellished as needed.

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here--they may try this and hate it--but this should be fun. DMing will no doubt require preparation, but I'd guess the hours requirement is at least an order of magnitude lower than creating an effective NWN module.

Now if only my books would arrive quickly. I'm looking forward to learning the 4th edition rules. I'll roll up one each of a fighter, rogue, wizard, and cleric, so I can choose a character to complement my players' choices.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Prophet Prologue - It Cannot Be Denied

My vote: 9 (Very good, deserves a look)
Character: Halfling 4Rog/2Ran from Cave of Songs, did not advance a level.

Halfling Village!
It almost feels wrong to vote on this module, as it's very much just meant to be the opening act in a larger saga.  You begin the module in the Hopping Hobgoblin Inn after waking from a disturbing and vivid dream in which a halfling village is slaughtered.  As you head downstairs, you meet a young halfling adventurer, who is alarmed to hear you describing his own village just a few miles from the inn.  The two of you rush there to find out whether this dream of yours is a premonition...or just a dream.

The story is good here, with good pacing and execution, and it sets up the next chapter in the saga very well (though naturally there's little sense of closure at the end of this one).  It is a very short adventure, and as such it is very linear.  There was at least one interesting side-quest of sorts that I happened upon involving a fallen druid.  What little combat there is seemed appropriate for the setting, and was never too challenging for my duo of halflings in the game.  I did very much enjoy the halfling henchman's character, and look forward to seeing him develop in future modules.  In the end, it's a fun but short module to play, and leaves you wanting a lot more by the end.  And that's exactly what it's meant to do!

What monster is this?

So actually, this is a spectacled bear that has some sort of skin disease.  Poor thing.

But I swear it looks like something out of D&D.  I can't decide what, though.  Maybe a gnoll?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Baldur's Gate NWN2 module continues

In early 2007, I wrote a post about a group that was trying to recreate the original Baldur's Gate in Neverwinter Nights 2.  They had just released a demo, and it did a great job of recapturing the initial short prologue at Candlekeep.

Well, to my amazement, they are still at it, and may actually be getting close.  Some excerpts from their latest posts.

drechner, the project founder and area builder:
Here's a (not) fun fact: I started this project in November of 2006 and expected it to be done in 2008. Needless to say, that was a gross-underestimate of the work involved! Therefore, never trust me; we're like 3D Realms with DNF, except we have no budget and far less people working on it :p
I only kid (sort of), but on a serious note, we're looking to get this project uploaded on the Vault before Skyrim is released (mid-early November). We could get it done before then, though more than likely it'll be several weeks afterwards, but know that this is our goal. If you're looking for a percentage complete for the game, it's probably somewhere around the 80% mark, though it's a bit difficult to estimate as we have chapters 1-4 completely scripted with chapter 5 partly done already. As for the areas, the only items remaining are the return to Candlekeep interiors, a few interior areas in BG city (which Shallina has been patiently awaiting), and Gullyking/Firewine Bridge areas. Most our systems are in and working already as are some of our art assets (we haven't shown the NPCs yet, but we will). 
Shallina, who appears to be the main scripter:
Drew is making the area then he is sending them to me, I am scripting them and making them functionnal, all the items al ready exist, all the important NPC exist as well, but once I am done, I am making a "build" where everything done works together, wich I send back to Drew so he can polish all the visual of the game and things I had to change.
We can say that now we got a first "Beta Build" beceause all scripted area are now linked and working together as a game.
The project isn't anymore different piece of the remake, but a single "big piece" that is working.
We are at a stage where we could start "a full scale test" and not only "focus test" on specifics parts.
It's one of the best moment of the project where it s becomming a "game" that can be fully played and is no more only  "a work in progress".
I am absolutely in awe of the fact that they are still at it. My hat's off to them. Kudos! And I do hope they are able to finish it.

Roll a D6

Absolutely brilliant.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What should I buy for D&D 4th edition?

I'm thinking about running a very small dungeons & dragons pen and paper thing with my nephew, who is 8.  It would absolutely be an excuse for me to play pen and paper DnD more than anything else, but it also might be a fun way to bond with the kid.  Eventually I can see adding more family members should they become interested.  But it might just be a fun thing for us to do when I visit every month or so.  I'd DM and play a henchman character that would complement whatever he chose to play.

I'm trying to figure out what to buy.  I don't get a lot of traffic these days on this site, but if anyone reading this has some experience I'd be glad to have it.  At this point, my current thought is to buy three things:

DnD 4th Edition Starter Set
My understanding is that this wouldn't get us past level 2 or so, and is made obsolete as soon as you have other stuff.  But it comes with dice, which I don't have, and a nice-looking battle map.  Anyway, I'm torn on whether to get this.  The main selling point to me, beyond being inexpensive for what you get, is that it is supposed to be a very good introduction to the core game mechanics.  That might be very helpful when trying to introduce new players to the game.

Dungeon Master's Kit
From what I've read, this kit includes most of what you really need from the Dungeon Master Guides, plus game pieces and grids.  I do sort of wish we could just do completely abstract fights like I usually did in the past, but apparently the new rules system really needs tokens on a game board.

Heroes of the Fallen Lands
Rather than get the player guides, I've been reading that this book makes a good alternative.  It profiles the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, and is completely compatible with the characters that you make using the starter set.  This would easily get us started.  Later I could add Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms, which would let us do Druids, Paladins, Rangers, and Warlocks.  But those, I think, are more specialty classes.  The core four classes in the Fallen Lands are really all you need.

Anyway, while I could just get the starter kit at first, I get free shipping if I buy at least one of the other two items.  And being the sort that I am (and having some birthday money), I think I'm just going to go for it.  Later, I might like to add the other Heroes book, plus the Monster Vault for more monster options and tokens.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Snickersnack!

My vote: 9.5 (excellent, recommended to anyone)
Character: Human Sorcerer, lv. 1 to lv. 2 in this module.
Kobolds done right.

Snickersnack! is a terrific little module.  You are adventuring in the desert when you come upon a sign advertising the need for an adventurer, and promising great rewards.  What ends up happening, without giving too much away, is that you are working for a tribe of Kobolds on a quest to save one of their kin.  The kobolds are the stars of the module, and are incredibly well-realized.  Each one has a unique name, and most have a specific job or role within the clan.  There are an amazing number of animated sequences, short and long, that make this module delightful and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

What kind of strange contraption is this?
The adventure itself is very short, but is full of great little touches that kept a smile on my face.  Sometimes it was the humor, and sometimes it was just wicked clever-ness.  Also, there are a number of fairly hidden conversations and even at least one quest involving my sorcerer's summoned animal and familiar.  There's not a lot of action (as advertised, it's hack and slash light), but what is there is fine (although not very exciting).

Oldie but a goodie

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review (sort of): Saleron's Gambit I

I replayed Saleron's Gambit I last night. I somehow never finished the series, despite how enthusiastic I was about the first four. Those saved games and my character are no where to be found today, so I'm just replaying through the thing.

Here are my comments that I left on the module page:
Just posting to say I had no trouble playing through this module using NWN 1.68. Had to download the 1.68-compatible CEP 1.52, and then "upgraded" that to CEP 1.53. It's a bit of a runaround, but it works fine.

Also, this was my second time playing through, and the magic is still there. This is such a fun, unique module to play. Somehow, probably because it's so rare to have to do it (I wouldn't want to do it every time), I really enjoyed running around town trying to scrounge up 20 gp so I could buy some gear. Hint: sell your books! And that gear turned out to be studded leather armor and a club! Yikes. When I upgraded to Chain Mail and a Morningstar at the end of the mod I felt positively wealthy...

Beyond that, the townspeople are all very well conceived in that close-minded, small town kind of way. We didn't see a ton of it, but did get to feel something of the depth of the FR setting in some places as well. As before, it's a module recommended to anyone.
One other thing that I didn't note above but wanted to mention...I really liked how Tiberius was able to use the castle interior tileset to such great effect. The second floor of a castle in this module had lost its roof, and using exterior lighting and abundant trees, you really felt like you were up exposed and up in the tree canopy. Kudos.

That said, it's still pretty short, and has little sense of closure (given that it's the first in the series!). I voted 9.5 in 2005, but if I were to vote again, I'd probably drop it down to a 9 or so (very good, deserves a look). But I'm not going to go back and change vote almost six years later. :)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review: Science Macabre

It might help to see the comments of QSW and Alazander to make full sense of my voting comments. Also, I've added this author's blog, Undead Men Tell Tales, to my blogroll.

My Vote: 9 (Very good, deserves a look)
Character: lv. 1 Human Bard

I largely want to echo the comments of QSW, who said it more eloquently than I will be able to. Science Macabre is a very nice little module, and works great as a showcase for the author's writing skills as he stated. The characters all have their own voice, and their own personalities, which is impressive given the relatively small amount of time you have with them. Kell, in particular, was impressive. Romance interests are very difficult to write convincingly, and almost every attempt I've seen in-module (including almost all of the official Bioware/Obsidian products) typically fall flat. And somehow, in one short conversation, I was completely on board with it. Furthermore, the three choices of response provided for the player during most dialogues allow one to portray a wide variety of characters. The roleplaying is very good here.

Furthermore, as Alazander noted, the setting is extremely interesting. Angels vs. Demons vs. Vampires is wicked cool, and has huge potential. As many others have said, I'd love to see more from the author on this front.

Review: Cave of Songs

My score: 9.5 - Excellent, Recommended to Anyone
Character: Began w/ lv. 2 rogue/ranger, ended level 6 (barely)

I'm a sucker for a great story. And that is a big part of what makes Cave of Songs so great. Not only is there a brilliantly creative concept at the heart of the tale, but the execution of that concept is terrific. You begin in a small tavern in a small town near the Grimwood forest, where you hear tales of a mysterious Cave of Songs. Everyone has heard a different story about what can be found there, and the stories only get more interesting as you make your way through Grimwood and into the cave itself. This is one of those stories that I will remember for years, at least in its general essence.

Beyond this, the atmosphere is just terrific. True to its low-level nature, I found myself scared to death throughout most of the module. A halfling rogue/ranger isn't a particularly formidable foe before he gets his AC up a fair bit (and gets weapon finesse), which took until about half-way through the module...and even then, he was basically just adequate. Even by the module's end, my character really couldn't take on some of the tougher baddies in the forest by himself. And by then, the henchman--who was invaluable early on--was starting to lag behind, becoming less useful as we went. Added to that sense of fear was an extremely creative setting, with neat twists on visuals, and good use of sound and music. Finally, the writing was top notch...concise, but provocative and descriptive.

In many ways, I was reminded of Torslunda, which was a classic, relatively short, low-level mod that was published several years after Cave of Songs. Both have a fairly linear but interesting story with sidequests, and are ideal ways to get that low-level experience. I recommend Cave of Songs to anyone.

How I'm going to score NWN1 modules

For NWN2, we have a clear set of voting guidelines, which I played a role in developing. Folks haven't always adhered to those standards--there still has been voting inflation, to be sure--but if you did vote using them you at least had justification for doing so.

With NWN1, however, there are no written guidelines. As such, you pretty much have to judge modules relative to one another. Add over 1100 modules that have received at least 10 votes and you have a recipe for massive voting inflation. There are 60 modules with scores over 9.75. That means that you literally have to vote 10 on each of them or you will lower their score. Yikes.

I'm planning to get back to playing NWN1 modules. But I'd like to use a written set of standards so I can be more consistent in how I evaluate modules. Here's what I'm planning to do:
10.0 - A masterpiece, genuinely groundbreaking
9.75 - Outstanding, a must have
9.5 - Excellent, recommended to anyone
9.0 - Very good, deserves a look
8.5 - Good, qualified recommendation
8.0 - Fair, solid yet unremarkable
7.5 - Some merit, requires improvements
7.0 - Poor execution, potential unrealized.
6.0 - Very little appeal
5.0 - Not recommended to anyone.
I don't love it. I won't use a 9.25, for example, which is silly (then again, I think non-integer scores are silly!). But I think this largely reflects how people have been voting. Very compressed near the top, with larger and larger gaps as you move down. It'll work.

I'd be surprised if I ever give a score below an 8...probably because I'm unlikely to finish such a module. And because there are so many modules to play, I can be pretty picky about which I download. The only exception might be one of the newer modules. Given that the rate of module release is so slow at this point, I am going to try to play and vote on most newer releases, even if they are from one of the old Bioware module design contests. For the most part, though, I'm going to stick with the top rated ones.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rediscovering the NWN community

I'm continuing to plug away at Cave of Songs, and will post my comments on it once I'm done. They will likely be glowing.

I've also been rooting around trying to figure out what has happened to the community in my time away. Obviously it has contracted substantially. But despite my initial fears, it's not even close to dead. Thanks to VBJ at the largely silent Reviewer's Forums, I learned that the Bioware forums have been relocated to So I've created a profile there (wish they still had my old red dragon disciple image), and have started lurking around the nwn1/nwn2 modules forums.

I've also seen that the Neverwinter Nights Podcast is still going strong. I've added them to my iTunes and will give this month's episode a listen soon.

Finally, and most importantly, modules continue to be posted and updated. NWN1, to my surprise, has seen 24 new modules posted in the past year, and 25 modules updated in the past month. NWN2, on the other hand, has 25 new modules in the past year, and 15 modules updated in the past month.

I expected NWN2 to be going a bit better than NWN1, but by those numbers (at least) they're pretty evenly split. In my limited experiences with the two toolsets, I have to say that I liked NWN2's a lot better from a usability standpoint. But at the same time, it's probably the case that I could do a lot more with NWN1's toolset in a short amount of time, mostly because area construction was SO much quicker. This is something that a lot of folks warned us about, and I generally ignored as NWN2 came about. With the incredible flexibility also came incredible time demands, and I am sure that this is part of why NWN2 never saw the sort of incredible number of modules than NWN1 did.

I do see a terrific variety of prefab areas available on the vault, however. And most are far better than anything I could hope put together. I think that if I were ever to try to make another module--and I'm almost certainly not going to try to do this--that would be a resource that I would mine heavily.

That said, there certainly are a lot of modules for NWN2. I sort of missed out on what was probably the peak of them by leaving the community when I did. I don't have either expansion pack, but I see that I can buy the whole kit and kaboodle on Steam for $20. That'd easily be worth it. So, I'm thinking about it. That said, logistically it is much tougher to use the computer that can run nwn2 and not alienate the family than it is to hack away on my little laptop. So I might just play with NWN1 for now.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Playing: Cave of songs

Here's an oldie-but-goodie that I missed. My first foray into nwn1 in a half decade is the Cave of Songs. I'm playing this in anticipation of playing through the prophet series by the same Author.

I'm about an hour in, and having a lot of fun. I'm playing a halfling rogue/ranger, and it's already become clear that I am pretty rusty. I barely remembered what the various skills did (almost used parry!!), and simple strategic things like not rushing into rooms full of monsters have been slow to come back to me. Plus, until I can get my character leveled up a bit to have finesse weapons and an extra Dex bonus, he's rather underpowered. I did start him out as a level 2 character as this mod is apparently balanced for multiplayer, and I hope that will be enough.

Character creation was a little problematic. For nwn2, I had my character creator mod. Here, I used Pretty Good Character Creator for xp/gold, but found it necessary to drop 3/4 of the gold it gave me. 2/3 might have been sufficient had I used an in-mod store, but PGCC's store is set too cheap: 100 markup/100 markdown. I've edited PGCC to 150/35 (iirc) now, but couldn't figure out the gold script and so will probably just drop 2/3 of it from now on.

Anyhow, I'm having some good nostalgic fun. Looking forward to more tonight!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I'm installing NWN1 right now.

Don't know if anything will come of it. Probably not. But talking about some fantasy lego board game with my nephew got me thinking about the good 'ole days. I'm going with nwn1, as I'm running on my dinky work laptop, and I don't think it can handle nwn2.

Besides, there's a lot of great stuff on nwn1 that I never got to see....