Tuesday, March 31, 2015

PCs do unexpected things

In honor off all the PCs out there who have made some weird decisions and used items, abilities, or spells in exciting and unexpected ways, try this.

Invoking IP: TSR v. Mayfair Games

Last week I was reading ENWorld’s TSR, WotC, & Paizo: A Comparative History.  If you haven’t taken a look at it before, I suggest that you slip over there.  They’ve got four columns of information that really encompass the growth of the RPG industry, specifically the fantasy RPG industry covered by (A)D&D and Pathfinder.  But, as I was reading through it, there was an entry for a 1993 judicial opinion in TSR v. Mayfair Games.[1] 

I got very excited!  Maybe there was some case law related to copyright and games.  Alas, there’s not.  But, there is some interesting stuff related to trademark and to contract law (which I will skip over so as to not bore you).  There’s also some interesting language related to how trademark protection might be lost.  We need a little bit of background here.  TSR was always worried that Dungeons & Dragons would lose its protected trademark status.  This can happen when a brand name becomes synonymous with the product itself.  Xerox and Kleenex are good examples of this.  In reality, the product is a photocopier or a tissue, but people often use the brand name more often than the actual product name.  And, when that happens, your trademark can really weaken.  Popular media often refers to RPGs in general as Dungeons & Dragons despite the specific game being played.  So, TSR was always extra vigilant to ensure that this didn’t happen with its trademarks.

So, how was Mayfair Games abusing TSR’s trademark?  They were producing some products, City State of the Invincible Overlord and Role Aids, that were designed to be compatible with AD&D.  To indicate this, Mayfair Games went ahead and threw the AD&D logo on its packaging.  This was probably fair use of a trademark (more on that later), but TSR started to get litigious and so the two signed a contract governing how Mayfair Games could use TSR’s trademark.  In addition to making it clear that Role Aids were not produced by TSR or endorsed by them, Mayfair Games could also only state that Role Aids were compatible with AD&D rather than with RPGs in general.

Mayfair had some minor trademark infringement violations and the judge called them out on it.  In a lot of cases TSR took awhile to respond to these issues.  The law hates delay (in anything except a court case itself, where it’s par for the course) and the common law has invented this nifty concept called laches to deal with it.  Laches apply when someone knew they had a legal claim but just sat on it instead of telling the person harming them to stop perpetuating the harm.  Mayfair Games did a lot of advertising in TSR’s own magazines and tried to apply laches stating that TSR knew about any violations and had waived them by approving the ads.  The judge wasn’t having this on a summary judgment motion, but it could have gone wildly differently if it were argued in open court.  But, the court did not apply laches.

As so often happens, the two parties decided that they’d really split hairs.  Mayfair advertised its products as having “numerous locations that can be worked into any fantasy campaign.”  (TSR v. Mayfair Games at *9).  TSR claimed that was tantamount to breaking its agreement that Mayfair would only advertise its games as being compatible with AD&D.  It actually broke down to the two of them fighting over the differences between the definitions of an RPG and a campaign.  TSR eventually did have to admit that there were multiple campaigns in AD&D.

Legal cases also require the plaintiff to show that whatever he’s complaining about has directly harmed him/her.  In a trademark case, that’s customer confusion.  “Mayfair says that its use of TSR’s trademarks caused no customer confusion.” (TSR v. Mayfair Games at *7)  The court agreed with Mayfair for the most part, saying “this may indeed by a case of minimal damage to TSR…TSR will not be heard to say that it has been hurt when the disclaimer has been adhered to” and “there has been no showing of lost sales or damage to the value of TSR’s trademarks because of Mayfair’s violations.”  (Id.)

But where things really get interesting is how TSR was wielding its trademark might actually have destroyed it or lay the groundwork for destroying it in the future.  “[T]he restriction that TSR incorrectly contends was violated…seems to be purely anticompetitive and hence likely unenforceable as an unlawful extension of trademarks.”  (TSR v. Mayfair Games at *9).  And, “those anti-competitive measures appear to find no rational support in TSR’s legitimate goals for protecting the integrity of its own trademarks.”  (Id. at *12).  The court buries the most important part of this statement in a footnote:
If anything, it would seem that measures that would thus tend to promote AD&D’s market domination would make it more likely, rather than less likely, that AD&D might become a generic term among consumers.  It is only necessary to recall such examples as Eastman’s fight to prevent “Kodak” from entering the public domain, or Bayer’s like fight as to “Aspirin” or GE’s comparable fight as to “Frigidaire.”  (TSR v. Mayfair Games at *12 n.24).

Finally, “[b]ecause of AD&D’s prominence in the marketplace, any revocation of Mayfair’s permission to refer to AD&D with appropriate disclaimers could be fair to destroy Role Aids as a competitor for the marketplace with TSR’s own products.”  (Id.)

Here, a lot of what happened was because TSR and Mayfair had signed a contract governing how Mayfair was and was not allowed to use TSR’s logo.  But, absent that, trademark principles like fair use would have applied, meaning that most of this suit would never have happened.  Mayfair’s “argument might have had force in the absence of the Agreement—but once the parties had entered into the Agreement, such a contention comes too late.” (TSR v. Mayfair Games at *6).  What’s the bottom line here?  Contracts modify your substantive rights so be careful when you do so.  Contracts always require you to give something up and if you’re going to do so, make sure you know exactly what you’re giving up and that you’re willing to accept losing it for as long as the contract remains in force.

[1] Not Reported in F.Supp. 1993WL 79272 (N.D. Ill.)  The opinion is the text readout of an educational only opinion from Westlaw.  I’m going to assume the EN World has their intellectual property shit together, but if not, this could be a huge licensing violation on the part of whomever gave the copy of the opinion to EN World.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Terrifying Bearded Vulture, a CR 6 monster

(C)2007 Richard Bartz.  Used with
permission under a Creative Commons
The bearded vulture is terrifying enough in real life.  Since it's so damned scary, I decided it should become a Pathfinder monster as well.  For your pleasure, the...

This giant buzzard darts from the sky towards a decomposing body, the maw at the end of its long neck scouring the flesh off of a femur before it devours the entire bone with a single gulp.

Bearded Vulture CR 6
XP 2,400
Neutral Large Magical Beast
Init +5; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +10

AC 18, touch 8, flat-footed 18 (+10 natural, -1 dex, -1 size)
hp 72 (8d10+4)
Fort +10, Ref +5, Will +4
DR 5/piercing or slashing

Speed 20 ft., fly 60 ft. (average)
Melee bite +13 (1d8+4), 2 claws +12 (1d6+4)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks Bone swallow

Str 19, Dex 9, Con 19, Int 6, Wis 14, Cha 10
Base Atk +8; CMB +13; CMD 22
Feats Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative, Skill Focus (Perception), Weapon Focus (bite)
Skills Climb +9, Fly +10 (+4 racial), Perception +10 Racial Modifiers +4 Fly
Languages None
SQ Black and white, Blood bath

Environment Temperate Hills
Organization solitary, nesting pair (1 bearded vulture and 1 young bearded vulture)
Treasure Incidental

Special Abilities
Black and white (Ex) Naturally black and white, when bearded vultures lack access to fresh blood to dye their white feathers red, they instead use dirt to dye their white feathers either yellow or brown.  Bearded vultures that cannot partake in a dirt bath for two days lose their coating, exposing the bright, white feathers.  In normal or bright light, bearded vultures without their dirt coat are dazzled.
Blood bath (Ex) As a full-round, a bearded vulture can revel in the blood of a helpless enemy subject to the bleed condition or who has taken piercing or slashing wounds in combat.  Bathing in blood grants the bearded vulture a 30 ft. fear aura (DC 17) and changes DR to 5/----.
Bone swallow (Ex) As a standard action, a bearded vulture can swallow the bone of a size small or smaller creature whole.  Swallowing a bone whole grants the bearded vulture the grab and swallow whole abilities for an hour.  Swallowed bones must first be separated from the rest of a carcass, which requires a full round action.  After swallowing an enemy whole, a bearded vulture attempts to return to its nest and kill its victim before feasting on her bones.

Bearded vultures are larger versions of their normal-sized cousins, scavengers that survive on their targets’ bones rather than their meat.  With razor-sharp claws and a lightning quick beak, a bearded vulture can scour the meat and hide from a bone in seconds before devouring it whole.  Their flesh takes on features of the bones they eat, rendering it tougher than other birds’ meat.  Despite their ferocity and rarity, their tough skin makes them an unpalatable meal at best.
Bearded vultures attack animals, but their preferred prey are small humanoids and the children of medium-sized humanoids.  A bearded vulture will take this prey, even alive, and drop it from great heights to before carrying the carcass back to its mountaintop lair.  Bearded vultures naturally attack animated skeletons on sight.  Sages are divided about whether this reflects animosity against the undead or if animated bones simply taste more appealing than truly dead ones.
Bearded vultures are solitary creatures, each one claiming territories of hundreds of square miles.  Outside of their mating season in early fall, a bearded vulture will fight any other vulture that invades its territory.  Bearded vulture females lay two eggs, but raise only one hatchling to adulthood.  The mother encourages the stronger hatchling to devour its weaker sibling. 

Bearded vultures’ feathers are naturally black and white, but vultures will stain their lighter feathers with brown dirt or yellow dirt.  When possible, vultures prefer to stain their feathers red by bathing in the blood of their slain enemies.  Bearded vultures are eight feet tall with wingspans up to ten feet.  They weigh up to 500 pounds.

RFRA Update: Send your thoughts to GenCon

GenCon has published another letter, this time to its attendees.  They are asking out our experiences with the local community as vendors and in general.  You can respond to them by using the following:

Email: customerservice@gencon.com
Phone: 800-529-3976 (x3806)
Twitter: @Gen_Con

I'll draft my response and post it as an update to this later.  I loved my only GenCon experience and I can't wait to be going back!

Update: The Game Manufacturer's Association has also come out with a statement supporting GenCon's position.

Whole letter:

Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying - Interesting Simple System

This week I was introduced to the Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying (USR) system.  USR is Scott Malthouse's creation.  Scott writes the Trollish Delver blog.  USR's first positive quality: it's free.  But, beyond that (you get what you pay for, after all), I'm interested in this system and I'd like to try it out.

USR is contained in a 21-page PDF.  That's it.  There's a cover and a copyright page at the beginning.  At the end, there's an ad.  Take that out and there's 18 pages of content.  How does it shake out?

  • Page 1 - Intro
  • Page 2 - What's an RPG
  • Pages 3-6 Creating a character
  • Page 7 Example of a PC
  • Pages 8-11 Rules for playing the game
  • Pages 12-13 Example of play
  • Pages 14-16 Basic setting suggestions
  • Page 17-18 Optional rules
How simple are these mechanics?  Someone has made a cheat sheet that has all of the rules on a single page.  This is the second edition of the rules.

I'd like to print some excerpts from the rulebook, but the copyright page makes it clear that there's no showing anything from the (free) PDF without the express permission of the author.  Part of me thinks that this is part of the common misapprehension in the RPG industry that you can copyright a set of rules, which of course you can't.  That said, the expression of the ideas, the way the rules are presented, and the artwork are protected so I'll stay away from using any clips from the book.  

There is also an excellent page that explains what a roleplaying game is in a single page.  Even if not using USR, this page is incredible for introducing new players to the genre in general.  That was one of the goals of the new edition.  I did not peruse the previous edition, but I'm blown away.  This page also covers the most important rule in all of roleplaying games: no rule is more important than that people have fun.  There are other good tips in the book, such as the recommendation that you should build a party of characters with abilities that match each other.  The rulebook also suggests that players answer several questions about background pretty early in their character generation process.  I personally would bring these to the beginning of the process with a suggestion that players revisit their answers after assigning statistics to make sure the decisions still fit and have informed the character.

The book comes with three pre-designed settings: a spaghetti Western, a space opera, and an urban fantasy setting.  Malthouse says that he plans on releasing future settings for the USR system.  He's released a few of these on his blog: It Came from VHS, a 1980s pastiche of everything awesome in the vein of Spirit of 77 and Slackers, designed for roleplaying in the world created by Kevin Smith's movies.  Hopefully there will be more of these.  The fan community (we'll discuss this in some depth later) has also created some settings.  There's a traditional fantasy setting and a Cyberpunk setting.
The creator's website has mini-setting info that can be used for
making characters in a some rando-awesome settings!

What about the rules?  There are three ability scores: action, wits, and ego.  Action combines the functions of the strength, dexterity, and constitution scores from traditional d20 games.  Wits covers intelligence and wisdom.  Finally, ego encompasses charisma.  Rather than assigning a score to each of them, the player assigns a die to each of them: a d10, d8, and a d6.  Instead of a static score, players roll the die assigned to the score when they need to use it in play.  Hit points are just called Hits.  You roll your action and wits dice to determine your character's hits.  There's a suggestion that PCs could actually just take the average die rolls, similarly to the way they do in many other d20 games.

USR has a skills system similar to 13th Age.  Characters have three "specialisms."  A specialism is basically a skill.  The book suggests 42 possibilities from acrobatics to plant lore to leader.  When it applies, the character adds 2 to any die rolls made that relate to the specialism.  Each skill is tied to an ability score.  I'm 50/50 on this.  One of the best features I've found in the Archmage system used in 13th Age is that skills don't have to be tied to a particular ability score.  That seems like an easy house rule to make--which is one of the things that USR encourages GMs to do.  It would be even more interesting in the USR system--instead of changing a small bonus (usually between 0 and +4), you're changing what die is rolled and changing the probabilities.

There are also four combat specialties: hand-to-hand, light weapons, medium weapons, and heavy weapons.  These grant a +2 bonus to using them in combat.  They're individual specialisms, so taking heavy weapons doesn't necessarily give you skills in using medium or light weapons.  In a modern setting, that makes sense to me.  In a more classic sword and sorcery setting, it might make sense to give players skills with medium/heavy weapons, ranged weapons, and hand-to-hand weapons.

So how does anything happen in the game?  "Attribute tests" are rolled.  You decide which attribute applies to anything and roll the corresponding die.  Advantages or disadvantages can give a player a +1 or -1, but that's about it for modifying rolls.  Contested checks are just rolls against each other and the highest one wins.  Uncontested rolls have a difficulty table.  Combat functions as a contested action ability roll (with the type of weapon granting a bonus) and with bonuses if you have a specialism in the relevant skill for your weapon.  Defenders also make an action roll.  If defenders are higher, it's a miss.  If attackers roll higher, the difference between the two rolls is the damage.  Armor doesn't reduce the chance to hit.  Instead it just reduces the amount of damage dealt.  (Mechanically, this is the same thing, but it feels different, which is nice).

The book closes out with optional rules for narrative points (similar to hero points) and experience points for character advancement if you're planning on playing a full-on campaign with recurring sessions.  

Overall, I really like this system.  I have a few friends who have been asking about what Pathfinder is and saying they'd like to try it.  I think it's a little too complicated for newer players.  USR might be a much better system to try--I'd been leaning 13th Age up until now.  At the end of the day, the system is free and the entire rule book is only 21 pages long.  Definitely worth checking out.
USR has an active fan community.

One of the few things that the rulebook doesn't have are monsters or rules for creating them.  This wouldn't be too difficult for creating villains that are based around the character creation rules.  But, if you want to add monsters that don't follow the PC generation rules there's no guidance.  Fortunately, there's an active fan community on Google+.  One user there has uploaded a short bestiary for fantasy settings.  You could probably reskin the stats here pretty easily for cyberpunk--though you'd need to change out some of the special abilities.  Additionally, haven't found any published adventures--you'll just have to make some of this stuff up yourself!

EDIT: Did I say they were short on monsters?  Trollish Delver has a new update for "Halcyon Fantasy" that gives the basics for running a fantasy game.  4 "classes": warrior, mage, thief, and priest.  Also 4 races: human, elf, dwarf, and halfling.  Some basic abilities and a short bestiary.  You could easily plan a starting adventure out of this.  (3/31/15)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Villainous Divinations from the Advanced Player's Guide

So, after doing an earlier post about what divination spells from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook villains could/should be using on your players, I decided it would be fun to follow up with the divination spells from the Advanced Players Guide.  This is certainly helped by the fact that there are many fewer divination spells in the APG.  As in the last post, spells with obvious uses or that likely won't be useful, like Sift, are omitted.  So, without further ado, here are the APG divinations that smart villains will be casting on your players:

First Level
Detect Aberration (druid 1, ranger 1): Use this spell like Detect Undead, as detailed in the previous post.

Residual Tracking (ranger 1): Again, the villain/opposing organization is at the scene of the "crime."  Did a PC leave a footprint?  Now you've got an idea of who you're looking for.  If the villain can also cast scry, there's a significant advantage if he hasn't seen the PCs in real life.  If not, the NPC casting residual tracking could make a passable drawing to give a smaller bonus/penalty mitigation with a successful Craft (drawing) check.  Finally, this would also be an interesting way to plant a red herring in a mystery/murder-mystery campaign.

Second Level
Blood Biography (bard 2, cleric 3, inquisitor 3, sorcerer/wizard 3): This spell gives the caster the answers to the following four questions:
  • Who are you? (The name by which the creature is most commonly known)
  • What are you? (Gender, race, profession/role)
  • How was your blood shed? (Brief outline of the events that caused its wound, to the best of the victim's knowledge)
  • When was your blood shed?
Again, this is useful for a villain who's lost a lieutenant in battle.  If a GM allowed casting this spell through scrying (I would), it would also be pretty cool.  Villains can use this to learn about the PCs' abilities from a dead ally.
Plus, the answers appear in blood on the wall.  The duration is instantaneous, meaning that they stick around.  As a plot device, imagine that the lieutenant fought the PCs, failed, and then was slain by his master.  She casts blood biography to leave a grisly message to the PCs/anyone that might cross her in the future.  

Create Treasure Map (bard 2, druid 3, ranger 2, sorcerer/wizard 2): Have a villain who's bent on revenge about the PCs?  Did that villain manage to kill a close NPC friend or perhaps an animal companion?  Create Treasure Map is a great way for that villain to circle back to go up against our valiant heroes.  As a GM I'd most likely use this spell to help the PCs "fail forward" in 13th Age parlance.  Maybe the PCs miraculously escape or aren't killed when they should be.  The villain has left their bodies to be conveniently raised by whatever brings the party back.  Why has the villain left the bodies?  The go after the PCs' treasure of course!

Eagle Eye (druid 2, ranger 2): I've loved the concept of this spell ever since I first saw it used in Might & Magic 2.  The spell creates a sensor ~500 ft. above you and can see in all directions.  It can't see through walls, but it can see through foliage.  Best damn spell for dealing with a siege--ever.

Follow Aura (inquisitor 2): Track an alignment for at least thirty minutes.  If you're a good guys and you know the good guys were here, you've got a much more effective way to track them than even with dogs.  (Related monster idea: Magical dogs that use an effect like this and can track good PCs.)

Guiding Star (cleric 3, ranger 2, witch 3): This spell seems like it should have some useful applications, but I can't think of anything right now.  Any suggestions?

Third Level
Seek Thoughts (alchemist 3, bard 3, inquisitor 3, sorcerer/wizard 3, summoner 3, witch 3): This spell requires the caster to be within 40 ft. of the target and it offers a will save.  So, it's best used by a villain that knows the PCs actions are against his plans but the PCs don't necessarily know who they're up against yet.  It could also be useful in a heavy roleplaying game where the villain and the PC do know they are up against each other but the politics of the situation means that the PCs can't out and out attack.  Ditto here for situations like a meeting under a flag of truce--what a great way to get an idea of what the PCs are planning to do to an opposing force!

Share Senses (sorcerer/wizard 4, witch 3): Pretty obvious here, but the villain's familiar is a great tool for spying on the PCs, especially if the familiar is something the PCs wouldn't expect.  Even if it is, and even if the PCs know they are dealing with the villain's familiar, they might not expect that it could communicate back concepts as complex as the villain could learn through casting Share Senses.  One problem--your villain must choose between seeing and hearing.  Hearing's most useful once the familiar sites the PCs, but seeing is most useful to figure out where they are.  First locate the PCs through another method--even their rough location--and send your familiar to them with hearing enabled--it will take you much further.

Well, folks, that's all there is to it.  There aren't a lot of divination spells in the APG.  If I'm feeling moved, I'll try this with the other hardbacks.  The Advanced Class Guide will likely get a treatment--a cursory glance shows a lot of spells with outside the box applications.

6-10 seconds to decide

Kobold Press' Howling Tower has a suggestion for making games faster and more enjoyable: give players 6-10 seconds to make decisions about what to do in combat.  The idea is that you're divorced from feeling like you need to make the "best" choice.  Obviously, characters only need to make the basic choice.  But, it helps the characters feel more like they are immersed in combat, rather than sitting around a table pretending to be.  Howling Tower suggests that, at it's most basic:
That doesn’t mean your turn can’t take more than 10 seconds. It means you should answer the basic question, “what am I going to do this turn?,” in 10 seconds or less. Figuring out specifically how your character performs the chosen action within the allowances and restrictions of the rules can take substantially longer than that, especially if a fancy maneuver, an unusual weapon, or a complex magic spell is involved. But the basic question—”What am I going to do this turn?”—should be made quickly.
One other hint:
All the infinite combat options really boil down to just six broad choices: stab something, shoot something, cast a spell, interact with the environment, go on defense, or run away. If you find yourself struggling to make quick decisions, then limit yourself to thinking only in those general terms before considering any details.
So, maybe I should try this when I'm running my next table...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2 Real Critters that Need Monster Entries...STAT

It's pretty obvious by now that I'm a loyal io9 reader.  They've had two articles this week that I think need turning into monsters.  I'm on my lunch break, so there will just be some notes today.  But, if I get some time, it would be fun to turn these into full-fledged monster entries--either for Pathfinder or for 13th Age.

The ants really like the trees they like and really don't like
the trees that they don't like.
Lemon Ant
In the real world, lemon ants only like one type of foliage: that of the Diuroia hirsuta tree.  And the lemon ants have figured out quite the way to make sure that they only have to deal with the trees that the like.  The ants climb up all other plant life in an area.  When they are at the base of the green leaf stems on non-Diuroia hirsutas, the ants inject formic acid into the plant where the stems meet the leaves.  The acid kills the leaves and, when enough leaves have died, the plant dies as well.  Eventually, entire portions of the forest are covered only in Diuroia hirsuta.  Indigenous societies referred to these areas of the forests as "Devil's Gardens" and believed that they were haunted.

In a cross-reference to copyright interest, the owner of thisphotograph is raising funds for Insects Unlocked, a program
that will make thousands of nature and animal photographs
publicly available.  If you'd like to see more high quality images
like these online, you should donate.
So, to bring this into RPG terms, we have an insect that spits acid to kill the plants that it doesn't like.  The ants are animated by, or related to, spirits haunting the forest.  They also spew caustic acid.  In Pathfinder, I'd start with the stats for a giant ant (soldier), which is a CR 2 monster.  I'll develop some ideas on the special attacks below, but the ant might also need to either be converted to a large creature or given an advanced template or both.  I'm thinking we finish up around CR 3-5.

The base creature has a poison attack, but I'd want to switch it out for our ant's acid attack.  I think two different types of acid attacks would be appropriate.  First, there's the option to inject acid into a victim.  I think this would be fun to treat as a spear-like reach weapon: because the injection method is long, the ant can attack someone 10 ft. away.  But, because the ant has to use the end of its injector, it can't attack someone 5 ft. away.  I'm thinking 4d6 acid damage on a successful attack.  Advanced versions of this ant might also cause bleed damage (1 or 2) if they strike with their injector.  It might also be fun to give the injector a separate AC and hit points and allow characters with slashing or piercing weapons to cut it off (releasing a poison glob, of course).

Additionally, our ants are going to be able to use their injectors to spray a line of acid--at the expense of losing the ability to use any other acid attacks for 10 minutes while their acid rebuilds.  This will be a 15' line causing 2d6 acid damage or 1d6 to everyone that succeeds on a DC (whatever is approrpriate for a CR 3-5 monster) Reflex save.

It would also be fun to figure out exactly what the effects are of these plants.  On one hand, maybe they are monsters in and of themselves, a la assassin vines.  But, it might also be fun to make them an environmental effect.  Maybe passing through the spines causes some hp damage or an effect like fatigue.  Maybe the exude a gas that has another effect on players, perhaps fear--or even aggression?

Finally, where are these acid ants coming from?  That's where we need some sort of new fiendish undead and/or fey creature that corrupts the eggs of normal ants to create our monstrosities.  In fact, I have an idea for exactly what causes these things for my homebrewed Cordelon campaign.  That won't start back up until the summer, but I'm already excited about disgusting my players!

Collared Pika

For most of the year, this cute little thing is a vegetarian.  But, during the winter food is scarce and it craves brains.  A normal pika is tiny (probably even diminutive in game terms).  It's brain eating is also confined to waiting for animals to die nearby so that it can scavenge their brains.  That's a little tame for an RPG monster.

The pika loses some of its charm by increasing its size.  It's far more fun to develop as a swarm.  This is even more fun if the PCs first encounter pikas in the summer, when they are harmless.  Come the winter, the PCs are in for a surprise.  I'd start with the stats for a rat swarm.  But, I'd take the individual creatures down a level to diminutive to account for pikas being smaller than rats.  That also makes them immune to weapon damage, which is kind of the whole point of a swarm.

I'm not sure about how exactly to develop mechanics for brain hunger.  Maybe after taking damage the character makes a Fort save.  Failure means that on subsequent rounds the character will take Int & Wis damage to account for brain nibbles.  Rinse and repeat with the swarm doing normal damage on its first round and then ability damage if the character fails the save.  Re-save every round.  If the character makes the save or gets free of the swarm the swarm has to restart the process with hit point damage and forcing the saving throw.

GenCon Fights Back Against GLBT Discrimination in Indiana

There's a bill circulating through the Indiana General Assembly that would enshrine discrimination against homosexuals.  While the fighter in me says that maybe it's time to find out whether or not sexual orientation is a protected class deserving of intermediate or (dream on) strict scrutiny), those results are a long way down the road.  The IN Senate has already passed a version and the IN House has passed a nearly identical bill.  The Senator sponsoring the original legislation has indicated that he's okay with the House's changes, so the bill will likely head to Governor Pence late this week or early next.

According to SB 101's own digest, it's purpose is:
Religious freedom restoration. Prohibits a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the governmental entity can demonstrate that the burden: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest. Provides a procedure for remedying a violation. Specifies that the religious freedom law applies to the implementation or application of a law regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity or official is a party to a proceeding implementing or applying the law. Prohibits an applicant, employee, or former employee from pursuing certain causes of action against a private employer.
The lawyer in me notes that this is pretty weak and basically already follows a standard for interpreting 14th Amendment law.  I'm going to shy away from discussing that--at least today.  But, on a positive note, GenCon has written to Indiana's governor, urging him not to sign the bill.  GenCon's letter notes that:
  • It hosts more than 56,000 attendees every year;
  • Many of these attendees are of a diverse group--the group targeted by SB 101;
  • GenCon has been in Indy more than 10 years now;
  • GenCon annually brings more than $50 million to the local economy; and
  • Legislation that allows discrimination based on these matters will be taken into account when GenCon makes decisions about where to locate in future years.
You can read the full letter here.  Now, I'll bet that GenCon's location is already set for several years out, but this still sends a very strong message.  When businesses stand up for diversity, political leaders--especially moderate ones--take notice.

The full bill is available online (SB 101--still looking for House version) and you can read it here.  I'll do some analysis on what it does in a following post.  The HRC doesn't have anything up yet, but click on the link soon and I'm sure they'll have methods for you to reach out to Governor Pence as well.

EDIT: This is getting big.  Both Ars Technica and ICv2 have stories covering the GenCon letter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

RPG Superstar 2015 Results

Congratulations Monica Marlowe on winning this year's RPG Superstar contest!  I loved your entry enough to write an entire post about it and I can't wait to play in it or GM it one day.  Cheers to when the final product comes out in a year!  Writing a module sounds like a lot of work, but I just know this one is going to be awesome.

Giving Divination magic a little bit of love

Blog of Holding has a post considering how 5E Divination magic might be used against PCs by villainous organizations.  I thought it would be fun to try and do something similar, but for Pathfinder.  Before I jump into the spells, I want to discuss one of the best pieces of system-neutral advice in the article.  As GMs we know everything, but our villains don't.  How do we split villain knowledge from GM knowledge?  It suggests that the GM set a phone alarm for some period of time into the session, say an hour.  That's when the opposing forces are casting the divination spells against the PCs.  That helps you as the GM ensure that the villains are learning specific information about the PCs as well as exactly what information the villains are learning.  If it happens to be when the PCs are plotting their next move, all the better for your NPCs.  If not, well, sometimes you tune in the divination spell when people are just complaining about sore feet.

I'm also up on divination spells because my PCs never use them.  I think after such spells have been deployed against the PCs, they're apt to become much bigger fans of using the spells themselves.  Of course, this raises the same issue: what are the villains doing when the PCs tune in?  There's more than dealing with random chance here--the GM has a need to balance reality with dramatic needs. At first I considered trying something like writing out basic schedules for villains, but that gets tedious fast and doesn't provide much use beyond planning for a contingency in case the party tries something--maybe.  Finding that sweet spot between what the players could find out and what the players should find out is a challenge.  Reward them for being inventive, but don't give the game away.  It's going to be tough and I suspect it's just a matter of erring a little bit on both sides until hitting the right place.

Note: I'm doing spells from the Core Rulebook and I'm going to skip those that don't appear to have utility, like Know Direction, or those that are obvious, like See Invisibility.  Spells are listed under the lowest level they can be known--except for paladin spells, because I hate paladins.

0th Level
Detect Magic (bard 0, cleric 0, druid 0, sorcerer/wizard 0): Everybody knows this spell, but it's limited to 60 ft.  If the bad guys have an idea that the PCs have a particular magical item or if magic is rare and the bad guys can discern the party's identity by figuring out who has access to any magic, this could be really useful.

First Level
Comprehend Languages (bard 1, cleric 1, sorcerer/wizard 1): If the campaign is taking place in a large city, this spell might not just be useful--it might be necessary.  One of my campaign ideas on Golarion involves a Lirgeni diaspora community that's settled in Magnimar now that Lirgen is part of the Sodden Lands.  In my Golarion, Lirgeni is also a distinct language and it's spoken heavily in their insular community--older and more insular individuals might not even speak Taldane.  Bringing languages into the campaign means that this spell becomes more important.  Also keep in mind that comprehend languages only allows a caster to read/understand the language.  The caster cannot speak or write the language without casting tongues.  (Note: this can be just as useful for creating difficulties for PCs).

Detect Animals or Plants (druid 1, ranger 1): I'm a little lost on this one--suspect it's probably highly situational.

Detect Evil/Good/Chaos/Law (cleric 1): If the PCs are alignment outliers in an a settlement, even a first level cleric should be able to find them pretty easily.  And if the PCs' actions indicate their alignments' are outliers, the bad guys know to look.  In an evil temple city, good PCs will shine like beacons.  This isn't very helpful for low-level parties, unless they have clerics, warpriests, or paladins in them.  This is wonderful for getting back at the paladin PC that's always using detect evil on every NPC.  Finally, there's no save so absent actively using spells to foil it, the PCs are in for quite the surprise.

Detect Secret Doors (bard 1, sorcerer/wizard 1): Want to change things up a little?  Try letting the enemies invade the PCs' hideout/fortress!  Admittedly, this isn't going to be useful until the bad guys have located the PCs, but it could be a lifesaver once they have.  Is the PCs' treasure room hidden?  Not anymore.  After ascertaining his patrol safely has the run of the place, a caster using this spell can cast this spell once and travel over the entire structure while maintaining concentration.

Detect Undead (cleric 1, paladin 1, sorcerer/wizard 1): Unless the PCs are in the habit of animating things, this might not seem useful at first.  But, what if the PCs are going up against a necromancer in his own fortress?  Casting detect undead could be used in the negative.  Is the villain detecting undead to the north, east, and west approaches to his location?  PCs must be coming from the south then--that's where the undead used to be but aren't anymore.

Identify (bard 1, sorcerer/wizard 1): See detect magic above.

Speak with Animals (bard 3, druid 1, ranger 1): I sure hope you didn't piss off a druid.  Matched with a few wild empathy checks and a druid has a ready source of information.  Worse, if the druid is following you, a combination of wild empathy checks and this spell results in the party being tailed far more effectively than the druid might be able to do alone.

True Strike (sorcerer/wizard 1): You've finally come face to face with your nemeses, the PCs.  You've used divination magic to learn everything you can about them.  You know that you've got to use that spell that requires a successful touch attack to really knock one of them out of commission.  Cast this right before or in the first round of combat to make sure that spell comes off as it should.

Second Level
Augury (cleric 2): This spell's effectiveness is going to be situational.  But, I imagine it could be useful for villains planning on how to react to PCs that will reach them soon or for taking actions that will help them go from knowing there are general forces out there trying to foil their evil machinations to specific individuals that can be the target of further divinations.

Detect Thoughts (bard 2, sorcerer/wizard 2): With 18 seconds of concentration, a caster can identify the surface thoughts of a target that fails a will save.  Once the authorities have someone in hand, this is a handy spell to determine if you've got the right party at all.  Honest governments may not employ this at all, depending on how divination is viewed in society.  Most will though--at least for serious crimes and searches.  Villains with access to this spell won't hesitate to use it.

Locate Object (bard 2, cleric 3, sorcerer/wizard 2): At minimum, this spell is available to a 3rd level wizard that will have a range of 520 ft. (1/10 mile) when casting it.  Bards get this spell at 4th level (560 ft.) and clerics get it at 5th level (600 ft.).  There are some limitations though--the caster needs to have seen a specific item first hand and it can be foiled by a thin sheet of lead, polymorph any object, or nondetection.  That said, if the bad guys know that the party has made off with a specific item and the party hasn't left the dungeon/fortress/etc. where the item was hidden, this is a great tool for the bad guys to follow them.  If the opposing forces also happen to live in the fortress/dungeon, they likely know their way around.  Even just knowing the general direction to an object could provide them with information very useful for ambushing the party later.

Speak with Plants (bard 4, druid 3, ranger 2): See notes on speak with animals above.  Remember that there are ranger and druid archetypes that allow wild empathy, but with plants.  If the party has pissed off a druid that can use wild empathy on the plants in a forest, their chances of hiding are nil.

Tongues (bard 2, cleric 4, sorcerer/wizard 3): Same issues as comprehend languages above.  Except tongues allows the speaker to actually communicate in the language.

Third Level
Arcane Sight (sorcerer/wizard 3): See notes on detect magic, above.

Clairaudience/Clairvoyance (bard 3, sorcerer/wizard 3): Now we are getting into some really useful abilities.  Bards aren't going to have access to this spell until level 7, but wizards are going to have it at level 5.  If the bad guys can get close enough to the party (about 500 feet), they can get a good idea of what they are up against early.  If the party is entering a villain's lair, this should be de rigeur--the villain knows that she might have to deal with the party directly so she casts this spell.  After observing the party, she knows exactly how she should prepare herself--as well as how she might counteract any buffs the party has placed on itself.

Helping Hand (cleric 3): So, technically, this is an evocation spell because it creates a hand out of force.  But, the effects are so tied into divination that I'm (right now) house ruling it as divination.  How awesome would it be for the villain to use the helping hand to lead the PCs either into a trap or right to her?  Mysterious hand appears and beckons to the party?  "Guys, we should follow it!"  And let's see exactly where it leads...

Scrying (bard 3, cleric 5, druid 4, sorcerer/wizard 4): Why would a bard ever learn clauraudience/clairvoyance if he could have scrying at the same level--well, I guess to avoid having to deal with the will save.  This is the big daddy.  At this point a caster with an idea of who she's dealing with can spend 7-9 minutes observing the party.  There's no distance requirement and through repeated castings even someone that's not aware of who exactly they are dealing with can get an idea.  Once you've tuned in, the ability to use basic detect spells and message through the scrying can be effective indeed.  A bard or wizard is going to have roughly a 1 in 3 chance of getting this off as soon as he can scry.  A sorcerer, cleric, or druid is going to have even better chances.  Imagine the fear you can create in your PCs at camp one night.  The scry works and the villain gets their time listening in.  At the very end, a message comes through, "We're coming for you."

Speak with Dead (cleric 3): This one is pretty obvious.  Did the PCs take out the villain's lieutenant?  After casting this spell, the villain has learned a lot more about the PCs than they'd ever want her to.

Fourth Level
Arcane Eye (sorcerer/wizard 4): Basically no save here and unless the PCs can see invisible objects they won't know they are being observed.  You can't send the eye through a gate, but there's nothing about dimension doors or other portals that allow it to remain on the same plane of existence as its caster.  Great way to get the results of scrying without the possibility of failing the saving throw.

Commune with Nature (ranger 4, druid 5): Once you know generally where the PCs are, you get there, you villain, you!  Then, learn how best to use their surroundings against them.  Pits, falling boulders, chasms, the possibilities are endless!

Detect Scrying (bard 4, sorcerer/wizard 4): As mentioned, my PCs often don't use divination magic.  This is the next step after they do.  The PCs think they've got the jump on their opponent but want to really check things out.  The villain's about to discuss his master plan and the PCs can taste victory by knowing exactly what they're up against.  All of a sudden, she casts this spell.  If she wins the opposed caster check, she knows exactly who's listening in on her plans!

Discern Lies (cleric 4, paladin 3): Has a will save component and only reveals what the speaker believes to be lies.  Not the most useful for our villain--unless somebody else can think of some way to make it useful.  Let me know in a comment!

Divination (cleric 4): Since this is basically a beefed up version of augury, the same rules apply.

Legend Lore (bard 4, sorcerer/wizard 6): PCs are level 11 or higher and hunting a villain?  In 2-12 weeks, the villain can have a decent idea of what he's up against.  Legendary is a loose term too.  If the PCs are far from their home base, I might stick with the level 11 base.  But, if they already have a reputation in the area, it's going to be lower--isn't a perk of heroism having songs written about you?  To be fair, it should work the same way for villains the PCs want to listen in on.  Legends are also pretty good at giving an idea of how a character or a party operates.  For less than 500gp, this is a steal for getting the jump on your enemies!

Locate Creature (bard 4, sorcerer/wizard 4): This is great when the villain knows who she's chasing.  The bright side here is that there is no saving throw.  The downside is that the spell can be easily stopped/fooled.  Running water stops it and mislead, nondetection, and polymorph spells beat it.  This is probably good for when the villain knows she's chasing the PCs, but they aren't aware of it.  If you're going to send parties out to search for someone, this is a great first step to send them in the right direction.

Fifth Level
Commune (cleric 5): Any cleric that can cast this spell should be using it to get an idea of what's going on with their enemies.  If the cleric is trying to do something terribly unholy and to move her deity's evil agenda forward, her deity definitely wants her to know what the forces trying to foil its plans are up to.  Answers are true (to the best of the deity's ability) and there's no save.

Contact Other Plane (sorcerer/wizard 5): As commune, above, except be worried about what happens if the entity you reach isn't friendly.  Sorcerers and wizards usually have better options unless they know they are contacting a friendly entity.  Otherwise, avoid this.

Prying Eyes (sorcerer/wizard 5): Chasing the PCs into their redoubtable fortress or even the tavern they're hiding in?  Prying eyes traveling the various halls can give you a great idea exactly where to go and find them.

True Seeing (cleric 5, druid 7, sorcerer/wizard 6): Let's just go with the implications here are pretty obvious.

Sixth Level
Find the Path (bard 6, cleric 6, druid 6): Like so much of divination magic, this one is going to rely on how much oomph the GM is willing to put behind it.  The caster can find the best route to something relatively knowable.  Of course, by the time the PCs are facing enemies that can use sixth level spells, the PCs' hideout might be a well-known locale...

Scrying, Greater (bard 6, cleric 7, druid 7, sorcerer/wizard 7): With a duration of 1 hour/level and all casters being at least 13th level by the time that they cast it, the PCs can be placed under constant magical surveillance.  Stop worrying about whether or not the villain tunes in at the right time and start focusing on how reliable the villain's designated scry-watching assistant is in reporting what the PCs have to say.

Seventh Level
Vision (sorcerer/wizard 7): I haven't decided if this spell is banned from my table or also functions at bard level 6.  Either way, it works like legend lore, only its faster but has a few side effects.

Eighth Level
Discern Location (cleric 8, sorcerer/wizard 8): You find what you are looking for.  No save.  Unless there's a mind blank or divine intervention going on, you are going to find it.  This spell also has no material component.  Need to find out where your enemies are?  So long as you know who they are, you also know exactly where they are.

Prying Eyes, Greater (sorcerer/wizard 8): See prying eyes above, but revel in the fact that your eyes have true seeing.  Nothing is hidden from your flying spies!

Ninth Level
Foresight (druid 9, sorcerer/wizard 9): Either cast it on yourself (never surprised and AC and save bonuses for that final combat) or use it to help you know how your most trusted lackey fares against the PCs.  Probably better on yourself--you can scry to find out how your lackey does.

Dream Job Found

Reading a bunch of press about last week's show has helped me figure out my dream job.  I'd like to be the General Counsel for the Game Manufacturer's Association.  To the best of my knowledge, this position doesn't even exist yet.  But one day it might...

My dream future employer

Monday, March 23, 2015

RPG Superstar

So, RPG Superstar voting closes in less than one hour.  I've made my choice: Monica Marlowe's Down the Blighted Path.  I admit, I only read two entries.  Monica Marlowe and Christopher Wasko both really impressed me when they were interviewed on Know Direction.  Their demeanors made me want one of them to win and, when they turned out to be in the Final Four with the best reviews from the judges, I just gave the other two a pass.  So, it came down to a contest between Marlowe's Down the Blighted Path and Wasko's The Hollowheart Conquest.

What ultimately tipped the scales?  Let's discuss...

Monica's adventure felt more personal.  Even though both villains were targeting NPCs, the action in Down the Blighted Path felt more targeted towards the PCs once they took the reins in the adventure. Monica also gave options that would help the PCs align their characters with Delbera, the NPC quest-giver.  Monica did a much better job of maintaining the PCs' agency.  That seems especially strange since her adventure outline is pretty classically a railroad while Wasko's is a sandbox.  She also writes in a lot of rewards that aren't combat-based but which the PCs can take advantage of.  I like when my PCs spend the extra time investigating or planning and her adventure gives the PCs a payoff for doing just that.

The magic item in The Hollowheart Conquest easily beats the pants off the one in Down the Blighted Path.  But, Blighted Path weaves the magic item into the story far more effectively.  It may be a fairly basic item, but it has story effects that both the good guys and the bad guys are able to take advantage of.  The Shaitan Sceptre feels cooler, but the connections to the Plane of Elemental Earth feel too strapped on as an afterthought or an attempt to create a reason to include it.  Cool item, but wrong adventure for it.

There's lots of potential for derailing in Down the Blighted Path.  I worry about it most when the PCs have encounters on the Long Road.  Again, despite being billed as a sandbox, the Hollowheart Conquest continues to feel railroad-y.  That avoids derailing issues, but at the expense of player agency.  There's a fine line to be walked here and Down the Blighted Path feels like it creates ques the PCs can latch on to (or not) while the Hollowheart Conquest shoves quests down their throats.

Both new monsters were pretty cool.  I'm not a monster slut, so I won't wax poetic.  Both were neat.  I'd be equally excited fighting them or running them as a GM.

Monica does use some interesting new mechanics as well.  When was the last time that a party of 5th level PCs had aerial combat.  That's cool--but it's in the middle of a very large chasm.  If a PC fails a necessary handle animal or fly check, they have a long way to fall without any opportunity to make it back into the story.  A single failed roll and that PC is out.

The Hollowheart Conquest does some interesting things--you know a lot is going to happen because a dwarven captain is going to invade the Darklands in a preemptive strike!  (A dwarven George W. Bush?)  I like that Klemholt is first an enemy stronghold and then a base of operations, but there's no explanation of exactly how the PCs and their dwarven allies keep an entire city of duegar pacified without a full-scale campaign of terror.  Add in that the duegar can all cast enlarge person on themselves pretty much at will and I start to have trouble believing this portion of the story.  But, if the duegar all flee Klemholt, that can be taken care of (except perhaps pacifying some final resistance).  Also, I really like how options for using kingdom-building rules were incorporated.

Ultimately, the Hollowheart Conquest just got too complex and too long.  I don't feel like it could be made into an adventure very easily--and, if so, it would work better as part of a longer arc in an Adventure Path.  As a GM that likes to make my NPCs memorable, I'm reeling at the idea of trying to play all the necessary parts for the war council.  The final area of concern with the Hollowheart Conquest is in the encounter with the PCs' NPC quest-giver's lost son.  I'd so lost track of who he was or how he was connected to the PCs by the end that I had to re-read.

Both adventure proposals had their strengths, but ultimately Down the Blighted Path takes the cake.  In fact, I'm sorely tempted to keep my 5th level fighter Pathfinder Society character on ice for a year just so that he can travel Down the Blighted Path when Monica Marlowe's adventure is hopefully published as an official Pathfinder Module!

Diversity-inclusive Blue Rose relaunching

According to ENWorld, the Blue Rose romantic fantasy RPG is set to relaunch in a new system.  Green Ronin of Advanced Bestiary fame will be the publisher and it will use the Dragon Age rules.  The ENWorld article notes that this is important because, "the game tackled a number of diversity and inclusiveness related issues, and those issues are very much the subject of intense - and often unpleasant - debate and conflict today."  Given the issues going on with Monte Cook Games right now, there's no better time for a debate about where RPGs draw the lines between incorporation and exploitation.

I'm unfamiliar with Blue Rose, but will be keeping an eye out for it when it drops on Kickstarter next month.

In other diversity related news:

Venice appears to be the source of the only successful conversion therapy in the history of GLBT-kind.  They basically put a bunch of female prostitutes on a bridge and had them bawl at homosexual men.  Doubtful this worked, but as the original article notes, "at least we got a bridge out of it."  (h/t io9).

And, to remind everyone that diversity isn't just about race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, and gender identity issues, here are some GMing tips that one man learned while running a game in prison.  In general, what does he advocate?  Well,

  • Use a point buy rather than rolling - let the PCs power levels be pretty evenly matched
  • Use appropriate CRs for encounters
  • Notes, notes, notes
  • Don't throw magic items around willy-nilly - holding back even non-magical gear gives the PCs something to work towards.  I really like this idea to control the smorgasbord of alchemical items that exist in Pathfinder.  In 13th Age, it's a non-issue.
  • Don't be afraid to create long quests (treasure hunts) without having decided what the treasure will be
  • Make custom prestige classes (my favorite on the list!)
  • Giving tiny boons can help a player feel his character is unique.  AND MOST IMPORTANTLY,
  • Don't let needing to peruse the books get in the way of good fun!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Book Wyrm

So, io9 has these concept art writing prompts.  I tried my hand at one about a month ago.  It's called The Book Wyrm.  You'll have to visit the page to see the art, but here is my entry:

The book had been belching forth creatures since Damien acquired it the night before. First, the mockingbird flew out. It sang in harmony with Damien's Wagner playing on the stereo, filling his studio apartment with delightful music. That was fine. Then, the monkey came out and raided his refrigerator. Damien was amused and then, after mopping the mess off the kitchen floor, annoyed.

When the hippopotamus emerged, Ms. Watkins next door called the police. Unable to explain the hippo's provenance, the police sent animal control to visiti Damien. Of course, the cursed book simply lay still and unassuming during both official visits, making him seem like an insane man imagining creatures coming from books—or perhaps an endangered species trafficker with poor lying skills. The nice men from animal control took Sheila (for that was what he'd named the hippo) away along with George the monkey. The mockingbird they let him keep.

As soon as they left, Damien tried to shut the book, but it resisted him. It wouldn't close. After an extended session with a C-clamp and much cursing, Damien thought the problem was solved. Just to be sure, he drove spikes between the covers. Self-satisfied, Damien pulled down his Murphy bed and slipped off to sleep.

He awoke to a loud thud. Before he opened his eyes, he knew it was the book. The faint acrid smell of smoke was in the air, as if someone struck a match and let it burn out. He saw a flickering dim glow coming from the book. It wasn't enough to see by, so he turned on the lamp.

The book lay open. In addition to the scars left by his spikes, small holes were burnt in pages, the next of which was lifting. A small, reptilian head poked out and glanced around his studio. A tiny gout of flame flickered from the creature's lips.

He picked up the cuddly little reptile and opened the window onto the fire escape. He stepped out into the warm July night air. Pulling out a pack of cigarettes, Damien held the reptile in front of him and waited for the tiny flame of the reptile's breath to return. As it did, he took a long drag. "Well," thought Damien with a self-satisfied smile, "let them try to explain this as endangered species trafficking!"

Dragon Kings Arrives

My package from the Dragon Kings Kickstarter finally arrived!  Lookie!  Lookie!
Here is the loot that arrived yesterday!  There's also a large poster, but I didn't
want to unroll it.  Also featured: my kitchen table!

I finally got print versions of the Gazetter (which has been out for awhile) and of the intro adventure (ditto).  Dragon Kings is a system-neutral setting similar to AD&D's old Dark Sun setting.  It's a combo setting/musical album composed by Timothy Brown, he of Head East fame.  I'll do a longer post after I've had time to investigate it in greater depth.  For now, here are some of my quick thoughts:

  • World book - generally good.  As a setting neutral piece, I like that I'll need to come up with a lot of the mechanics myself.  Also, if the project really gets off the ground, I can see there being a fair amount of mechanical content being created and shared around.
  • GM's Screen - I'm half and half on this.  On the one hand, it's a very nice GM screen.  On the other, all of the information is system-neutral and from the World Book.  That means I'm going to have to know all of my system mechanics really, really well.
  • Opening Adventure - Again 50/50, but leaning against.  I did not love the adventure when it was first sent out to all of us Kickstarter backers.  Also, I don't love that Brown chose to print just one system-neutral adventure and only post the system-flavored adventures online.  If I'm getting a print product, I want my mechanics in it.  On the bright side, there are mechanics for D&D, Pathfinder, and 13th Age (more on this in a hot second!)
  • Gazetteer - When I first saw this, I was actually not a fan.  Every two-page spread is keyed to a location/theme of the setting and a track from the concept album.  At first, the printing of the lyrics from the album seemed like wasting a lot of space.  But, upon reflection, the Gazetteer makes a fantastic way to introduce the setting to new players without having to either write a lot of my own material or copy tons of stuff out of the setting book.  Something else I really like:
Hoping that this isn't a copyright violation!  Haven't checked (and will remove
if it turns out that it is).  But, I'm loving that we get one table with the major
players in the campaign setting laid out so baldly.  Also, take a count: there
are 13th main factions.  This is just begging for some translation into 13th
Age--if they haven't already done that in their adventure keyed to that system.