Quick Review: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward Podcast

Charles_Dexter_WardI don’t listen to many audio dramas, I find that compared to a typical discussion podcast they require me to give the audio my complete attention or I’ll lose track of what is going on. The same is true of Actual Play RPG podcasts, I shy away from highly produced shows towards ‘at the table’ shows that include out of character discussion and banter.

I made a recent exception to this when I heard that the BBC had released an adaptation of the H. P. Lovecraft story ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.’ The adaptation was produced to follow the format of popular true crime podcasts such as Serial, with the story unfolding over 10, 20-30 minute long episodes. It took me a couple of episodes to get into it but once I did I was hooked. The resetting of the plot to the modern day was perfectly handled and while the story diverged somewhat it remained true to the intent and tone of the original. There was no doubting that this was Lovecraft, with its slow build and eventual slide towards despair as the truth was uncovered. I don’t know if the BBC have plans for any further adaptations but I hope that they do, there is such a wide library of inspiration to call upon that it would be a shame not to.

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Review: D&D Monster Cards 0-5 by Gale Force Nine

One of the things I’m slowly coming to appreciate with D&D is just how central monsters are to the game, more so than for any of the other systems I have run. Combat is a central thematic pillar and the majority of the time the expectation is that those combats will involve Monsters as opposed to intelligent NPCs. That one of the core books is the Monster Manual should be a massive giveaway here. As part of our Fall of the Immortals campaign, I’ve been trying to utilise a wider array of monsters than I am naturally inclined to thanks to my previous GM experience.

It quickly became apparent that keeping a copy of the Basic Rules on my tablet for reference just wasn’t going to cut it. Interesting combats should include a variety of creatures, which meant that I found myself flicking back and forth between pages every combat round to double check stats and abilities. It slowed the game down and was generally just a pain to deal with. Printing off the monster stats in advance helped quite a bit, right up until my players turned left and initiated an encounter I hadn’t planned for. Fortunately, Gale Force Nine produce a product that is ideal for this situation – Monster Cards, with sets covering CR 0-5 and CR 6-16.

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The CR 0-5 set covers 177 monsters, presented as a mix of standard and double sized cards. The front features artwork depicting the monster in question while the reverse covers the game statistics, with the double width cards employed when creatures have a number of special mechanics. Due to the size constraints of the card format there is absolutely no descriptive information, you’ll need to refer to the Monster Manual if you need that.

Overall, the Monster Cards do exactly what I need them to – provide a quick reference for in-game statistics. I’ve taken to clipping them to the top of my GM screen during play, allowing the players to see what keeping the multiple stat blocks right in front of me. The artwork is high quality and primarily lifted from the Monster Manual (from what I can tell). There are a few variant pieces featuring backgrounds, primarily used for cards representing tougher versions of a standard creature. Each card also includes a clear artist credit, an especially nice touch that many products would have omitted. The layout is just as professional and ensures that the details are clear and easily readable despite the condensed nature of the card format. Long term I will probably sleeve the cards to protect them, they only just fit the box and I’ve already seen one card pick up a small amount of damage just through the process of opening the box.

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So what’s not to like? I have one main issue, which is the contents. There are a number of creatures that are present in the Monster Manual/basic rules but absent from this set. The various beast forms that a druid might shift into are prominent examples, so if you were buying the set for that you’re out of luck. Similarly, there are no NPC type cards, no guard or bandit etc. While I can’t complain at the sheer number of cards included these seem like they should have been clear inclusions given how often most groups are likely to use them.

That these cards are missing is particularly frustrating because Gale Force Nine don’t list this fact or include the set contents anywhere on their website. Thanks to some research I knew about this going in but given these are officially licensed cards it would have been reasonable to expect either all of the relevant entries from the Monster Manual or a card listing. This problem doesn’t seem to be limited to this set, a number of comments online suggest that the CR 6-16 set omits a number of the most iconic Legendary creatures that grace the pages of the Monster Manual. Presumably, they’ll be included in a third set in the future but the omission is striking.

So would I recommend the Monster Card CR 0-6 set? For a GM seeking a quick reference tool, the answer is yes so long as you know that you will still need to refer to the Monster Manual for a number of entries. For players? No, this really is a GM orientated resource. Even if it included all of the forms a druid could shift into I still wouldn’t recommend it, there are simply too many cards that would go unused. You’d be better off checking the basic rules or SRD and getting the attributes from there.

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All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

 

Quick Review: All Rolled Up folding dice tray

After purchasing my first complete set of metal dice from DnDice it quickly became apparent that if I wanted to make good use of them it would be wise to invest in a dice tray to roll them in. There are plenty available on the market, covering all manner of styles. I am already a convert to the All Rolled Up gaming organiser so to accompany it I picked up one of their neoprene folding dice trays.

Like the ARU itself, the tray is a high-quality product, with plastic snaps that are used to both create the tray and to fold the tray up between use. Folded flat the tray fits nicely within the ARU, simplifying the packing process and ensuring I keep all of my gaming accessories together. Should you wish it is even possible to purchase a custom dice tray with an image of your choice, thanks to All Rolled Up’s collaboration with Patriot Games (Note: Since I haven’t purchased one I can’t comment on the process)

The only downside to the tray is the depth, being made of neoprene it sacrifices the weight of a heavier felt-lined tray for flexibility and portability. I was aware of this when I purchased the tray but if I were to ever acquire a heavier set of metal dice than I currently own it would probably require an upgrade to a sturdier tray.

d20-08All in all, I can definitely recommend the folding dice tray, it’s a good product at a comfortable price point (£12 at the time of writing) and an accessory that would be a valuable addition to any gaming table.

 

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

Review: Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana

Artwork has been an integral part of D&D ever since its inception, helping to draw in multiple generations of curious gamers. While I missed the first three editions (3.5 was at its peak when I started gaming) I’ve watched the art shift through 3.5th, 4th and into its current 5th incarnation. The story of D&D can be told through its artwork, which is exactly what Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History sets out to do.

dnd2 Drawing upon the treasure trove of material available in the Wizards of the Coast archives the authors have created a comprehensive history of the game, told through imagery and accompanied by commentary from the designers and illustrators that helped redefine the game over and over again. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the book as a Christmas gift and I think my review can be summed up in a single word: gorgeous.

While each chapter spans a distinct era additional features peppered across the book connect the past to the present. Evilution pages take classic monsters and chronicles their progression from the original edition through to their current manifestations, while Deadliest Dungeons dives into some of the iconic dungeons from over the years. The book is peppered with pages such as these and their addition adds a depth that goes beyond a simple chronological history of the game.

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I d20-20could go on at length about how much I love this book, but I’d rather let this small selection of photos talk for themselves. Having never been a big history buff I’ve gained a lot of insight about the early years of D&D, but ultimately, as a coffee table book it lives and dies by the quality of the artwork. In that category, it’s a Natural 20 and I cannot recommend it enough to anybody invested in the hobby. It’s a book that I suspect is going to be a prominent part of my collection and one that I will go back to time after time, whether it be for inspiration or just to unwind in the evening.

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All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations. Unless otherwise stated all review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

Quick Review: Story Dice, The Game

I picked up Story Dice, The Game on a whim over Christmas in order to avoid paying delivery charges on a Christmas present. I had seen it advertised and thought that the blank ‘chalkboard’ dice would be a nice addition to games where I wished to introduce a customised roll. On opening the packaging though I could immediately tell that I was going to be disappointed.

Firstly, the box was basically empty – the entire contents could have been fitted into something much smaller. What were those contents? 3 icon d6 dice, 2 blank ‘chalkboard’ dice, a bag of small counters, a chalk pen and a sheet of paper with the instructions for the game. Instructions that were little more than draw/write something on the blank dice, roll all the dice, tell a short story using the icons, the best story gets a counter.

Now as a game goes simple is often the way forward. Unfortunately, the dice themselves do not lend themselves to fun stories. The icon dice are uninspiring and include rather mundane faces such as a mobile phone, a bathtub or a person in bed. In my opinion they’d have been much better with fantasy, sci-fi or action elements rather than generic everyday items. As for the ‘chalkboard’ dice that were the main reason I’d bought the game? Well turns out they were just slightly larger, blank plastic dice with rough edges where the two halves have been joined. There’s even a couple of points that I will probably need to file down. The chalk pen writes on them ok and can be easily rubbed off so they will do the job I wanted from them but they just feel cheap. For a mere £6 this isn’t really surprising but given the quality of similar products (notably Rory’s Story Cubes which are ~£10 for 9 dice with a range of themed sets) I was disappointed.

d20-03Would I recommend Story Dice, The Game? No, not unless I knew somebody that was wanting to prototype a game and needed the blank dice. Even then I’d be hesitant.

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond. Unless otherwise stated review products have been purchased through normal retail channels.

2018 – Reflecting on the Year

2018 has come and gone. It was quite a year for me, both away from the hobby and at the gaming table. Coming out of 2017 my engagement with the hobby was nearing an all-time low. My actual gaming was limited to a game of Deadlands Noir that was cancelled more often than it was actually run and I was largely limited to keeping my interest alive through online interactions with the community.

After moving to Liverpool in April I decided to make an active effort to re-engage with gaming. This started with a decision to not rant about D&D and how it was the only system being advertised across the multiple gaming cafes in the city. It’s a decision that has served me well, to the point that this year I’ll be running my first campaign of 5th Edition for colleagues at work. I haven’t been this excited about D&D since 4th Edition launched, which I enjoyed from the tactical side but couldn’t really get into on the RP side.

Related to this I made the decision that if the games I wanted to see weren’t being offered then I would run them myself in my ongoing series of Monthly OneShots. They’ve been a moderate success but have suffered from the curse of last-minute player drop out. My aim for these going forward is to widen the breadth of games on offer and to burn through my stack of unplayed games. Ideally, I would like to take one and turn it into a campaign but that’ll have to wait for now as I’m not sure I have the time for two active campaigns.

On a publishing front, 2018 was a mixed year. I made close to zero progress on Project Cassandra and it has now been over a year since my last State of the Conspiracy update. The game isn’t dead, I just need to find the motivation to pull it off of the back burner and get it finished.

I was slightly more successful with releasing material for the Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG. I debuted a Victorian-inspired team, The Undesirables, the first step towards an epic adventure that I have been thinking about for a few years. 2018 also saw the release of Lockdown, the second of my Slice of Life adventure starters. I had hoped to release the remainder of the adventures last year, which clearly didn’t happen but I remain committed to doing so within the first few months of 2019. The release of Lockdown also saw my first few paid sales over on drivethruRPG. My total sales may only amount to < £10 but it was a big step forward as an indie publisher putting together material in my spare time.

Finally, here on my blog, I had what I’m going to class as a successful year. Thirty-eight blog posts pushed the blog to the most views and visitors I’ve ever had in a year. My review of the Savage Worlds GM Screen remains my most popular post. Going into 2019 my aim is to publish more reviews, with a mix of in-depth and quick, single paragraph posts to ensure I get them out promptly. If I can carry the momentum that I built in the latter half of 2018 then 2019 should be a great year in gaming.

Monthly OneShot Reflections: Demon Hunters A Comedy of Terrors

Disclaimer: Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a massive fan of the Demon Hunters setting, to the extent that I have self-published multiple adventure starters for the game. I was also a high-level backer of the original Kickstarter, to the extent that I was able to submit a chapter for inclusion in the upcoming Players Guide. Take that into consideration when reading this reflection as a review of the game.

A World of Dimness

With its close proximity to Halloween my choice for November’s Monthly OneShot was easy – Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. Built on a drift of Fate Core, the setting is one of supernatural comedy.

In a world where gods, wizards, vampires and werewolves are real the forces of good fight have come together to fight as one, as the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch. Demon Hunters. They fight and die in the shadows, so the world can go on, drinking overpriced mocha-frappe-chino lattes in the light. Blissfully unaware that the world ended last Tuesday, only to be dragged kicking and screaming back into existence by a well-placed subclause snuck into a demonic contract.

It’s a dangerous job, but somebody has to do it.

Just not you. To new Agents go the thankless tasks. Negotiating with sentient forests, chasing goblins off of the 18th tee, delivering pizza, locating missing pets.

The OneShot: Missionary Opposition

Called in to investigate an unusually large number of missing pets in a small village the team got to work, enthusiastically knocking on doors under the cover of being missionaries from an obscure church. Their blunt approach of simply holding a bible up and intoning the word ‘God…’ didn’t go down so well. Until they knocked on number 37, whose occupant was all too relieved to have somebody, anybody, to talk to.

It didn’t take long to discover that there had been strange comings and goings during the night, or that people were gathering in the abandoned house at the end of the street. While Gabriel, Jim and Bijoux took off to investigate that Albrecht followed his nose, literally, as he tracked down a scent he knew all too well. Fresh blood, originating from the boot of a nearby car. Inside, another pet and files from the local veterinary clinic.

Over at the abandoned house, the rest of the Chapter came face to face with what they had been seeking, a skinless creature the size of a bear, layer upon layer of muscle twitching in anticipation. It proved no match for the Chapter and was quickly dispatched back to whatever hell it had been pulled from. A quick investigation of the house discovered its gruesome origins, the decaying body of a man inside a ritual circle. While his wallet had been emptied the Agents found a scrunched up business card inside his pocket. Carl Jackson, Personal Injury Attorney. The address was local, and as it turned out only doors away from the Veterinary Clinic.

A bungled attempt to break into the attorney’s office triggered a silent alarm, drawing the attention of a trio of… irate middle-aged businessmen who were quickly dealt with. Drawing from Bijoux’s knowledge of human anatomy the Chapter concocted a basic, yet surprisingly effective, truth serum to conduct a quick interrogation. They learned that the trio were following orders from a woman going by the names of Lilith and Jackie. Bitter at some perceived slight by the local community she had gathered a small group to get revenge… by summoning the creature and letting it loose during the upcoming Summer Fayre. A subsequent investigation of the veterinary clinic revealed Jackie to be not only a member of staff but the wife of the deceased Carl Jackson.

The Chapter hightailed it to Lillith’s home, where they discovered that she had already begun the ritual to once again summon the beast. Quick thinking by Bijoux put an end to that, as she hit redial on the mobile taken from the man they had interrogated. The ritual chants of “Ix’Kalla, Ix’Kalla, Ix’Kalla” that had been calling out were disrupted by a familiar sound – the Nokia ringtone.

Then came the screaming.

With the cultists being devoured by the beast the Chapter leapt into the fray, knowing that they had to banish the abomination before it broke free of the ritual circle. Albrecht dived after Lillith and the tome she was carrying, while RM, Jim and Bijoux worked to contain the creature. Securing the Tome of Ix’Kalla from Lillith the Chapter used its forbidden knowledge to banish the beast from the mortal plane.

Having saved this little corner of the world the Chapter started the long walk back to base… they’d missed their ride and their calls to HQ kept going to voicemail.

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The Roundup: Riotous Fun

I love Demon Hunters. I love both the setting and the system and once again this session reminded me why. In contrast to many of my previous adventures the game didn’t descend towards slapstick, but the absurdity of the setting shone through. From the opening where the players had to improvise at being missionaries but didn’t know which church they belonged to right through to disrupting a ritual summoning by ringing the villains mobile at a critical moment. Possibly the only downside was that one player took a little bit longer than the others to grasp the humorous potential and thus spent the first half of the game worrying about the police arriving. With a sillier adventure (such as Channel Surfing) this wouldn’t have been an issue but it did highlight the difficulty of running adventures that rely on a dry sense of humour.

From a mechanical perspective, the players picked up the system quickly, though I do feel like a cheat sheet would have helped with some of the finer details of invoking aspects. Demon dice were particularly fun, the players were nervous about using them, which helped add to the tension of the rolls and more than one action failed because they were paranoid about what I might do with the dice if I added them to my pool. I’m still not sure that I put them to proper use, I struggle in particular with the concept of needing to spend them to have events happen (represented mechanically by adding aspects) rather than just declaring that it happens.

While preparing the adventure I took some time to reread the core rules. The book is a fun and relatively easy read but there are a few points where the text is confusing or even contradicts other parts of the book. For example, the rules on recovering conditions state at one point that succeeding with style on the action automatically clears a condition while a different page states that it clears two conditions. There are also a couple of sections that would benefit from some additional examples. The prime candidates are spells and badness tables. I appreciate why the writers didn’t want to include lists of spells or tables but personally, I would have really benefitted from additional guidance and examples.

Overall though? The book is great and full of detail. There’s a detailed setting including a secret history of the world, plenty of artwork and a full range of sample NPCs to drop into your game. The best part of the book may be the mission generator, which breaks the process down into a series of simple steps. A basic mission profile can be generated in as little as five minutes and if you get stuck? Just roll on one of the random tables for inspiration. Want even more guidance? Then pick up the first supplement for the game, Demon Hunting Manual A771, which takes a deep dive into mission planning and organisation.

The Demon Hunters RPG can be purchased from DriveThruRPG via:
Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors (PDF and Print on Demand)
Demon Hunting Manual A771 (PDF and Print on Demand)

While my adventure outlines for the game are available as Pay What You Want downloads from LunarShadow Designs on DriveThruRPG