Archive for the RPG Review Category

The Eye of Skullport Knows All, Sees All: A Review of “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything”

Posted in RPG Review with tags , , , on November 12, 2017 by Casey Hutton

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Once again Wizards of the Coast has knocked their latest supplement out of the park! Like their “Volo’s Guide to Monsters,” there is a regular printed hardcover and a limited-edition hardcover which only received one print run. Both are AMAZING, with the regular cover sporting the current incarnation of Xanathar lovingly watching his pet koi. The limited edition alternative cover, however, sports an awesome work of art by Hydro74 with gold on a matte black. This cover pops visually and, in my honest opinion, is done better than the alternative cover of “Volo’s Guide…”.

 

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“Volo’s Guide to Monsters” Core Hobby Store Exclusive Alternative Cover from Wizards of the Coast and Hydro74.

 

With this review I plan on giving a brief glimpse at each chapter, as there is plenty of new information to be had for both players and Dungeon Master’s alike within its 192 pages. Made up of three chapters and an assortment of appendices, the supplement adds both new and revised content from “Unearthed Arcana” as well as pulls some information from “Volo’s Guide…” in order to have everything in one place.

Chapter One: Character Options Galore!!

Do you like a wide selection of subclasses? Well, “Xanathar’s…” has subclasses for your subclasses. I mean, not really…but you get the gist! There’s a whopping 31 subclasses available to add alternatives to your gaming table! Each class gets some love with a wide range of subclasses between first and third level. Along with additional subclasses, each class has some flavor to spice up your roleplay with everything from Barbarian tattoos to Wizard ambitions! Who doesn’t want their Warlock’s binding mark to be a glow-in-the-dark nose or have a get to know your Monk’s master?

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“Xanathar’s Guide to Everything” from Wizards of the Coast.

 

Are you one of those players that want to have an in-depth background for your character, but you just don’t know where to start? Then chapter one has table after table to get you started. Everything from parents to siblings are covered, as well as major life events and personal decisions your character has had to make. The best part? If you really want to get wild, roll your dice and see what you get! I still remember my Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Advanced days and this was all a part of character generation straight out of the “Player’s Handbook.” The fact that Wizards has included it here makes this chapter a phenomenal resource. Throw in the fact there are a handful of new racial-specific Feats available adds even more flavor during character advancement to help you play a character destined for greatness…or a total party kill…whichever occurs first!

Chapter Two: Masterfully Mastered Information for the Dungeon Master

 

This chapter address plenty of optional and expanded rules to let the Dungeon Master to make their next gaming session a little spicy! Optional falling rules, expanded rules for sleeping/resting, adamantine weapons…all of this and more can be found here. There is also a closure look at tools character can take, what they consist of and how they can be used. Playing a Bard and want to know a little more of what exactly your Lute can do and how your character’s musical knowledge can be put to effective use? “Xanathar’s…” has you covered. I feel this re-look can bring more to the table as not only a DM, but also the player. Knowing more of what those Tinker’s Tools can do has the ability to add another facet to your characters and NPCs.

Spellcasting is also addressed, specifically area of effects. Examples are given to help clear up any confusion and offers visuals of just what you can do when casting, for example, a spell that utilizes the cone area of effect. These area variations can be brought to the actual table if needed to give players a visual of what all their spellcasters will be able to do and what all will be affected on the map.

Xanathar'sThieves'GuildOne of the best articles of this chapter is the advice the authors give DMs for encounter building, including traps and encounter tables meant for all types of environments. Even if whatever campaign you’re running is a bit more specific and less generic, with some minor tweaking you’re able to create your own encounter tables easily using the examples provided. This is something much needed for new and budding DMs and this section is great for building up DMs, giving them opportunity to feel comfortable with running games and tackling the struggle of filling in the gaps.

Downtime is also touched upon, expanding a bit on just what players can do. Even if the DM’s players don’t utilize the actual the concept of hourly downtime as the Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League does, there are ways for it to be integrated into their campaigns for in between adventures to give players a little more scope to their characters.

Lastly, magic items. Lists with item after item from common to legendary to bring to the table as rewards to the players. You can never have too many magical items to choose from, and with a selection like this, there’s plenty of ideas to be had. Whether that’s what to include in your next adventure to using the examples provided as a template to create your own to match the flavor of your campaign.

Chapter Three: Spells, Spells and More Spells!

Just how many spells does “Xanathar’s…” add? I have no idea…I didn’t count, but it’s several. By several, I mean 21 pages worth. Every spellcasting class gets some attention here, with a break down list of what each class would have access to by level. Some are flavorful while others powerful, but either way plenty of them are useful.

Appendices: Because Chapters Just Weren’t Enough

818478a83095ece176b11086a9d9864e--conceptsHere we find two bits of additional content some, if not many, will find useful. Shared campaigns have always intrigued me, and they offer some suggestions on what you should do to make them cohesive and successful. A lot hints at the DDAL-style of play, limited books and magical items, etc. Whether you plan on running your own official DDAL sessions or sit around a table full of rotating DMs there’s information that would make doing so a bit easier all around.

Lastly, the book is finished out with name generating tables. Table after table…literally, and all a great resource for players struggling to come up with a character name that tickles their fancy or the DM that get puts on the spot. We have the standard fare, with racial names, etc., but we also have ethnic name tables from all over the world. Our world. Do you want your character or NPC to have a little French flair? Wee wee! German? Ja! Several pages have been dedicated to ethnic names, male and female, as well as family names. It’s a one stop shop, so to speak, for the naming impaired. Not everyone’s character can be as cool as “Toad, Trollbold Fire Priest of Kossuth,” after all.

Overall, this book is worth the $49.95 price point. It’s a resource that benefits gamers, no matter which side of the DM Screen you sit. There’s more substance to chew on here than in “Volo’s Guide…” and doesn’t disappoint.

Two hearty Gnomish thumbs up with a big toe thrown in for good measure!

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Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition “Adventure Grid” Review

Posted in RPG Review with tags , , , , on October 26, 2017 by Casey Hutton

 

Today I want to look at one of the latest accessory products Wizards of the Coast has released in support of its Dungeons and Dragons line, the “Adventure Grid.”

 

The product itself is something as a gamer I would find rather convenient to have. It’s foldable and dual sided. One side is printed with an outdoor-style art design while the other is printed a stone design for those loved dungeon crawls.

Although I haven’t tried both wet-erase and dry-erase pens, as I prefer Vis-à-vis/Staedtler Lumocolor markers (wet-erase) the fact it lends itself to both makes it universal to whichever you happen to have laying around. When unfolded the grid is relatively small which is perfect for drawing out single encounters.

The fact that it lays flat versus the traditional laminated paper-style that’s been popular the last few years means you don’t have to worry about the seams getting in the way of your adventuring troupe’s tactile planning.

Its overall size is also a factor when purchasing. Again, it’s foldable, meaning you can easily tuck it away in your bag with your other gaming books. This makes it a rather nice addition to a Dungeon Master’s collection, especially if that DM is having to lug their own supplies to and from the gaming table.

As a Dungeon Master on the move myself, I’ve found myself toting around Chessex’s double-sided “Battlemat.” I’ve always preferred the smaller sized grids, as I’m not one to draw out a complete mapping of whatever scenario I’m running, but instead utilize the mats in a per encounter basis.

Chessex’s “Battlemat” comes to 26” by 23.5” when unrolled with 1” squares on one side and hexagons on the other. The “Battlemat” is only really friendly with wet-erase markers as using dry-erase pretty much leaves you with a permanent stain that is near impossible to get out.

Portability is always an interesting factor when it comes to Chessex’s mats. I invested in an engineer’s schematic tube to get mine from one game to the next as well as to protect it during storage. Personally, that’s not an issue for me, but it may be for others.

When comparing Wizards of the Coast’s “Adventure Grid” with Chessex’s “Battlemat” it all comes to personal preference. The Grid retails for $24.95 while the “Battlemat” retails for $22.98. The “Battlemat” is slightly larger with the option of both square and hexagonal measurements while the Grid is strictly 1” squares. The dual-sided art is handy with the Grid, as you’re not having to rely just on verbal descriptions of each encounter.

The only drawback as far as I can discern is simple wear and tear. The “Battlemat” is flexible and I’ve used my own for over seven years, while the Grid may not withstand nearly as much abuse over the years. Is the fact that the “Adventure Grid” is able to fit in perfectly with the rest of your books worth the price difference? Only you can be the judge.

Overall, I’m willing to give the “Adventure Grid” two hearty thumbs up. The price point is a bit high, but for newer DMs looking to add something to their adventures it could be worth it and is leaps and bounds a better option over the printed mats currently available from companies such as Paizo.

[RPG Review] Savage Worlds & Deadlands: Noir

Posted in RPG Review with tags , , , , , , , on December 14, 2013 by Casey Hutton

Before I delve too deep into Deadlands: Noir, I wanted to bring up the topic of Pinnacle Entertainment’s Savage Worlds generic setting/ruleset.

Photo Courtesy of Pinnacle Entertainment.

Photo Courtesy of Pinnacle Entertainment.

I have had the Savage Worlds core rules in my possession for quite some time, as it was given to me as a gift along with their Realm of Cthulhu release. I had flipped through it, and found myself slightly confused. Not because the rules themselves are that confusing, but because they were rather simple. Savage Worlds is a ruleset that can literally be used in just about any setting you can imagine, from horror to science fiction to fantasy. Each setting they themselves have released adds a few tweaks to the rules to add some flavor, but in general, with one book you can run any form of RPG setting you have in mind.

Personally, I have played in or ran sessions using these rules that involve superheroes (which, with their Super Powers Companion, makes things rather dynamic and open) and adventures in the Weird West (in the form of their Deadlands: Reloaded campaign setting). All of which, once a basic understanding of the rules had been had, were great sessions. Adults as well as younger players can have fun while not getting bogged down with overly complicated rules. Each session is, essentially, what the Game Master makes of it. Honestly, you can be as simple, rules light as you want or you can tweak things to make them as dice-heavy as the gaming group likes.

Some rules can be flaky, as is the case with the card-based initiative…but even that can be bypassed if you truly do not care for it (they have a dice-based alternative). I was even in that boat, before I delved into Deadlands. What’s more wild west than drawing an ace of spades of a joker? After that, I was in love with it. After being exposed to this method of random initiative in other formats, I had no problems using it in my own Superheroes sessions and it didn’t detract from the feeling at all. In fact, the gaming group seems to love it. That, combined with their Action Deck, the group had a blast and a little something else up their sleeve for when they needed it.

Photo Courtesy of Pinnacle Entertainment.

Photo Courtesy of Pinnacle Entertainment.

This brings me to one of the company’s more recent releases, their Deadlands: Noir setting. Originally, I caught wind of this release as a Kickstarter sometime last year. I’ve always been a sucker for that noir, or pulp, feel in just about anything, whether movies and television, or books and comics. So, after watching their action comics based around the setting I was hooked and waited rather impatiently for when the title was actually released. However, like everything, it was lost in the shuffle due to life and work. But, this holiday season I was doing some digging for gifts and ran across it once more, this time in hardcopy. I ordered it for myself, and read through it from cover to cover the same day. It brings Deadlands and the setting’s lore into the 1930s. New Orleans in the 1930s, to be exact (although locales are expanded on in the Companion release). Same dark, Weird History flavor but instead of horses and dusty western adventure it adds seedy alleyways and private detectives into the mix.

From a fluff standpoint, I feel Pinnacle did a great job in updating their lore and keeping things congruent with other Deadlands releases. They added some edges and hinderances more fitting to the era, and even adapted finances to reflect the impact of the great depression. The core book itself adds little in the way of rules themselves. Instead, it’s all about setting up the table for a bumped up timeline.

Thrilled that I had finally gotten into my hands the long awaited title release, I hopped on over to Pinnacle’s website and dug around on their store. Although there are several PDF releases (which is the norm it seems these days), I still feel that the title is heavily supported. A handful of adventures have already been released, as well as a couple noir-based dime novels. As an added bonus, if the Game Master plans on running anything within the confines of Deadlands: Noir‘s concept of 1935’s New Orleans, you have the added support of several map packs based in and around it.

All-in-all, a worthwhile purchase. If you’re already a fan of Deadlands, which has been around for quite some time, or pulp…or really, just into anything new with a solid grasp on their vision and feel, pick up this title.

[RPG Review] Victoriana RPG 2nd Edition Core Rulebook

Posted in RPG Review with tags , on October 17, 2012 by Casey Hutton

I love the idea of steampunk in the Victorian era. And with Cubicle 7, they bring the goods to the table with their Victoriana RPG. The fluff found in their releases is enough to make me ecstatic. The authors behind the line really know how to hook their audience and offer literary inserts that makes you feel like you’re reading an actual novella, rather than being nose-deep in a rules book.

Victoriana RPG 2nd Edition Core RulebookTheir Victoriana RPG 2nd Edition Core Rulebook is no exception. Opening with a chapter involving an exorcism in the their version of London, England. Anyone that knows me know I move on to the next thing quickly. I’m distracted by shiny things. It’s a problem. But, because of that, it takes a lot for me to be “I love this!” And, this product in particular, I can say that very thing. Whether or not I’ll every actually play the setting using their own rules (more on that later), I don’t know. But, I do know that this is a book that any gaming should have on their shelves, if for no other reason than the fluff alone!

The world they have created is simply marvelous! They essentially mirrored history of our own, with some slight fudging of times and dates to fit their own timeline. They use legit historical figures and events and make then their own, using their own characters. They make sure to through in enough steam and magic to make anyone with a hint of appreciation for fantasy-based RPGs to swoon over.

The first thing I felt when I picked this up and read through it’s pages was it’s a mid 1800’s version of Shadowrun. Humans, elves, dwarves, etc. all living side-by-side in a magical world of steam-powered machinery and supernatural critters. There have been other companies and other systems that have attempted to delve into this realm of storytelling, and I don’t feel they have done it quite so well as Cubicle 7.

The single-most downside to this is their rules system. Not horrid in it’s own right. It is dice pool (which I personally hate in any setting). For run-of-the-mill playing, their version isn’t so bad…it even made me take a look at why I actually don’t like dice pool systems. Where things start to get bogged down is in combat. Here, the rolls and black dice rolls and counter rolls…it all adds up and until a group gets accustomed with the rules can slow things down to a near stand-still. But, with determination and a little grit, if you can make it through a few sessions using the rules system, it’ll be well worth it as the mechanics begin to smooth themselves out.

Rating: 7/10 Gingered Digits.

[RPG Review] Pathfinder RPG Game Mastery Guide and GM Screen

Posted in RPG Review with tags , , , on October 16, 2012 by Casey Hutton

There isn’t enough that can be said about Paizo‘s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. They have a ton of support of the game with more releases of supplements than I can shake a stick at. So, from time to time, you’re going to see a posting of a book, module…or really anything I find interesting concerning the gaming line.

Now, I am a completionist. By this, I mean usually, once I invest money into something, I have to have it all. So, when it comes to gaming systems I tend to invest in the “core” books, whether I’ll ever use them or not. Most often that includes the main rulebook, the GM’s guide and a monstrous manual. Most of the time, I really only flip through the core rulebook and only give a slight glance over the rest. GM’s guides are usually filled with crap and to be honest, there’s really no such thing as a guide on how to run a game. Those books are usually $40 advice columns that follow up with page after page of treasure and encounter charts. And, if the game is never run, which usually happens with me, there’s no need to even crack the cover of a monstrous manual.

Pathfinder RPG Game Mastery GuideHowever, Pathfinder’s Game Mastery Guide is amazingly done. Yes, it has the “What If?” sections and how to deal with certain player stereotypes like any other. But, it’s a valuable resource, in my opinion, for anyone wanting to create their own setting rather than just using canon. I bought the Game Mastery Guide with the specific intentions of reading the World Creators section…but, I found myself reading the book from the beginning to it’s end.

The authors go to serious extent in giving tidbits on world building. From how you should start map-wise (whether you want to start small and move out, or start big and move in), to towns and how to make them feel legit, to even the types of people and societies there are in your world. I’ve never actually encountered a GM’s guide that goes to quite the same depth as this.

Naturally, it also has every other table you could possibly conceive that isn’t in the Core Rulebook located towards the end as well. No GM’s guide would be complete without them. But, they do so with a little panache to make you feel like you got your moneys worth…which, honestly, is very hard to do in today’s RPG market.

Rating: 10/10 Gingered Digits.

Pathfinder RPG GM ScreenNo game would be complete without, of course, the GM Screen.

Pathfinder is no different. Their version has chart after valuable chart literally shoe-horned onto the back. No fluff. Not giant spaces of white or artistic filler here. You need a chart? You got it. This is worth the $14.99 (or less) in the simple fact alone most every important chart you might need to GM is found here. It’ll save valuable time in the long run, which means more time gaming and less time looking up what you need to make that encounter run smoothly or player’s roll to take only a few seconds to figure out the outcome.

The artwork on the front is so-so. No stunning panoramic view of the majestic mountains. No fire-breathing dragons. Not bloody war against the goblins. It’s simply their named characters found throughout their rulebooks standing side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, staring down the player’s before you. Most of these characters are apart of their comic line as well, which is a nice tie-in for Paizo in keep things linked together.

All in all, artwork aside (and to be honest, since you as a GM don’t look at the front, who cares?), it’s an amazing resource if you plan on running anything using the Pathfinder system.

Rating: 8/10 Gingered Digits.

[RPG Review] Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook

Posted in RPG Review with tags , on October 9, 2012 by Casey Hutton

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core RulebookCall me crazy. Call me behind the times. But whatever I am…I’ve finally seen the light! It’s been years in the making, but I think I’ve finally found a system again I’m in love with.

Stuck on an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition (think TSR, not Wizards of the Coast) mindset, I’ve been reluctant to hop onto anything new. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get distracted by new things in shiny packaging, but as far as my diet of Dungeons and Dragons goes, I haven’t adapted well to the newer generation of table-top gamers.

I hated 3rd edition, 3.5 and even 4th edition versions of Dungeons and Dragons. Part of that mindset came from the fact that, between myself and the gaming group I regularly play with, we own most, if not all, products relating to AD&D 2nd edition. So, in the last 12ish years, nothing really outstanding has caused us to move forward. Individually, we’ve purchased books here and there. Personally, I’ve invested in all the editions by buying the core rulebooks as well as a handful of other supplemental releases that happen to fit my gaming style.

Finally, after years and years of debating, I have invested in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game’s “Core Rulebook” by Paizo Publishing, Inc. And, it’s honestly the best financial investment in any RP system I’ve made to date. Within it’s pages is a plethora of gaming goodness. A lot of the problems I have had while perusing D&D 3.5 have been fixed. The system has been taken down to its core and worked from the ground up to make a sound and flowing gaming experience!

Rating: 10/10 Gingered Digits.