Saturday, December 22, 2012

More Dice

A while back I posted pictures of my dice.  My collection has grown a little since then, so I thought I'd post a few more pix.  You know me, any excuse to take pictures. 

First up we have "Festive Dice" by Chessex: 
Festive Dice
Basically I got them because I like tie-dye.  They're currently my favorite set of dice I own.  I come from a family of artists, which probably influenced my love of bright colors and other visual stimuli.  This set of dice has a vibrant mix of colors that really calls to me.  In fact, I hear them speaking right now...  what's that, little dice?  Kill them all?  Okay...   Just kidding, moving on...

Deadlands Dice
These are Deadlands dice. I got them for playing Savage Worlds.  It includes an extra d6 of a different style, since Savage Worlds uses a distinctive "Wild Die" with every roll.

This set's design is more for Western settings than anything I've played, but they're still pretty neat.  It actually makes me wish I liked westerns more, so I'd have an excuse to use them.  But it's just never been a genre that interests me.  Westerns are just too "testosterony" for my tastes, I suppose.

"Zocchi" Dice
I got these odd-shaped dice (sometimes called "Zocchi" dice) for Dungeon Crawl Classics. DCC uses a lot of strange, harder-to-find dice.  Here we see a d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30. I really like most of them, except for the d7.  The d5 and the d7 have the problem of not being perfectly identical on all sides.  Both dice have two sides that are larger than the rest.  I don't mind it on the d5, because the two largest sides are the 1 and the 5.  So even if there's a greater chance of it landing on the larger sides, I still have just as much chance of getting the maximum as the minimum.

But on the d7, the two large sides are the 6 and the 7.  To me, that's just weird. However, these are made by GameScience, a company that's known for making "perfect" dice, so I have to believe they know what they're doing.  If they say there's an equal chance of it landing on any of the seven sides, I want to believe them.  But even if they're right, I still would have felt better if they'd made the d7's largest sides the max and min.  Also, I don't really like the style of the d7.  It makes me think of casinos more than fantasy gaming.

Sci-Fi Dice
I got these for our short-lived Traveller campaign. The black ones are official Traveller dice, from back when the game was more popular.  The sunburst design with the digital numbers looks cheesy now, but I suppose it looked more futuristic back when it was designed.

The others are from Q-Workshop, and I got them for specific skill rolls.  The circuit ones (Chip and Cyber) are for Computer rolls, and the gears (Mechanical) are for Engineering.

It's unfortunate that our Traveller campaign didn't last longer, but I don't regret buying the dice.  I really like the designs, and I'm sure I'll play other sci-fi games in the future.  I could probably use the mechanical ones right now for my Savage Worlds character (she's a mechanic), but her repair rolls use a d10.  I guess I could use one as her wild die when she makes a mechanical roll, but then I don't get to use my Deadlands wild die.  I know, "first world problems".

(Completely unrelated mini-rant:  One good thing about the Traveller campaign being over, is that I'm sick of the computer's spell-check yelling at me over the British spelling of Traveller.)

Elvish Dice and Forest Dice
I got these when playing a Dryad in our Unlikely Heroes campaign.  The top ones are transparent Elvish Dice from Q-Workshop.  They're very pretty, but hard to read.  Towards the end of the campaign I bought some Forest Dice (lower pic), which are even prettier and even harder to read.  Really, Q-Workshop is legendary for making Awesome but Impractical dice.

Unfortunately the dice arrived right after our final session, so I never got to use them.  But there's always the possibility we'll pick that campaign back up again.  In any event, I like playing tree-hugging characters, so I'm sure they'll get used eventually.

Probability Die
And last but not least, I picked this one up on a whim. "Probability Die" from Koplow Games.  The sides are:  Certain, Likely, Equally Likely, Unlikely, Highly Unlikely, and Impossible.  Really just about sums up all RPG rolls, doesn't it?  You could probably run an entire game using just this die.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Books: The Savage Caves

"The Savage Caves" was the first in a series of D&D books released in 2002-2003, which followed the adventures of some of the more iconic characters in the D&D universe.  This book stars Regdar the fighter, Jozan the cleric, Lidda the rogue, and Naull the wizard. I can't find anywhere that says what universe this is, so I'm assuming it's the generic "Points of Light" setting they use in the Players Handbooks.

I'm generally an optimistic reviewer, so if I don't like something, you know there's a problem.  I didn't exactly dislike this book, but I can't possibly recommend it to anyone else.  It's written with the generic tone of a newspaper article, with no discernible style whatsoever.  Actually, it reminded me of the writing style used in "Choose Your Own Adventure" books (minus the choices and second person POV), so maybe they had a young audience in mind.  Even if so, I've read much more interesting children's books.

That said, it did remind me more of an actual D&D session than most books.  Most real DMs are not professional writers, and the writing style definitely made me think of the way DMs describe things.  Like the players in a D&D game, the characters use a lot of modern slang (especially Lidda).  This kind of thing bothers some people, but I'm okay with it.  This is a fantasy world, not medieval England, so I see no reason they should stick to the Queen's English.  Who's to say this universe didn't evolve slang similar to modern day America?  I already ranted on R.A. Salvatore's use of fortnight in a Forgotten Realms book, so maybe it's safer if writers avoid attempting Shakespearean English in the first place.

I didn't like some of the interactions between the female party members; there was some inappropriate giggling and sophomoric innuendo that reminded me of how boys think girls act.  It was enough to make me want to look up author "T. H. Lain" on Wikipedia to see if they were a male of female.  The answer was interesting - there is no T. H. Lain, it's a pseudonym for nine WOTC employees, in order to keep this series of D&D books shelved together.  This particular book was really written by Philip Athans, then-managing editor at Wizards.

In my "Keep on the Borderlands" review, I gave an example of characters rationalizing in-game mechanics (fighting monsters to get experience points).  But there's a line early on in the Savage Caves that really takes the cake.  While Regdar is looking for someone, it says:  "Regdar had never been trained to hide, but he had been trained to seek."  So I pulled my copy of "Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies" off the shelf, since I knew it had a level one version of Regdar in it.  Sure enough, he has Search and Spot listed as skills (though he's very low in them), and no ranking for Hide.  But wow, that's a silly sentence to put in a novel.

But that's hardly the only mention of such mechanics.  Jozan makes reference to spontaneous casting - specifically he gives Lidda a speech about how if he heals a particular creature, it will use up a potentially more useful spell he might need later that day.  Naull also makes some references to the possibility of spell failure due to trying to concentrate during battle, but these passages are actually pretty well done and make the original game mechanics that much more believable.

I thought it was fun reading about characters I'd already seen so much in the PHBs.  Their personalities were a bit one-dimensional, but that worked in a way.  It almost felt like real players were running them.  Okay, so picture those "examples of play" sections you see in every PHB.  Now imagine an entire book written in that style.  No, it's not actually that bad, but the impression was there.  I could almost see this book being adapted from somebody's session notes.

It's a bit of lost opportunity, because they could have given these characters truly unique, memorable personalities.  Instead they just play them the way any convention-goer would after picking up a pregen.  You've seen all these characters before with different names.  Lidda is basically just Tasslehoff the kender from the Dragonlance novels, and so on.  It's not such a horrible thing, but it does make the book a little bland.

My favorite character was Naull.  She seemed slightly deeper to me than the other three adventurers.  Lidda and Jozan were just too stereotypical (for their classes), and I have something of a personal grudge against the existence of Regdar (See this article).  In a magical world filled with sapient mythological creatures, the last thing D&D needed as an icon was a white, male, human fighter.  But, any time this gets to me I just look at page 297 of 4e's PHB, and then I feel a little better.

NeverWinter Nights spider
There were a few parts where I really felt the book was bad about descriptions.  Sometimes I had trouble visualizing what the author was trying to say, which is sad considering how dumbed-down the book is.  Sometimes this trouble came from missing details.  For example, early on they fight some giant spiders.  The book doesn't say how big they are, just that they're huge.  Over and over, it just describes them as big/large/huge, without saying being more specific.  So, having fought plenty of spiders in NeverWinter Nights, I pictured their size somewhere between a sheep and a cow.  But once that was firmly in my head, the spiders started climbing up someone, or hanging on to their shield, which meant they were actually closer to the size of a small dog.  But to be fair, it's possible I missed a sentence somewhere.

The final lines of dialogue in this book are so trite that... well, back in high school I used to draw (very cheesy) comic books, and I once ended a story with the exact same piece of dialogue.  But remember, "The Savage Caves" was not written by a serious author trying to create literature, so much as a marketer trying to advertise a product.  Maybe I should have gone into marketing.

Overall, I did enjoy reading the book, but that doesn't make it good.  (In fact, I'm starting to wonder just how bad a book has to be for me to give it a bad review.)  I liked this book in more of a "so bad it's good" way, like the movies you see on MST3K.  I also had fun reading it because the anachronisms reminded me of actual D&D sessions, kind of like "Knights of the Dinner Table" but not as funny.  I might still read some of the others in the series, but only if I find them very cheap.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Character: Terri Bolton

This is my character in the "Rifts 2112" campaign.

Full Name: Terri Elizabeth Bolton

Mechanic, Part-Time FEMA Emergency Responder

Age: 23

McGyver - Can improvise tools from common items.

Overconfident (Major) - Believes she can do anything.
Big Mouth (Minor) - Can't keep secrets.
Quirk (Minor) - Brags and exaggerates her accomplishments.

Background and Personality:
Terri was always closer to her father than her mother.  Her father was an auto mechanic, and Terri was fascinated with watching him work.  By the time she was in junior high, she could put an engine together with her eyes closed.  Her mother never really approved of Terri's masculine hobbies, and tried to encourage her to be more feminine.  Her father died when she was a senior in high school, and Terri and her mother grew even farther apart.  After high school she went into her dad's business, and started working for FEMA in her off-hours.  In her spare time she enjoys restoring classic cars, and target practice at the shooting range.

Terri is egotistical and proud.  Sometimes she can't help but brag about things she's done, and embellishes her stories to get attention.  Her exaggerations, combined with her inability to keep a secret, have cost her more than one friend.  Worse yet, she believes her own hype, causing her to overestimate her skills.  As a result, sometimes she bites off more than she can chew.

Creating this Character:
As explained in this post, I made her a mechanic because the party didn't have one, I drew inspiration from Robin's doppelganger from How I Met Your Mother, and I picked her name because it was unisex.  I hate to admit to being uncreative, but a bit of her background is similar to Dervish, a character I played on NeverWinter Nights.  But it had to be done.

Given her inspiration, I'm being ambiguous about her sexual orientation.  Part of me wants her to be gay or bi, but another part of me is offended by the butch/tomboy lesbian stereotype.  Hopefully it just won't come up in gameplay.  The party is trying to survive an apocalypse, so it's not like people are going to find time to hit on her.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rifts 2112: "...And One Time... At Refugee Camp..."

Game Date: 12/8/2012
Campaign: Rifts 2112, Session 2
System: Savage Worlds
DM: Rusty   

Emma Snow (Star): Medic
Jim Bagg (Cliff): Military Reserves
Sgt. Malcolm Reynolds (Ted): Active Military
Terri Bolton (Matt): Mechanic

The Session:
The session began in Columbia, SC.  We learned that these disasters have been happening all over the world.  Countries have been falling to floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.  We received some radio signals from someone in Branchville, requesting our aid.  The governor of Columbia gave us some vehicles and we were on our way.

We stopped in Orangeburg and picked up some more info.  We learned that Charleston was underwater, and that people were disappearing all over.  We continued on our way.  When we finally reached the small town of Branchville, Mayor Glen Miller (I bet he gets kidded a lot) pointed us to a nearby refugee camp.  The camp was run by a reverend named Bowman, which worried us a bit.  The last thing we need at the end of the world is a potential cult stirring up panic.  We gave out some food and made some small repairs, until it was time to turn in.

In the middle of the night, we saw some purplish lights in the sky, and they were getting closer.  Occasionally they would dip below the treeline and cause explosions.  We ordered anyone who would listen to take cover, then we piled into our ride and headed downtown - towards the lights.  Malcolm got out of the vehicle first, and proceeded further downtown while the rest of us looked for a good place to hide the SUV.  So Mal was the first one to see the horrors that were invading the town.

In the center of downtown was a hovering platform, covered in lights.  Piloting this craft was some sort of reptilian monster, with a crocodile-like head and several tentacles.  There were also some armored ape-men, wielding futuristic glowing axes.  We also encountered some very tall women, wearing metal bands around their eyes.  These amazonic ladies used guns that fired restraining nets.  Some of the creatures were gathering up townspeople and taking them to the reptilian's ship.

These aliens did not come in peace, and we fought a tough battle.  At first it looked hopeless.  The reptilian was protected by a force field, and the apes were too armored for us to damage.  Jim and Terri spent a lot of time tangled up in nets, and could not break free.  But Mal finally managed to take down one of the apes, and the battle was a little easier once he had the ape's ax.  With great effort, we finally took down most of the apes and amazons.  As Jim set off a smoke bomb, the final ape jumped back on the reptilian's craft, and it flew away.

We scavenged everything we could from the aliens we'd killed:  armor, weapons, and bodies for possible study.  We learned that roughly half the town had been abducted.  We're going to regroup for now, lick our wounds, take inventory, and come up with a plan.  Jim and Malcolm both need healing.  I haven't looked at how healing works in Savage Worlds, but I bet it's pretty slow without magic.  So much has happened in such a small amount of (in-game) time, that we probably don't have time to let these guys rest up for too long. 

Someone once asked the internet, "What's the plural of apocalypse?"  The internet answered, "If you're in a situation where you need to know the plural of apocalypse, you've probably got bigger things on your mind than spelling."  What I'm wondering right now is whether the alien invaders were actually responsible for all the natural disasters plaguing the Earth, or if the alien invasion is just one of many coincidental simultaneous cataclysms.  In other words, are the aliens a symptom or the disease?

It also seems highly unlikely that three such very different alien species would form an alliance just to take over the Earth - any one of them could probably take us on their own.  I have little hope in humanity's chances of coming back from this one, with so much of the world's population being exterminated, and us being comically outmatched in technology.  But hey, if Will Smith and Bill Pullman can do it, so can we.  We will not go quietly into the night!  We will not vanish without a fight!  ...or something less cheesy...

There is no game for the next two weekends. Our next game will probably be on 12/29.