Search

The Heavy Metal GM

bangin' heads and playing games

Norzul’s Marvelous Unpainted Miniatures Review

Disclaimer: WizKids did not send me these minis, I had purchased them myself of my own devices. Enjoy the review!

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with models and figures. I hadn’t found tabletop games until I was 17, though. Every now and again I would meander down to the hobby store (in the classic sense) to gawk at the various historical models of ships, combat aircraft and buildings. The very idea of taking something from the real world,  making it bite-size, and someone taking the time to paint and construct them was (and is) just so cool to me.

When I got into tabletop gaming, I had a sense of finances and said, “NOPE!” to the idea of painting miniatures for it. You can only hold out for so long, right? Alas, I broke, and now I’ve been painting minis because tiny, detailed things are freaking amazing. Not having started young, it’s been a bit of a learning curve; and though I’m no expert, I figured sharing my findings is always helpful. Nolzur’s Marvelous Unpainted Miniatures is a product line put out for Wizards of the Coast and their ever-growing 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons by Wizkids. Smart move on their part, since Wizkids has been doing amazing things for Pathfinder and Heroclix in the model department as well. Not exactly knowing where to start, the price point of these really grabbed my attention. So, I started here and with some Reaper Bones minis. Since we all know what to expect from Reaper, I figured talking about these made more sense.

Being a GM, I decided to start with some monsters. Hero characters are cool and all, but If my players want high quality, painted minis for their characters, do it your damn selves! That’s not to say that I won’t be buying some heroes down the road, however. It seems like these minis are packaged in twos, unless they’re smaller creatures, in which I’ve seen packaged in threes. I started with the Bugbears, Gnolls, and Kobolds. Seven HD minis total for around $12 US is pretty good, if you ask me. As I had mentioned, they’re packed in twos, but the Kobolds as three. The deal with these minis is that they come pre-primed (white) with Vallejo primer. As a new painter, I was skeptical with the white primer, as black is a bit easier to hide mistakes and make detail come out. In the end, it looks like it worked out okay though. So far, I’ve only gotten around to painting one Kobold and the two Bugbears, and there’s a pretty solid reason for that.

I decided to start with the hulking Bugbear with an ax. One thing about the packaging/advertisement that really irks me is the pictures of the models themselves. Instead of pictures of the actual minis, it looks like they’re computer generated images. This projects an incredible amount of detail, more detail than shows up on the miniature itself, I’d argue. When I unboxed them, although I could see them through the clear plastic beforehand, I was a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, they look really good, just not as good as they look on the box. Oh well, for the price, I still can’t argue.

Having thrown out the box after I ripped them open, I don’t recall if they told you to use Vallejo paints or not. Since they’re transparent about the primer they used, I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t have Vallejo paints. I had started by buying Citadel and Army Painter, as that’s what my FLGS has. Apparently, that was a bit of a problem. The Army Painter stuff didn’t have too much of an issue, but the Citadel paints simply didn’t want to stay on the model. I got it to work, and look pretty good (if I do say so myself), but it wasn’t that easy. I would put a bit of paint on a part of the model and it would just run in all directions. It was like it thinned itself, quite strange, really. I would say maybe I got some bad paint, but it had no trouble on the Reaper minis, that I primed with Chaos Black.

Excuse the noise, I was listening to a podcast (Tales to Terrify).

After a bit of a struggle, the Bugbear was done. Let me tell you, the frustration was worth it. I absolutely love the way this model came out, he looks a little like a Roman Legionnaire meets a Gaul. Another positive point for these is that they come with plain, round bases that you can glue the model to after you paint it. No paint on the base? Good in my book! What confirmed my suspicion about the paint vs the primer was my experience with the Kobold. The Bugbear made it easy, as the model is bigger. A little bit of running is no problem when you have room for mistakes. That Kobold was so damn tiny, it was a complete nuisance. The paint tolerated staying on the more textured parts like the scales, but the pants, or loincloth, or whatever you want to call it was smooth and almost completely rejected it. As with the former, it came out halfway decent,even though I’m not 100% done with it.

My hands are clean! I just work on cars so I’m forever stained.

Here’s where the frustration really starts for me. I haven’t even touched my Gnoll minis. I felt like I had to gear myself up to do it. The bodies of these models are stunning, with some really interesting little details on their person. However, the face of the chieftain looking dude is a bit of a jumbled mess. Maybe that’s because the model is white and doesn’t bring out the detail all that well yet, or maybe I just got a bad cast, who knows. But the fact that it’s so hard to see what I’m painting makes it intimidating to start. The other one? You can see his face a lot better, but instead of it being confusing to look at, it’s simply plain. He’s almost featureless, the eyes are nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the brow/face. Swing and a miss on this one. I’ll eventually try my hand at painting them, but I need to build up some confidence first.

Overall, for the price point they ask, these miniatures are fantastic. Even with my concerns, I do wholeheartedly recommend them for painters of any skill level. Don’t let the model defeat you, plunge in and go to town. I thought I couldn’t do it either, but it actually worked out pretty well. It seems like these miniatures suffer the same problem as their pre-painted counterparts. Detail doesn’t translate from picture to model, sometimes it looks a little wonky because of it. The plastic seems durable, though, so at least that can be said.

To sum it all up!

Pros:

  • Good price point
  • Pre-primed
  • Very detailed
  • Can choose base the mini on provided round bases

Cons:

  • Citadel paint seems to dislike the Vallejo primer they come with
  • Box art is slightly misleading
  • Cast doesn’t seem to be the best on face details (on some models)

 

I really hope this review helped! For anyone that’s had a different experience with these miniatures, I would love to hear your stories. Reach out to me here, on Twitter, or send a message to my Facebook page. I look forward to hearing from you!

And of course…

Stay Metal \m/

Dragon Empire: Eld

There is not even one sentence about this place in the book, and it’s made my imagination run wild with what it could be. Eld is this little region at the bottom of the map, sandwiched between the mystery of what’s beyond the Dragon Empire’s southern border and the Wild Wood. The incompleteness of this setting fills me with wonder and never fails to inspire me to create.

So what could Eld be? Let’s start piecing together what we do know. A Koru Behemoth migration route runs right through it, as does a major river called The Grandfather. That alone makes you wonder if the place is inherently magical. The Owl Barrens wall in its western border while people can travel freely into it from the east. We don’t know what the Wild Wood was before the High Druid, but we do know that it has since been altered by her magic. There’s a chance that Eld has been touched by that magic, but judging by the difference of terrain markings on the map, this isn’t likely. It seems as though Eld is naturally protected, and it’s certainly fun to tinker with the idea of this being intentional. But why? Lets do a bit of digging and speculation, shall we?

The first thing that popped into my head with name of the place was the Eladrin from D&D. They’re celestial, elf-like beings front a different plane in the context of D&D, and perhaps this region was named after them for that reason. Could Eld be similar to the Feywild or, to go to the Eladrin’s roots, Arborea? It could explain why it’s linked to the Wild Wood, but the markings on the map are similar to that of the Knee Deep, Hellmarsh, and The Fangs, implying that it’s actually more swampy. This alone sets it apart from the Feywild and Arborea. However, we can still link the name to Eladrin, assuming that it was actually the birthplace of elves before they migrated northward to the Queen’s Wood. It might seem like a stretch but hear me out.

There’s a rumour hiding within the text of the core rules that states that the Elf Queen and High Druid could be half-sisters. It says figurative siblings in the write-up, but let’s interpret it more literally. That alone I could write an entire article on, but putting that supposed truth in this context certainly points to my theory for Eld. It’s never talked about in the book, but perhaps the Elves had found the lands that now make up the Dragon Empire during the start of this age. It’s no secret that elves are an ancient race, from far before the existence of others, but what if they’re simply new to the region? Before the High Druid existed as she does in this age, she could have been living in the shadow of her older sister, the Elf Queen we see today in the 13th Age. The (now) Wild Wood could have been a northward expansion of their peoples when they decided to leave Eld, only to be met with  resistance from its previous inhabitants. Those previous inhabitants could have been the 12th Age’s High Druid and their ilk. Maybe this High Druid in hiding took the Elf Queen’s younger sister under their wing amidst the conflict. You see where I’m going with this; a climactic battle between siblings, ending in the elder being flushed out of the territory for the younger to live in solitude. The High Druid building her own little empire in the wake of her victory and promising to someday stick it to her older sister. In response, the Elf Queen captured The Green, who may have been the black sheep of the dragons that make up The Three, a friend of the previous High Druid.

The theory slightly clashes with some details in the section for the High Druid, but making this tension a focal point for a campaign could be incredibly interesting. This train of thought could also explain why the river running through the Wild Wood into Eld is called The Grandfather. Perhaps the High Druid named it that, in longing memory of her previous home. Even the name Eld itself is reminiscent of the word, elder. No doubt, Eld should be a place of interesting magic that confuses even the most learned wizards, clerics, and druids. Magic that’s somewhere between arcane, divine, and natural. Making Eld the abandoned home of the oldest race in existence also raises some questions.

Why would they have to leave? Obviously, with this being a fantasy system based around conflict, it had to be some sort of natural catastrophe or war. If it’s a war, with who? Did the elves of Eld have a relationship with the Koru Behemoths, and if so, what did it entail? If it’s a catastrophe, what exactly happened? Since we know nothing about the place, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps a magical storm came ripping northward from some far-southern region outside of the Dragon Empire. Maybe that storm dissipated, but could someday reform, moving even further north. On the front of warfare, an elven civil war could be an interesting idea. It could also explain why the Elf Queen has been so successful; she found a way to unite her people and prosper. Furthermore, it could be the reason why there’s no information on it in the book. The warring sub-races of elves were left to destroy one another and they did just that, leaving nobody left to contact the newfound northern lands. Ah, mystery and wonder. My old friends.

 

I’d be really interested to hear what the rest of the community thinks! Don’t be shy, reach out!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Gen Con 50 Experience

My vacation is over. A week at Gen Con and a week in Scotland with only a day between the two, and now, I’m back to reality. Let me tell you, those two weeks were marvelous. There’ll be a post about Scotland later for the personal part of the site, but for now, it’s gaming!

This year I was able to string some more first timers along to this wonderful convention. The first timers: personal friend and cartoonist, Matt Albanese, creator of the NerdMantle and personal friend, Ben Witunsky, and last but not least, VP Quinn from High Level Games (who has also become a dear friend). Returning from last year was beloved cosplayer, Fancy Duckie. The last part of our crew didn’t room with us and carried a very heavy gaming schedule throughout the convention. , Josh Heath is involved with High Level Games and is the creator of his own Inclusive Gaming Network.

And what a crew it was. Having learned from my mistakes last year, this year was far more manageable and enjoyable. We drove from Boston, as opposed to flying, again. It’s always long and grueling but the people you’re with makes all the difference. Quinn and Josh flew from their respective areas, so it was Ben, Jessica, Matt and I cooped up in a car for 15 hours. Silliness ensued, as one would imagine, but it made the ride feel like nothing.

The first day of Gen Con was a bit difficult for me, where a lack of supplies/badge before I got there made things a bit complicated. Sadly, I ended up missing my first game of 13th Age on Wednesday, an adventure from Eyes of the Stone Thief called The Gauntlet. I ran this adventure last year and was really looking forward to it, but things got a little confused. For that, I’m sorry. If anybody who was supposed to be in that game is reading this, please reach out to me by posting a comment here, reaching out on Twitter, or sending a message to my Facebook Page. I’d love to see if we can wrangle everybody in that group to run through the adventure on Roll20 at some point.

After all that was ironed out, the con was smooth  as anything. I spent a lot of time separated from my group because I ran a bunch of 13th Age. The main difference from last year is that I didn’t schedule myself to play any other games. Having more time to wander around throughout the duration of the thing made the con more of a vacation than a hellish rush to have fun. All of the games I ran were incredible, especially since Michael from The RPG Academy played through the adventure, The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle. Everyone at the table agreed that we’d play it more horror-style, but as that adventure ends up doing, it descended into silly with morbid imagery. I love that adventure dearly. I feel like I didn’t run it the best way, but it seemed like everyone had a good time. I also had some people come back from the year previous, and I have to say that it was humbling. Nothing makes you feel like you’ve succeeded than forging a friendship with a random stranger through your favorite activity. Nick, Jeff and Greg, it was great to catch up!

Nick had played in my final game of the con, an adventure called Swords Against Owlbears. It’s a comic horror type adventure with some weirdness involved, and thankfully the group was able to take it and run. It was light hearted and silly, but everyone was invested in it. In fact, it was so good that I went out to dinner with all of my players after the game. It was a fantastic experience, I was really happy to meet all of you!

The first order of business when the con truly started on Thursday was to link up with Josh at the booth for Dized. They’re on Indiegogo right now, so jump on it by clicking this link. It’s an app that is designed to help teach you board games while playing it; no rules reading, just jump right into the game.  Definitely a uniquely helpful idea. HLG decided to jump right into it and interview them. Josh, being more skilled than I, led the charge and basically asked every question one could possibly think of. I only got one in at the end, but talking with those folks before and after it was awesome. You can listen to the interview here.

DizedJosh and I sitting with Jouni from Dized

For games besides my own, I was actually able to demo Fantasy Flight’s upcoming Legend of the Five Rings card game. Ben and I had carved out some time to go see what it was about. Fantasy Flight really upped the ante with the immersion aspect because they had a giant torii that you had to walk through to get to the play area. I’m not really a huge fan of card games in general so I was walking into this one a little skeptical. When I saw the torii, it helped sway me. What blew me away, though, was the sign on it.

Torii.jpg

I liked the company to begin with, but this simple gesture made me respect them even more. Good on you, guys. The card game was a little confusing, but I also didn’t really get to peek at the rules. The fellow teaching us was helpful, but I think his teaching style may have clashed with my learning style. Nothing wrong with that, especially since I’ll probably still invest some time and money into the game. After all, I did enjoy my experience. The biggest thing to come from FFG was the announcements of X-Wing’s wave XII and the new miniatures game, Star Wars: Legion. I’m less than impressed with the ships unveiled for the new X-Wing wave, and to be honest, I didn’t even buy anything from the last one. The last two ships I picked up were the TIE Striker and U-wing, and I’ll probably stay there. The game is fun, but the ships are starting to get a bit obscure for me. Regardless, prototypes of the minis were on display and they looked as amazing as ever.

And then there’s Legion. It almost seems like it’s a replacement for Imperial Assault, which is sad considering it wasn’t really that big to begin with. What I’m not sad about, however is how incredible everything looks for it. The second day of the con, they had demos of (what I’m assuming is) a prototype of the game. It’s a lot more like a traditional wargame, by the looks of it, with terrain pieces and such. Where Imperial Assault uses these little tiles for terrain, Legion has legitimate three dimensional terrain much like Warhammer 40k. For the demos, they had terrain pieces for the forest moon of Endor, Tatooine, and Sullust. All of them were masterfully crafted, the miniatures equally so. My heart was trying to punch a hole in my chest to scream to the world how exciting all of it was, but I had to pump the brakes. More information about this game is going to be needed before I decide whether I’m going to buy it, especially with the starter box carrying a $90 price tag. As it was only just announced, trying to get in on a demo was a near impossible endeavor. Someday, Legion… someday.

Legion.jpgI couldn’t get a good shot of the Luke and Vader minis, sadly

Besides that, all I played was Dread with the crew that I came with. Quinn ran it while the rest of us were horrified. The scenario presented felt a lot like something pulled from the video game, Dead Space. Pair that concept with sound effects and a group of players dedicated to immersion, and what you get is a genuinely frightening role play experience. Easily one of the best sessions I have ever played of any RPG.

For the spoils of war, I hadn’t purchased much. I got some cool stuff from Pelgrane Press, as all my games were 13th Age. A shirt with a Cthulhu Confidential design on the back, a physical copy of Swords Against Owlbears and some escalation dice. While I was in the exhibition hall with Ben, I made up this thing I called Gen Con Christmas. He was really interested in John Wick’s 7th Sea (I mean, who isn’t?) but didn’t want to buy a hundred things for it. So, I bought a core book with the GM screen, he bought a book, and I gifted him the GM screen. Happy Gen Con Christmas, Ben. Playing that game with you is going to be a blast. Jessica’s birthday was during Gen Con this year. She had bought herself a game called 4 the Birds and I had bought her this little dragon thing she wanted that she couldn’t justify spending money on. It was kind of cute, and apparently had magic powers that ensnared the attention of anyone wielding it.

Our crew ended up staying at the Mariott Courtyard, save Josh of course. It had a little patio downstairs where we got to meet some awesome people from the industry, chat, and have a beer or seven. I don’t think it got quite bad as seven, but comic relief is a good thing. The patio quickly became our safe haven, a place where we could hang out and unwind before charging headlong back into the chaos that is Gen Con. This year was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything the world has to offer. Sadly this is my last Gen Con for a couple of years. I would like to travel to Europe more and my limited vacation time kind of pushes Gen Con out of the vacation equation. So for now, cheers and thanks for the memories!

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

Grounded Feet

Photo source: Pigs With Crayons

 

What’s the most common thing you see in an adventurer’s background? Killed parents? Lived off the land until they decided to adventure? Refugee from a fallen city? Players are incredibly good at giving their characters nothing to latch onto. Perhaps that’s something that they do intentionally, leaving an open road for the GM to put sign posts on. Then again, there’s always the possibility of creative shyness or lack of motivation when creating a character. Giving a character stuff to care about can be rather difficult, especially if the player didn’t lay the foundation of who their character is and what they care about. It becomes even more difficult when you try to string together four or five of these characters to create a campaign.

Of course, to circumvent all of these problems, a session zero seems like a no-brainer. Not everybody does those though, and that’s okay. Session zero is a helpful thing, allowing players to collaboratively create characters and organically string things together. It makes the first role play together way less awkward, taking away the need to probe with random in-character questions to learn about one another. For those people who don’t use a session zero, though, have no fear! A fantastic campaign can be born out of your seemingly random characters, you just have to coax them out of their comfort zones. My home game had started in the same way; I had decided that I wanted to GM and I came up with some silly adventure, telling my friends to make characters and play it with me. It exploded into a campaign that we’re still not done with and has had an intense amount of emotional involvement. For more about session zero, Tribality has written a fantastic article, probably better than I could.

For starters, combat usually doesn’t lead to character development. I use combat as a way for a character to blow off some steam, or at least the unimportant ones. If your game is combat laden and your players have a rather groundless backstory, the game quickly becomes a hack-and-slashfest. Some players like this, but if you’re reading this, then chances are you’re a GM who wants more out of a game. With this, you have two options to make the combats potentially draw out some role play from your group. Start by giving the combat consequences. If you can fight anything and anyone with nobody to answer to afterwards, many players tend to get fearless and destructive just for the sake of it. It’s completely acceptable to say to your players, “This NPC scolding you right now appears to be way out of your league,” to convey that fighting this one isn’t the best idea. A lot of the time, this will sound like a challenge to them, so have some insane stats ready just in case. Make sure your characters can run away once they realize their mistake, and more importantly, make that option readily apparent to them. Hinting at it isn’t always enough, be transparent when things start going far south. Squashing characters for feeling out your world can be a downer for a long term game, though there is something to be said for that kind of play style. Letting them describe their getaway could be a fun role playing experience, or turning it into a skill challenge can force characters to collaborate. At the end of it all, don’t forget that this little squabble has consequences!

healing_vmaderna-dndpsg

Photo Source: Pigs With Crayons

The other type of combat as a way to plant characters’ feet in the world is to make the place/time of it important. This one forces combat to occur infrequently, as you have to lay the foundation with an hour or two of role playing and characters interacting with the world to give the bad guy some weight. If you give them problems that they can’t solve with fire and sword, it’ll force them to start thinking together and finding the strengths/weaknesses of each other’s characters. Those problems work best if they’re political or economical, and give the bad guy some armor, so to speak. The bad guy should be difficult to get to without making a huge fuss out of it. It gives that later combat stakes, especially if the characters are in an urban environment and want to live among society. The struggle to coexist with other people helps them realize they need to depend on their friends. It goes without saying that characters in a party will butt heads every now and again, but it adds to the drama. Usually that happens after they realize they need each other, which makes it all the better.

I could write a whole article on urban villains and how to keep them present but not fightable until the final moments of the campaign. To just plant the seeds:

  • Make them important to something bigger than the characters can take on by themselves.
  • Force the characters to find an avenue in the story to isolate this person from that something. A political faction, an impenetrable fortress, or simply the villain having long reaching fingers where the PCs have to travel to hunt them down.

Meeting that villain or someone who represents them is crucial. Just make sure that they can’t end it all in that moment…

Overland adventures usually remove the political and social struggles that come with their urban counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that the game has to be combat oriented. A GM can use things like weather and difficult terrain to help characters connect with one another. Combining those aspects with a combat encounter can up the ante, making everything much more dangerous. It’ll give the players a degree of caution amongst them, strengthening their codependency. Eventually, things should take them to some kind of township where characters interact with people outside of their adventuring group, and that’s where you can inject more complex conflicts that exist outside the group.

Believe it or not, all of this is the easy part. The most difficult thing to do is taking your players’ inspiration as they go along and making it relevant to the story. Whenever a player wants to discover something important about their character, they usually search for it. They won’t always tell you why they’re looking for whatever that specific thing may be, but it’s your job to eventually give it to them. At that moment, I prefer to ask the player what that thing is and nebulously describe its importance.

As an example: Crysx in my Ald Sotha campaign found out that he’s actually an Aasimar. His goal is to basically find the last remnants of his people and the reason they disappeared. They’re incredibly rare in our version of the Dragon Empire. As far as he knows, he’s the only one. Wilton (who hasn’t gotten into the recaps yet, sorry!) is a rich friend of theirs that has a huge library. He has one book on Aasimar. I told Crysx’s player, Ben, that he needed to vaguely describe to me a prophetic picture in the book. Rather than me telling him what his character’s destiny may be, I let him come up with something, giving him a shred of investment. Since then, I’ve been doing nothing but brewing over what it could mean, what I think it should mean to create an interesting story, a satisfying end. As we’ve traveled along, I’ve thrown small bits and pieces at him while we’re resolving the main objective of the campaign.

Now do this for every character. See how it can be difficult? You have to have these little pieces of information be littered throughout the environment, urban or otherwise. At the same time, it should be relevant to the main story arc while individually important to the character. Sometimes put them in seemingly insignificant places to add that sense of wonder and mystery to the setting. The most important part about doing this sort of thing is to throw it back at the players. When they have a question that you feel you don’t have the right to take creative control over, throw it back at them. You can find out what the player is thinking for the character, allowing you to further twist it down the road and make it bittersweet. It’ll greatly help put the feet of your players and characters on the same floor.

For best results, apply these concepts liberally to all of your games.

 

Stay Metal \m/

Total Rickall Card Game Review

It seemed a little odd at first, but crazy Grandpa Rick wrote the number six on the wall and you only conviniently noticed it now. Turns out the house has been infected by brain parasites and th number was so that he could remember how many people were truly in the household. Total Rickall is a cooperative card game put out by Cryptozoic Entertainment. The game is based on the episode of Rick and Morty which, for anybody not in the loop, is a cartoon on the late night program, Adult Swim. In the episode, the familyis subject to brain parasites that puts fake memories into your head, forcing people aware of it to question whether anyone you remember is real or fake. 

The episode itself is a confusing mishmash of false memories that is ultimately hilarious, a vibe that the game captures extremely well. You don’t need to watch Rick and Morty to enjoy this game, but seriously, why wouldn’t you? The game features character cards and identity cards for the board. You set up a 3×3 grid of face down identity cards and then flip character cards face up on them. The character cards are the crazy characters from the episode like Baby Wizard and Amish Cyborg. Representing the uncertainty of the episode itself, each character can either be real or a parasite. Character cards are color coded to help the cards in the player’s hand of action cards be useful, as they allow them to interact with characters of a certain color. Whether it’s shooting them or simply peeking at their identity, players are encouraged to work together but they can’t explicitly say what cards they are going to use or have in their hand.

That little rule makes this game not only strategic, but a hilarious form of roleplaying that is simple and fun. Saying that you have a blue shooting card is against the rules, but saying that one of those red guys are going to get smoked next turn isn’t. There are cards to shoot, peek at character identities, swap identities around, or even force other players to shoot charaters. You have to be careful with the shooting, though, because when four real characters are shot, the team loses. This mode of the game is called cooperative mode and is good to get the rules down. When your group is looking to stir the pot, there’s advanced mode. Advanced mode assigns players identity and character cards, making it so that players can’t be completely trusted as they may be a parasite. 

Advanced mode makes the game hilarious as it quickly devolves into players with “real” identities only trusting themselves. When your identity card is parasite, you win by making the real characters lose. When you’re killed, real or not, you’re assigned a new identity and character card, continuing the game. Interestingly enough, when cards are played where identities are shuffled, it includes the identity of a player with a character card of that color. In short, trust no one but your ammunition!

A friend of mine picked up the game because it was really cheap (around $10 US) and simply showed up with it one day. Calling the Avengers to assemble, we had four Rick and Morty fans total to play the game and it was a complete blast. Being involved in RPGs normally, the roleplay part oft he game became a huge part of the game, giving us an endless amount of laughs throughout the duration. It’s a mechanically simple game that we were able to pick up in just two rounds of play, making it a quick game to play. The only thing that could make this game take long is an indecisive group, because the only way to win is to get through the character deck and kill all the parasites. It’s safe to say that this game has made it into our options list for off nights when we don’t have enough players for an RPG. It’s a pretty easy game to find, as it’s on Amazon. Pick it up, gather your friends, and trust no one.
Stay Metal \m/

Ald Sotha: Family Reunion

“There’s no reason for this!” Corbin screamed with fury, his voice echoing in the catacombs. Lisbeth’s mind was ablaze with fear and panic. The others looked on without idea of what to do. Silence returned to the crypt for a minute or two until the eyes of the corpse snapped open once more. It inhaled sharply, the party recoiled in surprise at the sudden movement.

Mia’s father opened his mouth and the sound of six different people came out, “Where am I?” 

“Back to a place that you left by the laws of nature,” Corbin answered angrily. Lisbeth shot him a look at would make a dragon roll over.

“This may be tough to deal with, but you died and I’ve given you life once more,” Lisbeth told him, her voice trembling a bit. Knowledge of resurrection had been reserved for the most elite members of her order. She felt lucky to have figured it out on her own. What if they found out, though…  she thought.

The corpse’s voices were no less shocking a second time, “Back from the dead? I don’t remember what happened…” A look of perplexity adorned his face. The hair on the back of Crysx’s neck stood on end at the sound of this tortured soul. Lisbeth informed him that his memory should return shortly.

Crysx cleared his throat and explained the situation; who they were and why they were in this part of the empire. He explained that they were here to help and that his daughter  was just outside. The man’s expression changes int he blink of an eye. Flailing about in an attempt to stand up, he realized his body was atrophied from the long sleep of death. Lisbeth eased him back down, informing him that he needed to rest for a bit before leaving. She didn’t say it, but there was a lingering fear of using healing magic on the newly resurrected body. There was no way to tell if the cursed mark would interfere with her spells, and she didn’t want to find out. In an awkward silence, they all waited for his body to heal enough to the point where movement was manageable.

“We never got your name, good sir,” Tiberius probed. He informed them that is name was Frederick. Pleased that his memory was returning quickly, Lisbeth started to ask him about what had happened.

“The winter came so fast, and it came angry. We didn’t have enough wood so I was outside splitting some for the stove. I heard someone trudging through the snow and simply thought it was Mia. I didn’t bother to look up, she likes to come outside and talk with me as I work. Sometimes it interferes with the work she has to get done, but I don’t mind. My daughter is my life. What kind of father would I be if I always turned her away?” He started to trail off.

Lisbeth cleared her throat, “The sooner we get through this, the sooner you can see Mia again.” Frederick composed himself and continued.

“I said something to who I thought was Mia, just to start a conversation really. They didn’t answer, but kept coming toward me. Being the soft spoken woman she is, I didn’t think much of it. Before I knew what had happened, someone struck me on the back of the head and, in a flash, I was on my back. Everything was blurry, I couldn’t see who it was but they were large. A sharp pain across my throat followed by a warm, wet feeling and then nothing.” It was hard to tell where Frederick was looking without any pigmentation to his eyes. It made speaking to him uncomfortable.

“At least we know this threat is humanoid and intelligent. It’s more than we had before. Maybe they can be reasoned with,” Tiberius said hopefully.

“If we’ve learned one thing on this journey, it’s that things don’t immediately want to reason,” Crysx mumbled to himself.

The group decided it was time to head out. Frederick was able to pull himself to his feet and walk autonomously. Towards the entrance from which they came, something caught Corbin’s eye. The skeletons in the walls were different from the ones deeper in the catacombs, something that was only apparent when revisiting the more shallow parts. Being towards the back of the group, it was easy for him to slow down and examine the specimen. Broad shoulders, long arms and legs, tusks on the lower jaw. This skeleton is a half-orc. This new piece of the puzzle only made him excited, there had to be a reason for it. He decided to poke around a bit more, only to find that most, if not all, the skeletons in this part of the catacombs were half-orcs. I wonder when things changed. Humans are an invasive species, something tells me this has a lot to do with why we’re here. His friends interrupted his analysis, asking if everything was all right. Nodding quickly, he left the puzzle pieces to join his friends.

When they reached the top of the steps, Crysx told Frederick to stay behind while him and Lisbeth went to go talk to Mia.

 

“I don’t understand,” she complained. “What do you mean my father is with you?”

Lisbeth inhaled frustratedly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I tried to put it lightly, but it seems this isn’t working. I resurrected your father. The problem is that he had a cursed mark cut into him, it messed my spell up. He’s alive, he has his memory but he looks a little disturbing. Just try to show you’re happy to see him. Okay?” The girl nodded sheepishly at Lisbeth’s frustration.

When Frederick walked through the threshold and greeted his daughter, she fainted.

“Family reunions can be hard sometimes…” Tiberius said, trying to lighten the mood.

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

Excited for Ensiferum

Though they have stayed virtually the same over the years, Ensiferum has never failed to deliver top notch music that hits a certain aesthetic. Surfing the wave that was One Man Army, they’re back with steel and fury to bring us Two Paths on September 15th of this year. Interestingly enough, it seems like they’re kicking up the production a notch since their track record shows they released an album every three years. This time they gave the spurs a good kick, since One Man Army was released in 2015. With the lyrics video for the single For Those About to Fight for Metal, I am incredibly excited for this album.

The song itself is exactly what you’d expect from Ensiferum: a satisfyingly powerful tune with a touch of grandeur. It sets the stage for an album that brings “more bombastic orchestral and down-to-earth folk aspects,” says bassist/vocalist, Sami Hinkka. From the looks of it, Ensiferum plans to take this album on tour, the first leg of which starts on September 27th, 2017 in Europe. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be seeing any of that as I’m in the US.

What’s probably the most exciting thing from my angle is that Netta Skog is now in the band (as I’m a huge Turisas fan). This is old news from April, when Emmi Silvennoinen had to leave the band for some family matters, but it doesn’t dilute any of my zeal. Getting these little bits and pieces over the months has been nothing but a tease. Now that it’s all put together with some huge announcements, I can say that the hype train has officially left station.

But what about this single? Well, like I said, it’s exactly what you’d expect. Maybe it’s because it’s still new, but the bits with the chorus just drives me wild. I always love when bands take the sound of a vocalist and amplify it by added ten other voices. Metal is about unity, and to me, expert placement of such a sound set is a perfect reflection of that philosophy. I can’t wait to see them play this song live someday. The song is relentless, with but a small break for an orchestral piece that lives up to the praise that Hinkka gives the album overall in the Facebook post from today. Simple, strong, and satisfying: the words I would use to describe this single in a concise manner.

In that post, you’ll also find the complete track listing and the preorder link for the album. Show some love and pick it up, because I’m definitely going to.

Perpare yourselves, for the time has come to Fight for Metal!!!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Icons and Conditions Review

Not too long ago now, John W.S. Marvin over at Dread Unicorn Games released a book called Gods and Icons. It’s a supplement for 13th Age RPG with a myriad of new Icons, class abilities, player races, and to augment it all, player races. Well, Mr. Marvin is back with a vengeance, with the accessory for the setting, the Icons and Conditions cards. Just for full transparency reasons, John was kind enough to send me this copy of the deck specifically for review.

Just to describe what these are: This supplement is a deck of cards, but not just any cards. Some have the Icons from the Gods and Icons book, while others have the standard conditions for 13th Age (hampered, stuck, etc.). They’re made of similar material to regular playing cards and seem sturdy. Additionally, there’s a card in the deck telling you where to find licensing info. When I first opened these, I was a little underwhelmed, but only because I saw the back of the cards (as seen in the featured image). It looks cool, the blue is interspersed with some black with some shades in between. I mean, after all, it’s just the backs of the cards. When I flipped it over, I saw the face of Commander Tyrvek, the Icon that essentially replaces the Orc Lord, sneering at me menacingly. The art from the Gods and Icons book translates really well to this tiny format.

image2.JPG

Each card is formatted like a normal playing card, with the figure depicted on them both right side up and upside down. This serves a function though, as Icon relationship points aren’t so black and white as a king of spades. We can have a five or a six relationship rolled with each Icon, and depending on which way the card is facing, you can remind yourself of what you have.  I honestly thought this was a brilliantly simple idea that makes them utilitarian but still visually appealing. There is one minor gripe that I harbor towards these cards, and it’s that only two of the Icons on the cards have a backdrop. This is probably due to the original art, but I wish that every Icon had something interesting going on in the background. This easily makes Tyrvek and Aurum Rex my two favorite cards out of the bunch.

In the realm of practicality, these cards simply make sense. There’s two copies of each Icon card included in the deck, which is reasonably priced at about $14 US for the entire shabang. While this may immediately seem to fall a little short, it’s sensible in the light that you don’t have overlapping Icons between players too often. The only time I could see this happening is when my players decide to collaboratively create a party, which is honestly never. If that day does come, however, I can just pick up another deck. There’s a reason why I’m so quick to jump to that conclusion, and it has to do with conditions.

image3.JPG

The conditions cards are a tad boring to look at, but they serve their function one hundred percent. The layout of the information makes finding the condition you’re looking for to hand to the victim player easy. Being one to quickly overlook things, it’s convenient that the title of the condition is in big letters to see while hastily shuffling through the deck. I keep track of conditions using the little rings from plastic bottles to place on miniatures, which is great, but I often have to remind players of what the conditions do. This makes these cards invaluable, as I can take the heat of running the game off of myself a little by handing the affected player one of these bad boys.

If you’re a sadistic GM like me, and enjoy stacking up the conditions on players, the number of which may be problematic. There’s three copies of each condition included in the deck. In my group, I have six players. If each of those players end up getting the same condition, two players will have to share a card. Much like the situation with the Icons cards though, I feel like most groups don’t have the same condition going out over the whole party. My group is a little special in that regard (no offense, guys), so this could very well be a rare problem for people. In the first play-through I had using these cards, it never came up; so this problem is strictly hypothetical as of right now. Watch my Twitter account to see if it ever comes up.

All in all, the condition cards alone pretty much make this worth picking up. It saves you an insane amount of table keeping by thrusting some of your job into the hands of your players. Hopefully when my campaign wraps up, I can explore the loose yet deep setting presented in Gods and Icons to take those cards for a spin.

You can find this deck for sale at DriveThru RPG here and the rest of the Dread Unicorn’s horde here. Happy gaming, and as always…

 

Stay Metal \m/

Themed Battles

image: Cover art of Pelgrane Press’ Battle Scenes: High Magic and Low Cunning

 

Carefully picking monsters for your encounters can do wonders for the theme and feeling of them. Whether it’s a fight with a hundred copies of one enemy, or a mixed bag of targets, it’s important to know what direction you’re taking the image of the combat into. For the most part, the type of monster can heavily affect how the encounter feels. Fighting orcs feels rather different from fighting a rakshasa or two,  as it should be.

Sadly, it can be difficult to find the monsters you need. Sometimes they haven’t been created yet, or all of the orcs are scattered across a multitude of books and supplements. Most people would probably tell you that you need to take your game prepping up a notch, which never hurts, but I say there’s another solution. When building a themed encounter, it almost goes without saying that you have to know what your adventuring party consists of. You wouldn’t throw a group of spell casters at your adventuring party that is solely made up of melee classes. The opposite can also be true if they hit too hard. When in doubt; a group of melee monsters will always work against any adventuring party, just take the squishies into account.

When we think themed encounter, however, we’re mostly talking about one type of monster or a group of monsters that serve a common purpose. In 13th Age, The Blue has somehow created a city of monsters that coexist and even make up her government. Typically, an ogre mage would scoff at the idea of kobold underlings, but in Drakknehall, such is not the case. Using concepts like this opens up a multitude of options when building themed encounters. If you lack a higher power like an Icon, giving them all a commonality of some kind is essentially the base of this point. Much like player races; if given a reason, monsters can band together.

A little different than the “common goal” method, using a bunch of one monster type can prove a little difficult. In another post about encounter building, I talked about monster roles (spoiler, blocker, wrecker, etc.), probably the most important aspect of making an encounter work in 13th Age. For those of us who own most of the books, making themed encounters that uphold this philosophy can be pretty easy… once you find everything. In the core rules, the orcs were pretty limited; all melee fighters save one, which is a shaman that takes the role of leader, a monster that gives buffs to their friends. There was plenty to work with there, and it satiated what we needed to do when learning 13th Age. Now that the game has been out for a while, there’s a multitude of orc options. The 13th Age Bestiary has some good ones, and I hope the Bestiary 2 will keep the tradition. You can never have too many orcs, right? But not every monster has been so fortunate to be given a bunch of friends. Some monsters from the Bestiary, like the Lammasu or Cuoatl can be a little more tough to deal with. Throwing more than one at a party can feel strange, mainly because they’re large and intelligent. A creature of their size is bound to have hubris, having more than one around seems unlikely.

But if the theme demands it, that’s what you should do, right? The answer is, well, kind of. Carrying the Lammasu idea, throwing more than one at a party could be extremely deadly. If that’s the feel you want and it fits your story, go for it. Having a reason for more than one to hang out together is key to making that believable. However, I would argue that having one extremely strong Lammasu (one as written) and a bunch of smaller, weaker ones that are being bullied around would be better. The stats as written don’t have that, so as a GM, you’re faced with two options: 1) Create your own 2). Reskin an existing monster.

Reskinning takes way less time, and is the route I would recommend if you don’t have all the prep time in the world. The key to making that work is finding other monsters that feel similar to the Lammasu (or whatever) that fill different roles. A Lammasu Wizard is a spoiler, and he needs some troops and mooks to back him up. Taking something like an Orc Berserker from the core rules and giving it the Lammasu’s ability Refuge of Stone can really surprise and challenge players. Of course, you’d have to level up the berserker stats appropriately, which is a task in itself, but it saves you from making a completely new monster. On the other hand, instead of something as simple as a troop, you could throw a wrecker with a bunch of mooks. Even a wrecker and a blocker or three, the blocker serving its function as protector of the Lammasu and collector of wrecker fodder. Get creative, it’s what makes it all interesting.

When it comes to making battles themed around specific Icons, I found that the Battle Scenes books are awesome. They have pre-made encounters, sprawling across multiple levels and the books come divided by Icon. If the adventures don’t fit your game, shelf them for later and just rename all the monsters in an encounter. Voila! You have a battle ready to go that has a theme. Don’t let the name of a stat block keep you from incorporating it into a fight. If you don’t have that book, the Bestiary does have a section at the end of every monster block talking about what Icon they’d serve and who they’d hang out with. It gets the creative juices flowing and has proven to be an invaluable resource for me. Shuffle it up, mix and match things that already exist, and most importantly, make sure it’s fun.

 

Stay Metal \m/

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: