Dig Deep – After The Burial

after-the-burial-dig-deep

This is actually the first I have ever heard of this band and thought I’d give it a listen. After the Burial is a band out of Twin Cities, Minnesota currently signed with Sumerian Records, though they have a couple of other albums released under a different label. The general consensus classifies these guys as “progressive metal” but since genres tend to be so controversial amongst fans, I’ll let you decide for yourself.

One thing I noticed off the bat, holy low tuning! The first track, Collapse is a very breakdown oriented song, very heavy tone to it with some nice guitar working behind the breakdown. So far, I’m enjoying what I’m hearing. Anthony Notarmaso’s vocals flow very nicely with the overall tone of this song and make me excited to listen to the rest of the album. The solo in Collapse is sort of one dimensional and uninteresting but I can easily overlook it.

One thing that stuck out to me while listening to this album, the third track, Mire has a very groovy part to it that I don’t hear very often in metal, which I really very much enjoyed. There’s a breakdown that sort of dominates the song but the bass is the primary sound rather than the guitar. Very interesting, VERY good! As it goes on, I get the feeling that this is just another progressive album, but then there’ll be a bit that brings me back to being intrigued by this album’s work. The ending to Deluge and the first distorted riff in Laurentian Ghosts gives me goosebumps and makes the hackles on my neck stand up, what an amazing feeling.

Overall, this album is deceiving. At firs glance, Dig Deep is another cookie cutter, breakdown-laden album that has succumbed to the style of modern metal. However, if you’re paying attention, there’s some aspects to this album that really make it shine. These guys are talented and for the bands first impression on me, they blew it out of the park. Dig Deep is an album for someone who likes to listen closely to find the hidden nuances in music but also for someone who just likes to sit around and bang their head to some good jams. Check it out!

Stay Metal \m/

Abbath – Abbath

 

 Let there be ABBATH! Let’s be honest with ourselves, Abbath had painted a rather silly picture of the black metal scene but there is absolutely nothing silly about this album.

Being a black metal fan, I felt a little obliged to check this album out and that’s ok. The first track, To War! really sets the stage for the rest of them album. Winterbane, which was released in November of 2015, I had heard previous to the album release and I was thoroughly impressed. Not so much because of the song itself, but because I expected a black metal song and instead got something else only slightly reminiscent of one. 

As I went through this album it felt like a heavy metal album inspired by black metal, rather than a black metal album entirely. Don’t be fooled by that statement, though. There’s plenty of dark ambience to assault your ears, just not in the way you’d expect. I really do like this album! There’s some really cool guitar riffs in here that combine some interesting sounds, though not contrasting ones. Abbath’s vocals are still the vocals we all know and love, which really made this album shine to me. 

So my final advice? If you’re a black metal fan and are open minded, this album is an absolute must! 

Not-So-Improv Improv

What makes RPG characters interesting is three things; Where they are, where they come from and where they’re going. More oft than not, where they came from tends to shape where they are and going. We’re here today to talk about backgrounds, a fantastic mechanic that is a part of the character creation process in 13th Age.

Whether it’s built into the system or not, any person who creates an RPG character makes up at least a small snippet of a back story for the character. It adds depth, it can add goals, it makes the character that much closer to being a real person. Sometimes, it even makes them relatable. This is what fuels the creativity in RPGs, the people (whether it’s a PC or NPC). Without people/characters, we don’t have a game, yeah? With other d20 systems it seems like character background is sort of optional, it has no bearing on the game. Usually you have a list of skills or abilities that you can spread points across. But that’s exactly the problem I have with that, it’s skills that they determine. Not only that, with the point system when the skills are so clearly defined, what if the skill I want for my character conflicts with a skill that makes sense for the class? Or what if a skill I want simply isn’t in the list? The fix for this was 13th Age.

Instead of having a list of skills on your character sheet, all you have is a little blank space labeled “Backgrounds.” Now, we know what the definition of the word itself is, but what IS a background in this context? Well, essentially, it’s a skill or profession or maybe a previous experience. The purpose is the same as a skill, it gives you a bonus to a skill check. It helps answer the question “Who is your character and what does he/she do?” When building a character’s backgrounds, you have 8 points to spend on a background title, with no more than 5 points in one background title. Once the numbers come into play, I most often find that people jump straight in and say, “Okay, well I want a background in alchemy, magical knowledge and demonology,” or whatever sort of basic title you can imagine. This is NOT what a background is for! Using things like that are so one dimensional that you might as well still have skill tables. Your background title should tell a small story about what you’ve experienced, it just makes it more interesting and more versatile. Your background is supposed to be able to cover multiple skills as well! Yes! Doing more than one thing with a single experience. Crazy, right?

So some examples. If you have a background that you simply title “Alchemy,” you have actually backed yourself into a corner. How ever many points you put into that alchemy background can only be used for alchemically related skill checks. Disappointing? I think so. How about something more like, “Apprentice of a Horizon Alchemist.” Now we’re talking! This tells us that your character has been a part of an apprenticeship, lived in the city of Horizon for a time and learned some stuff about alchemy. How does this help? Well, you could potentially apply this background if you’re trying to strike up a conversation with someone. Your GM tells you that the bloke in the corner is wearing clothes that actually remind you of the streets of Horizon. Now when you talk to him, maybe you can bring that up and add your background bonus to your charisma roll to open the door for a conversation. Maybe this guy from Horizon knows something about the city you’re currently in that can help your endeavors. See how this works? A couple of background titles like that and you can pretty much build a character that gets a bonus to any skill check.

There’s bound to be someone out there rubbing his hands together thinking, “YES! Another game I can break!” Well, actually, no. In order to add a background to your skill check, first you must make what I call a “sales pitch” to your GM about why your background applies to the current situation. From there the GM gives you a “yay” or “nay” to the bonus. However, even if your GM says no, your sales pitch still tells you something about your character’s experience, which you had just invented. So not only are you fleshing out a story for your character that didn’t take place in the current game, you’re exercising your improvising muscles and may or may not be using your sudden creation to your advantage. In a single statement, this is exactly why this mechanic is brilliant. What backgrounds do some of your characters have? Post a comment!

 

Stay Metal \m/

Ald Sotha: A New Journey Begins

Ald Sotha was the main city where my Saturday campaign took place, a city completely of my own fabrication co-governed by humans and dwarves. It’s not a major city but when things go down, the Dwarf King and The Emperor do squabble over its natural resources and optimum port location. The city had been recently sacked by sentient undead. The guild that took the PC’s in, The Axefall, were an instrumental part of keeping the city safe. Although they lost in the end, the guild managed to get 500 people (sick, elderly, wounded, women and children!) out of the city before it truly fell. Sadly, the cost of that was greater than intended. Galgurt Galehammer, the guild’s current leader, had fallen during the battle. Luckily, through Lisbeth’s (played by Jessica) strange elven magic (6 Icon relationship point with the Elf Queen), Galgurt’s body achieved a stasis, and his consciousness lives on to guide them through Lisbeth’s mind.

Last night, the party just reached their destination city, New Port. Needless to say, after two months (in-game time) of guiding those hardy folk overland, the players were happy to be at the end of the tunnel. The session overall was a hit, I think. Previous to that session, the PC’s had found a house on the fringes of the Wild Wood that was currently occupied by orcs, one of the orcs being from Lisbeth’s past. He fancies himself a general and lead an assault decades ago to raze her home to the ground. That event claimed the life of her baby sister. Of course, his presence wasn’t well received. Crysx (played by Ben) used himself as bait to distract the orcs by playing as a lone traveler. When the orcs tried to get Crysx to submit, his friends jumped out of the brush to come to his aid. The warriors were slaughtered, the archers got away, and General Gug was taken prisoner. The interrogation proved somewhat fruitless, but they did learn that he seems to be working with someone, though he wouldn’t say who. The party of course assumed the Orc Lord, since such reckless rage can only be directed rather than commanded. The archers that escaped the conflict in front of the house decided to set it ablaze in an effort to create an opening for General Gug to escape.

Lisbeth made him view his own innards instead. Crysx ran outside to find where the fire started while Corbin and Maple (played by Mike and Jess H.) ran upstairs to combat the inferno. By the end of all of it, one of the archers was cut down, the other escaped and the party stood outside of the burning manor with their lot of (now) 300 interspersed civilians and guild members to watch their shelter from the harsh winter burn. Nobody talked that night. The children whimpered as their mothers comforted them. The flames flickered in the hopeless eyes of the guild members. All thought they were going to die out there. A restless sleep found the players that night.

Their minds converged and found themselves in a void that seemed a dream. A voice that sounded of the snapping of bones said, “You are fools. You can’t escape death. You will not escape me again.” Crysx felt that the place they were in had some physicality to it, while Corbin tried to free his mind of what he assumed to be a spell that bound him to that dark place. Crysx dug deep inside him to condense his courage into light and fought the dark with the head of his magical axe (6 icon relationship with the Great Gold Wyrm). They were in a stone hallway. The light could barely shove back the darkness, the very setting they were in seemed black and white. They progressed into it. On the wall there were torches that burned, their flames a dull grey. They emitted heat, but no light to reveal their presence until Crysx’s courage illuminated it. Fear sat in everyone’s stomach like a lead ball as they progressed down the long hall. It never seemed to end, until they found a door their right, it had two windows flanking either side of it about three feet high by two feet wide. The door was boarded shut with heavy chains secured tautly over that. Outside the window they could make out the shapes of naked trees, and what seemed to be a community of houses. A glowing purple sun lazily burned in the sky, bathing everything in an eerie light. They realized they were home, it was the council house of Ald Sotha. But… this was not their home, it was some hellish copy. “I will break your will. I will crush your spirit under the fist of death,” the voice echoed in the air.

Continuing further down the hallway, they found a message on the wall scrawled in some gray liquid, though everything was gray here. “This way to your death,” it said, with an arrow pointing to a set of double doors now at the apparent end of the hallway. Maple had done this before, in another dream. The very thought made a cold bead of sweat run down her forehead, her heart pounding in her ears. Crysx ran up to the doors and shoved a heavy foot between them, though expecting a crash, there is no sound. They found themselves in the familiar dining hall of the council house, where this whole horror story began. Two corpses lay on the table, seemingly chewed to a state that past being identifiable. But Maple knew… Maple had seen this before. There was a figure standing on the opposite side of the table. As he turned, Maple and Crysx were grasped by fear, it was the necromancer from their dreams previous. His skin was a sickly white color, the pallid color of a corpse. Eyes sunken deep into his head, lidless and wild looking, a permanent lipless grin on his face, a hole where his nose should be. He spoke, though there was no evidence his throat emitted the terrible sound, “Now, you become mine.” Roll for initiative.

The fight only lasted until escalation die 3, but it was a good one! For a level 5 climactic conflict, I felt it was well-received by the party. They were definitely relieved by the end of it. The necromancer was protected for most of the fight by skeletal hounds and was really only able to set off three spells, one of which missed and another one negated by Corbin’s Counter Magic spell. He missed a melee attack on Crysx, who had hacked his way to the back of the room. The party was definitely run ragged by the travel, only a few recoveries left between all of them. Crysx had made good use of a five with the Elf Queen by reducing his remaining hit points to zero, to split the value, and gift it two his two other elven companions, Corbin and Lisbeth. I liked the enthusiasm, but had to dial it back a bit and only allow them to be temporary hit points. A daft move, considering the undead were willing to forgo all of their actions to attack him while he was helpless. Three points from perma-death, he came. Close call. But in the end they reigned victorious! Waking up bathed in a cold sweat and finding that the wounds they sustained in the dream had translated to their physical bodies. What a great session. I find often times that the session never feels amazing until I look back on it, which is almost a little disappointing. Then again, there’s a lot of work to be done as a GM, so maybe it’s just that I can’t really appreciate it the same way the players can. Oh well, it’s worth it.

Before the refugees get access to the city of New Port, the party must talk with the city’s Imperial Governor, and state their case to reach an agreement. 300 people is a lot to have homeless in one day without notice, what will they conjure up to make this work?

A more pressing question for after this… How will they take back their home?

 

Stay Metal! \m/

All Hail the Icons!

Having referenced this mechanic a couple of times in other posts, I figured it was time to talk about it: Icons and their Relationships!

What is an Icon? Basically, an Icon is exactly as defined: “Icon (n) : A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.” (per Google’s definition, if you care about sources).

Icons in the 13th Age are the influential figures of their domains, maybe you could go so far as to say politicians. It’s a little more complex than that, considering they’re immensely powerful and shape the world around them. There are 13 Icons as follows:

  1. The Archmage
  2. The Emperor
  3. The Diabolist
  4. The Lich King
  5. The Three
  6. The Orc Lord
  7. The Elf Queen
  8. The High Druid
  9. The Crusader
  10. The Priestess
  11. The Great Gold Wyrm
  12. The Prince of Shadows
  13. The Dwarf King

If you want to know more about them personally, I would have to say check out the 13th Age core rulebook. There’s a wealth of information/story hooks to be had in the book. Best of all, almost everything written in there is a “rumor” so it leaves the whole environment open to GM interpretation (for all you guys that don’t like to be told how to tell a story!) and perfectly malleable to make the setting you want. The Icons basically represent some common fantasy tropes to create a familiar feeling to the Dragon Empire setting. They all intermingle with one another in a way or another, and can really lead to some interesting stories.

Okay, so the mechanics. How does that work? Upon character creation, a lvl 1 PC has 3 points to spend amongst what’s called Icon Relationships. This relationship point can be positive, negative or a conflicted relationship with the Icon of your choice. You can have more than one point with the same relationship, but there are some complex restrictions outlined in the book regarding type of relationship with type of Icon (page 36 of the core rules). So at the start of a session, you roll 1d6 per point, and be mindful of which relationship you’re rolling at a time. You are looking for 5’s or 6’s. A rolled 5 is a use of the relationship to help the story progress but with a drawback, and a 6 is use of the relationship for story progress without one. The most important part of using these points is NOT just what you get out of it, it’s how the relationship affects the situation. What unfolds due to the relationship? If the relationship is negative, how does your 5 or 6 end up posing something constructive for the group’s goals?

More often than not, in my group, it’s basically used as a get out of jail card in a way (see my Invoking Emotion GM advice post). I’m trying to curb this to make it a little more interesting at the table. More often than not, players will say they want to use the relationship they rolled but not why or how it helps. Then again, as GM, it’s my responsibility to help them make it work in context. This story mechanic is probably one of the best things that makes 13th Age so unique as a d20 system, yet it can be so difficult to use. The GM’s resource book (that comes with the 13th Age GM screen) gives some amazing tips on making this mechanic work at the table.

Icon relationship benefits can take many faces: a person (friend or foe), a magic item (preferable not weapon or armor, something more utility based), a burst of power to do something amazing (that doesn’t completely decimate the encounter you spent 3 hours building). The point is: propel the story, make it interesting and moreover, make it FUN!

Stay Metal \m/

Working Saturdays

Ugh… The dreaded work Saturday. Worst part is, my schedule actually works perfectly with my life. Tuesday nights, I play 13th Age into the later part of the night, Wednesday I have off. Saturdays, I work, but that night i run a 13th Age game. Sundays I have off. Sheesh, how inconvenient. Guess it’s not all bad, at least on Saturdays people here in the shop seem to leave me alone for whatever reason. Plus, sometimes it’s slow enough where material for the game can be written. The company also pays for lunch on Saturday, hooray! Somehow, I don’t feel better about being here…

 

Work hard

Play harder

Stay Metal \m/

Invoking Emotion

Last night, I was playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt when I got to a critical point in the story where something heartbreaking happened. I’ll save you the details in an effort to not spoil the game for those who haven’t played it, but it got me thinking about something that is really important for Game Mastering tabletop RPGs for my first GM advice post.

Making players feel actual raw emotion at the table is one of the most difficult things to do when running a game. That said, it’s also the most rewarding. I don’t claim to be a veteran GM but I definitely do have some things I’ve learned to share.  On Saturday nights I’ve been running an ongoing 13th Age campaign for the past 2 years or so. In the beginning, considering it was the first game I ran, it was pretty hard to adjust things to get them the way I wanted, but there were some really great moments that became memorable. As things progressed, everybody got more invested in the game and we had our first tragic experience. A player made a character decision to leave the party to pursue a an opportunity that presented itself. The players felt betrayed, even the player that invented the character! and I couldn’t help but think, “How funny is it that this game is getting a legitimate reaction out of people.”

I did a lot more thought on this, analyzed some films and other games to really see what pulls at peoples’ psyches then tried some experiments in my game and reevaluated. I swear, it’s a freaking art. Hat’s off to anyone who works on a developing team for movies/games and even more so to any actors that manage to pull the damn thing off. Now what triggers emotions? Well… events! the most common I’ve found that are easily do-able in RPGs is as follows: loss, triumph, and defeat. That’s really it. Those three things can trigger a myriad of emotions, however, doing them well is where the real challenge lies. Now, one could argue that other thinks like conflict and dissatisfaction can be triggers too, but I’m more of the opinion that those are subcategories of the three I listed. Conflict leads to either of the three, dissatisfaction can lead to conflict (physical or verbal) and thus ending in the same.

None of these three situations are easy to set up in such a way to make someone go home from the table contemplating their decisions, but it can happen. Loss is the easiest on to explain. In a game setting, what exactly is loss? Loss can pertain to both an object or a person. It’s easy to create a reaction when a baddie steals a PC’s precious magical weapon. Sometimes this will create a feeling of personal attack, rather than a player feeling connected to his/her character. Like many things in life, this is walking a fine line. Better than stealing his/her most powerful magic item, try to get an item that has a personal tie to the character: maybe their passed away master left the PC with an heirloom? Perhaps the PC took something off of an enemy as a trophy that now means something to them personally? Just make it more interesting than, “the bugbear takes your +4 sword and bolts while his buddies stand in the way.” That’s not fun, just really annoying. The more complex version of loss is with an NPC or a PC; losing a person. Either it’s a personal falling out that severs personal ties or a character dies, both can  have a tremendous impact on the players. But this will take me unintentionally to another subject; NPC’s. The best NPC’s are most often created by PC’s, and honestly I try to do this as much as possible. If the PC creates the character and you reinforce their concept through role play, they have a tie to a character directly. Rather than the farmer up the street that they so happen to save from goblins, you now have ammunition taking the face of your player’s favorite drinking companion or childhood friend, maybe even a previous member of an adventuring party they were in together (obviously depending on the character’s background). Ultimately, the player writes the story of the bond they share making it stronger than if we as GMs introduced an NPC. I know, sometimes you make an NPC you love and the players don’t really react to the same way you feel about the character. Just a part of the game, baby, let it roll. Now, I probably shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: DO NOT kill or take away every NPC that he players grow near and dear to! This makes the game horribly predictable and takes away a really awesome way to make a memorable moment. Some players might even go as far to take it personally, we all have that one guy. Regardless, if the avenue is death for the NPC, make it freaking epic and memorable!

Here’s a long example: The city in my Saturday campaign was under siege by a horde of sentient undead (which by itself is horrible). They were losing, had to fall back, and continued to lose. The wizard of the party, Corbin, understood what had to be done and wanted to allow for an escape. He had a 5 with the Archmage for his icon relationship point for the night (a story mechanic in 13th Age) and then was the time to use it. Augmenting his lightning bolt spell by tapping into the wards that protect the empire, he collapsed a couple of buildings to block the particular street the enemies were coming from to buy some time to gather any civilians along with the rest of the guild to flee. Now this alone is great, an amazing moment of the player feeling useful to protect the weak. Since it was a 5 relationship instead of a 6, there was a drawback. The buildings toppled onto some of his guild members that were fighting over there attempting to form a line, and among them, their hearty dwarven leader. The reaction at the table was more than priceless. Now it wasn’t all doom and gloom, the elven cleric had a 6 with the Elf Queen lying around and managed to put him in a stasis, and now his consciousness lives inside her head until they ever (if at all) find a way to fix his mangled body.

What a great story that has become. The best part about this situation, is that I had the full intent of them having to bury their guild leader. The creativity of the players helped make this emotional roller coaster of sorrow, relief and back again more than I had originally intended. On the flip side of that coin, however, there’s personal loss that doesn’t involve death. Though a little more difficult, it can be greeted with just as much enthusiasm. This also something that blossoms from a conflict, just a personal one instead of a physical one. Personal loss is more abstract to explain, so it’ll be easier for me to explain through an example. A character in the Saturday game was a replacement character, so the player and I did some story building before the PC stumbled into the other group. He met a dwarf that actually very quickly became his friend, mostly through his own interpretation of the character, I just took his personality idea and ran. The NPC decided to stick around and became a more important character for the party, did a lot of work behind the scenes. When the players stumbled upon the Deck of Many Things (heh… I’m evil), the character who had the relationship with the NPC drew a card out of curiosity. Figures, it was the card that said “Someone important to you becomes suddenly hateful.” Bam. I didn’t even intend for this to happen, I was just using the random card generator from WotC (Wizards of the Coast). Needless to say, the player was shattered. He did everything in his power to break the magic that bound the NPC’ emotions in this way, even made the NPC aware it was there. In the end, this character just ended up going back to his homeland, leaving the PC to wallow in pain (the player shared the emotion more than I expected).

To back track a little, a personal loss doesn’t always have to be a conflict either. An NPC can leave because of a personal path that forces him/her to leave. Or perhaps they simply got separated from the party, maybe at sea there was a storm or something, obviously depending on the story situation. The word”loss” implies a negative occurrence but a bittersweet loss can be a good one. There’s endless possibilities when it comes to loss.

Which takes us to the next emotional trigger: triumph! Easily confused with simply winning, triumph is victory after a great struggle. Whomping those bugbears is not a triumph, simply a victory. Taking back your homeland from the sentient undead, now THAT is a triumph! Five whole levels worth of pent up frustration will come out that night! Ahem… sorry. I’m a bit excited to get to that point. Pummeling the evil villain of the story, taking the homeland, finding the lost item that will free the trapped spirits of your ancestors, these are all great triumphs that will make the players feel powerful and accomplished by the end of it. There should be (by my opinion) probably three or four triumphs throughout a campaign, depending on the length of course. Each triumph should be somewhat linear as well, all pertaining to each other. Think of a patterned walkway. There are a bunch of little stones here and there, which could represent victories. But the bigger stones that lay flat and give you a steady place to stand, now THAT is a triumph. In order to get to the stone at the end of the walkway, one would likely prefer to use those large flat stones to their advantage. Does this make sense? Maybe it only does to me. Triumph can be the easiest to set up, but building up to it is the key for invoking the strongest emotion. You have to kick the party while they’re down for a while, make them feel like they’re about to be defeated, maybe even killed. Make the triumph memorable by making it difficult. The relief shows at the end.

Defeat. Players hate it. Personally, I almost hate it too. It’s difficult to pull off without killing a character or making the players feel like you forced them into defeat. The best way to set up a defeat, I’ve found, is give them a situation that must be solved by means that wouldn’t necessarily be in the party’s wheelhouse of solutions. If they see a stone giant, their first reaction may be to fight it. Why limit the stone giant to just that? Fluff him up, make it apparent that fighting this guy will probably be fruitless, or at least imbued with heavy casualties. And if they fight, make them regret it. Perhaps seeing a shady character may prompt to the characters a talking situation is afoot. Surprise is, the shady character has his friends lying in wait to whack the PC’s each off the head while they’re distracted. Take them prisoner? Take their stuff? Maybe simply humiliate them? Keep the players on their toes by making defeat lurk in almost every aspect of the game, jut like in life. Now, don’t brutalize them and make them lose all the time. This is their story, they are the heroes meant to win in the end. But make it feel like an uphill battle at times.

So we see that emotion can be invoked in a number of different positive and negative ways. For those who didn’t read this long rambly bit, some points:

  • Let the PC’s triumph over difficult obstacles that have been dragged out over the course of a campaign
  • Let the PC’s lose every now and again in a non-story changing way. It’ll remind them that they’re not invincible.
  • Take away some of their friends… which sounds awful but tear jerking is always good!

Thanks for reading, and as always…

STAY METAL! \m/

Thoughts After Class

On Wednesday nights, I attend a HEMA class with a group called Forte Swordplay, which is Historical European Martial Arts. This means I train to learn how to use a longsword, sword and buckler, messer, a rondel dagger and a little bit of grappling. Whilst driving home, I had a bit of a train of thought…

Groups like this that preserve history keep the human identity alive in a way. Now, I don’t mean groups in regards to violence, I mean things that are considered an art like combat is. Painting, music, indigenous religion and the like. It helps us remember who we were as a species, and it’s amazing how our bodies forget what our ancestors did so readily. 

Of course, I don’t mean they were just born knowing how to do these things, that notion would be silly. For me, longsword fighting is a peek into the past more than a way to defend myself. It’s almost scary how unaware of my body I am, but fightig with a sword requires your body to be in complete harmony. Talk about difficult. The brain can understand someone else’s movements perfectly without difficulty but try to mimic the movement and this is where you realize that your brain is not as powerful as you’d like! It’s very frustrating but is a very fruitful thing once you get it. I recommend this hobby to anyone interested! Do a Google search, there’s bound to be a HEMA club near you.

Stay Metal \m/

Noita – Korpiklaani

  

I haven’t decided how I’ll do album reviews so I’m just kind of winging it here.

The first track on this album is Viinamäen Mies (or the Vineyard Man, for people unfamiliar with Finnish) has that very familiar polka-type Korpiklaani feel to it. It really makes you want to dance with a wooden tankard full of ale in the forest with some friends. This is a feeling many Korpiklaani songs bring and is very familiar and comforting for a new album from them. I always describe this band to people have never heard of them as “a folk-metal band that makes you want to drink and have a good time” and so far, this album reinforces that feeling. We hear the very crowd friendly “Hey! Hey! Hey!” embedded in the song so I would imagine that this song would be killer to hear live. Really looking forward to hearing this one.

The second track is titled Pilli On Pajusta Tehty (Whistle made of Willow). Ironically… there’s absolutely zero wind instruments in this song. I’m sure this was a joke in the studio whilst putting this one together. The song is pretty much a rock song with the violin and accordion taking a role in the backdrop of the song, which was something we saw on the album Manala more so than the others, which was actually a nice change. Again, more crowd friendly chanting, making for a really great rock song that you can get into.

Third track, Lempo (the Finnish god of fertility). Again we have the folk instruments taking more of the backdrop than the forefront. Some nice rock power chords again with an intro a crowd can take part in (sensing the trend?). This song is slower and more heavy. Jonne’s voice in this song is definitely something that draws attention, he almost sounds as if he’s pleading or praising. Shiver worthy, that’s for sure. The accordion plays actually sounds more Irish/Celtic in melody. Not a bad thing, it’s rather pleasing to tell it true. Towards the end of the song there’s a change in melody where there’s a fiddle solo followed by an accordion solo. Not as fast paced as most other instances in other Korpiklaani songs, but then again this song is heavier and slower as a whole.

Track four, Sahti (home-brewed beer). There’s that folk feel we know and love from Korpiklaani. The first verse (maybe call it the first beer for this one?) is mostly Jonne singing with the instruments coming in for a small bridge leading to the chorus. This album makes it apparent so far that Jonne has come a long way as a singer (compared to the earlier albums). One thing I picked up on going through this song is that the guitar tuning and tone almost has a sort of classic rock feel to it. There’s a bit where there’s some really impressive accordion work in this song and when you think about how fast that guys fingers are having to move, you can’t help but be impressed. Towards the end we have the classic Finnish singing of “Lai Lai” and I LOVE IT!

Track five, Luontoni (My Nature). This one comes out swinging with some faster guitar chord progressions with the accordion running a nice little almost pirate sounding melody (which is a little out of character but good nonetheless). The chorus in this song is really heabang worthy, what a catchy tune. Overall a rather one dimensional song but till very enjoyable.

Track six, Minä Näin Vedessä Neidon (I Saw a Maiden in the Water). The intro of this song reminds me of Synkkä from Manala, which very much pleases me. It almost sounds a little more ethereal, almost like a hymn or something. The guitars through the intro of the song are acoustic with some background singing to Jonne’s story telling. The chorus is HEAVY! Man, there’s a quick build up for the first one that prepares you for it before it smacks you in the face with some GREAT and simple distorted guitar riffs. A screeching fiddle solo in the middle of the song really gives it this sense of urgency, a nice touch right before a tempo change for the drums in the chorus to follow.

Track seven, Jouni Jouni (John John). This sounds like an 80s rock song to me, not a Korpiklaani one. The track starts with a chugging palm muted guitar riff but a light hearted sound to it. I’m no expert Finnish speaker but this song seems to be about a drunk guy that likes to burn down Saunas and gets arrested for it. Interesting. Maybe this is why it sounds like a classic rock song? Sound like something that would happen to Mötley Crüe. There’s some nods to some iconic guitar riffs from the American music scene in here and it’s kind of funny. The overall feeling of the song reminds me of a Bar scene in a movie or something, bunch of tough guys hanging around playing pool and smoking cigarettes indoors. Ooh, how badass.

Edit: It hit me like a brick wall after i posted this. The song is a nod to Mony Mony by Billy Idol. Wow.

Track eight, Kylästä Keväinen Kehto (A Springlike Cradle form the Village). Again, I can’t help but get this like classic rock/80s feel from this. I don’t really have much to say about this one besides that it doesn’t feel like Korpiklaani to me. If you take the song as it is, it’s really not bad but simply not what I crave when listening to this band. There is a break mid-song with a nice accordion bit but then  shortly after I’m greeted by this 80s tough guy sound again. One thing I can speak for again is Jonne showing off his voice for the chorus, a very big strong point of the album thus far. Overall, I didn’t really care for this song.

Track nine, Ämmänhauta (Witch’s Tomb). The start of this song is some nature sounds, with a crow cawing occasionally, though it only lasts for a few seconds before we’re greeted by a flowing fiddle melody with an electric guitar following in not long after. Very nice. Then, we slink into a rock guitar riff that I’m not very impressed by. The chorus has a nice flow to it and an overall enjoyable ambiance to it. After the first chorus, there’s only a slight difference in guitar riff but it changes to a sound that is a lot more palatable to me. Overall as another slower/heavier rock tone, it’s enjoyable as the song goes on.

Track ten, Sen Verran Minäkin Noita (There’s Some Witch in me too). Double bass and some tremolo picking, interesting start. I open a beer to enjoy with this tune. Still a heavy rock presence felt for this tune leaning more towards heavy metal, but in a way that I’m very much enjoying so far. As the title suggests, this song has a darker sound to it but not so dark as to impeach on Korpiklaani’s style. This is about as close to angry as this band has gotten by my memory but man, do I like it! About 2 mins in there’s some joik singing in the background which I have always liked about Korpiklaani, but you have to be paying attention or you won’t hear it. Only just paying attention, this is a long one at 6 minutes 37 seconds. There’s a big atmosphere change halfway through, slows way down and heads deeper into the heavy territory. Lot’s of accordion and fiddle diddling around towards the end of the heavier bit, makes for an interesting medley of sounds. A hard strum of a guitar chord takes us to the conclusion of this song as it fades out and we are greeted by the joik we so know and love.

Track eleven, a bonus track, Antaja (Giver). Now THIS is the Korpiklaani sound I’ve been wanting from this album! Some very nice folk sounds in the start of this song, though slow and not much polka-style as a lot of their other music. Well… I spoke too soon. There’s the rock again. Though not bad, just very generic. The chorus on this one keeps with the heavier trend of the album with some big sounding power chords but is a good break from the rather pressing chorus. As this song goes on, and even as the rock elements present themselves again, I find myself enjoying this song immensely. There’s a break towards the end where all instruments rest while the bass plays a segment of the verse riff that catches me off guard but makes me smile.

So here’s my final thoughts:

This album is a far cry from what I know and love about Korpiklaani. The previous albums Manala, Ukon Wacka and Karkelo did hint at more of a rock direction from this band, but Noita took that and ran to the other side of the hall. The first four tracks had me very excited for the rest of the album but I soon was disappointed. I wouldn’t consider Noita a bad album but not so much a Korpiklaani album that I would prefer, I’d rather listen to Korven Kunnigas or Voice of the Wilderness. However, this will not deter me from actually purchcasing this album. A poisitive point on this album is that Jonne was able to branch out vocally, while the music took more of the background. The last two tracks did grab my attention as much as the first two as far as atmosphere, simply because it was a linear story and I do enjoy when bands do that. In conclusion; If you like a rock sound, then reach for this album. If you expect this to be like the older Korpiklaani, maybe give it a try but be warned. Do I like this album? Yes, because it’s Korpiklaani.

 

Stay Metal! \m/

Do you really want to read this…

To be honest, this post is just going to be a senseless ramble for the most part… so if you don’t like that kind of thing, now’s the time to jump ship.

 

Sitting here on  an unseasonably warm February morning drinking a rather large amount of dark roast coffee out of my Darth Vader helmet mug and I can’t help but think:

Who came up with the idea of smashing little beans into grounds and filtering water through it?

I mean honestly, it’s pretty random. Almost like the guy who first figured out he could drink cow’s milk, but less disturbing. Early humanity was an impressive thing and (I would assume) did a lot of random stuff to figure out the things we take for granted today. Looking at how metal is forged kind of is the epitome of this sort of amazement with the subject. Iron ore literally looks like a funky rock. It’s hard to tell the difference between iron ore and a rock or just simply dirt/dust to the untrained eye. Some brilliant mind of the old humanity said to himself, “I wonder what would happen if I put this in a little thing of clay bricks and left it in a stone container above an insanely hot fire for hours…” and freaking voila, metal has been discovered! It’s really just mind boggling. To go back even further, making stone weapons is such a precise art that the fact that the beings that figured it out are considered to an extent less evolved than we are is almost sad. I definitely can’t make a stone arrow head or dagger, one mistake and the whole thing crumbles into dust.

Not that long ago, out of curiosity, I watched a documentary on how chocolate was made, from harvesting to factory to packaging. Seriously, it’s just another one of those random “I wonder what would happen” things. Looking at a cocoa nib, you can’t help but wonder, what freaking genius turned this into a delicious nectar of the gods?! In modern day society it’s almost like we don’t value these aspects of craftsmanship. Creativity and ingenuity drive the industrial world and the degree of those two traits needed to discover the most basic of our resources and foods today, I feel, is almost absent from the daily perception. But then again, perhaps not many people think of these things and even less that do think of them actually do some research for the insight.

Personally, I enjoy looking at prehistoric, iron age, medieval and Renaissance period technology just because those periods didn’t have the degree of stuff we do today. More so the older than the Renaissance, these periods just seem so primitive but have this strange allure to me (and probably a large sum of other people for the same reason). Perhaps the life we lead today is too complicated for my taste, though I do thoroughly enjoy the internet and other stuff that our society has built us. Or perhaps I enjoy it so much because it’s idealized to a degree, the mystery of it draws me to it. Meh, who knows? These are probably things people are going to be talking about until we finally destroy the planet and go extinct.

It seems to me as if humanity as a whole has this huge obsession with the past. Nostalgia is what I would assume one of the most craved emotions next to love or happiness or comfort. I’m sure there’s some psychological explanation (which my girlfriend would be more than glad to lecture me about for more than 4 hours) as to why this is, but nonetheless, it’s fascinating. Ah well… rambling over.

Stay metal \m/

 

 

What is 13th Age?

13th Age RPG.. oh, man; how I love this game. This game is your standard d20 RPG system developed by a company out of the UK called Pegrane Press. The team that developed this game was stacked (Rob Heinsoo, Johnathan Tweet, Lee Moyer, Aaron McConnell and many more) and it certainly shows!

The overall tone of the core rulebook (13th Age) is rather snarky and not very serious, thus making it rather interesting to read to be honest. Personally, I don’t think that can be said for many rulebooks. But what about the system itself? It runs off of what Pelgrane Press calls the Archmage Engine, which is their D20 sytem, as opposed to their GUMSHOE system which is a D6 based system. If I’m being perfectly honest; If you’ve played that other RPG that rhymes with Mungins and Tagons, you’ve played this one. Now that’s not true to the point where it’s a perfect replica, 13th Age does a lot of things better and also has a lot of mechanics the other game doesn’t.

Where to begin?  So firstly, I suppose, 13th age is your run of the mill D20 system in regards to how you do things; Skill checks are a D20 roll + an ability against an unspecified DC (obviously known by your GM), attacking an enemy is a D20 roll + an ability and so on and so forth. HOWEVER! What I really enjoy about this game is that there are no skills to add to die rolls. Now some of you are probably going to be shocked by that if you’re used to some more crunchy game sytems that rhyme with… oh nevermind, you know what I’m talking about. So this game has a mechanic called the Backgrounds mechanic, which I believe to be ultimately superior to skills. In basic terms, it’s a more story driven version of skills. You have 8 points to spend on these backgrounds (which you actually make up) and the title of the background can pertain to a wide range of skills. The best part though for those game breaking players, is that you can only have a max of 5 point in one backgrounds (for the guy that has the “I’m good at everything, hurr durr” background.

For example: You could have a human cleric. Let’s say that I envisioned this character to have found whatever god he/she’s worshipping by being some lowly street drug addict. I could have a background titled “Junkie on the Streets of The Cathedral +3”. Now why so specific? Because it tells me something about my character that’s a little more interesting than saying “street urchin” or “former drug addict” This covers the who and what. The when and how might be brought up during an in character conversation and creates a roleplay opportunity for you and your mates! Look at that, gaming made easy.

That was a lot more specific than I originally wanted to make this post because I will cover mechanics in detail at a later date. So to back track a little bit, this game (to me) is the perfect D20 system that has rules embedded in it to help flesh out your character. The biggest drastic difference from that other game is that there’s no alignment/deity system inherently built into the game. You MAKE all of that stuff up yourself! It’s brilliant.

So let’s see here…

Encourages roleplaying and character development? Check.

Simple mechanics that don’t involve tedious skill tracking? Check.

Awesome artwork in the book to help inspire you? Check.

What more could you want from a game, I mean seriously. Go out and buy this one, it’s a worthy investment. If you’re not sold just yet, there’s an SRD out there. Check that out before you commit to a purchase to see if the overall idea is appealing. If you are sold however, you can visit Pelgrane Press and purchase it from there to get crackin’. When you buy the book, please ignore the elf ranger on the cover that’s using her bow COMPLETELY wrong..  gave me a chuckle however.

Happy Gaming and Stay Metal! \m/

 

 

My Favorite Mechanic: The OUT!

  
Easily my favorite mechanic in 13th Age is called the One Unique Thing. The line in the book pertaining to this idea is as follows:

“Each character should have one unique feature you invent for him or her when you create the character. Your one unique thing is an unusual trait that sets your character apart from every other hero. The moment when all the players sit down together with the GM to create their characters’ one unique thing is often the moment when a campaign comes to life.”

-13th age, Page 31

Now what does this mean? This is a random thing that is not mechanically beneficial but can help develop the story or simply just make your character interesting. Wow, isn’t that nice? RPG gamers have been doing this thing for decades but FINALLY there’s a system that makes it part of the rules! Holy cow! From my experience, since I game with a lot of rather creative people, the one unique thing is a huge part of the story line of a campaign. The rulebook itself provides some quick examples such as “I’m a deathless pirate whose soul is trapped in a gem controlled by The Blue” but most of the ones in the book seem a little one dimensional to me. Don’t get me wrong, though, there’s definitely some good ones in there.

The best one unique thing I have ever seen was actually used in a 4e game (boo, hiss, I know. Get over it, we liked it for a while). At the time, 13th Age was still in the playtest stages and we liked what we saw, it just wasn’t complete enough to run a spanning game with it. But, regardless we liked the idea and translated it to 4e temporarily to spice things up along with the Icon Relationship mechanic, which will be covered later. We had a character that was playing the Warlord class, he was a dwarf, and his name was Incendius. His one unique thing was “I was once a part of a mining expedition that dug a little too deep and ended up in the Diabolists living room. She enslaved my crew and sent me into the world with this two handed maul. She said to send people to her with it.” So that alone is pretty freaking cool! But it gets better: Whenever he killed somebody with a melee attack using that maul, he would roll a d4. On a one, the body was sucked into the ground and delivered to the Diabolist, in return she released a dwarf from her custody. One could argue that it was a mechanical one unique thing, but I believe it was more for story flavor. The guy running the game liked the idea, and I’m sure if he had a recurring villain in mind, he wouldn’t have allowed this idea to work for that specific character for whatever reason he deemed to explain it as. That’s what an RPG is though, no matter what system your running: a push and pull, a compromise between story and rules.

What a damn good idea that was. Everybody’s character in the party had this astounding fear of Incendius, with the idea that if we didn’t keep fighting, he would turn on us just to have something to send to the Diabolist. Not all one unique things have to be so in depth though. I’ve seen both sides of the coin, now that I’ve dedicated a large part of my gaming career to introducing people to this wonderful system. In my ongoing campaign, (which has been running for almost 3 years now, holy crap) we have a blend of player experience levels.  We have a dwarf paladin that’s one unique thing is as simple as “My armor is a family heirloom and it changes color from blue to red with my emotions, hiding them is harder than I would like.” Bam. Simple, interesting, plenty of room for role play and character interaction. Our intermediate player has an elf cleric whose baby sister was murdered by the forces of the Orc Lord, so her mission in life is to foil his plans. Our more experienced player has basically fleshed out a whole story with his OUT (which is the acronym i use more often than not for the One Unique Thing). Sometimes I’m a little sour about it simply because it forces me to focus on his character. I’m not sour because I don’t want to focus on his character, don’t get me wrong, but maybe sometimes the players wouldn’t like to. That subject is for a different post though in the GM advice section, managing the spot light can be tricky.

Here are some one unique things I’ve played games with for your character if you’re somewhat stumped on an idea:

  • Forgeborn character: I am actually an animated suit of armor. My wearer is still inside of me and sometimes the magic that animates me leaks into his body to make him wake up a little.
  • Any Magic user: I carry around late master’s encoded journal, I’m convinced it holds an arcane secret of the Age.
  • Twygzog character (fungaloid race): People think I have dandruff but that’s actually just spores.
  • Any character with a literature related background: One of my peoms was read by the Archmage. Before I knew it, the patron in it came to life as an ink golem and lives his life thinking he’s an actual person.
  • Any race: I am actually convinced that I am a(n) (insert race).
  • Necromancer class (13 True Ways book): My summoned creatures are actually my ancestors
What are some of your best One Unique Things? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear!
Stay metal \m/
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