Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shaman's Handbook from Green Ronin

Hands-down one of my favorite offerings from Green Ronin (and that's saying something), The Shaman's Handbook is the best interpretation of the shaman class v3.* ever got. Others, including the recent Expanded Shaman, the Genius Guide to the Shaman, and the oracle/witch blend from the upcoming Advanced Class Guide, do a solid job of getting the feel of a shaman across, but Green Ronin's offering by Steve Kenson dove deeper into the world history, planar connections, and unique spells than any other supplement. The catch? It's been out of print for years. Paizo Publishing must have gotten hold of some copies, because for the first time in a decade, The Shaman's Handbook is available in print and it's only $2!

Two other Master Class books worthy of tracking down are The Psionicist Handbook and The Witch's Handbook. The Psionicist Handbook is a skill-based take on psionics perfect for d20 Modern and scifi games. Like The Shaman's Handbook, The Witch includes history and cultural flavor to expand on Pathfinder's own witch class.

Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Shaman before they disappear. Again.


If you are excited about classes like these, keep an eye out next year for The Ultimate Witch and The Ultimate Shaman from Christina Stiles Presents and Rogue Genius Games.

And for more on Steve Kenson, click here.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Roleplaying Game: Numenera

"Numenera is a perfect example of what Monte Cook does best--create fascinating settings while stretching the boundaries of what RPGs can do."

Earlier in the year, gaming legend Monte Cook decided to post a $20,000 Kickstarter to publish a new roleplaying game he called Numenera. It hit goal within hours and closed at a stunning half-a-million dollars. Why? Monte Cook has been a trusted name for quality and innovation since the turn of the century and when he says he's creating a new RPG, you can bet the industry will be listening.

What is a Roleplaying Game?

Roleplaying games are tabletop games where players work together to create a story, similar to the way improvisational actors create a story on stage, or friends tell campfire stories. One player, often called a Gamemaster (GM), Storyteller (ST), or Dungeonmaster (DM), plays the part of the writer/director/producer. Unlike a novel, movie or play, though, the characters are created by each individual player instead of the writer. A GM creates the world for the players to interact in, but the players control their own actions and reactions. Roleplaying games exist for any and every genre--horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, pulp, secret agent, alternate history, romance, superheroes, etc. Any movie, TV show, or novel you've seen or read can be the setting for a roleplaying game; in fact, TV shows (Stargate SG-1, Firefly), movies (Star Wars), comic books (Marvel, DC), novels (The Wheel of Time, Game of Thrones) and even computer roleplaying games (Warcraft) have all inspired their own tabletop RPGs.

The GM acts as a rules moderator. They also play the parts of supporting cast characters (Non-Player Characters, or NPCs), describe settings, grant clues, and putt interesting plot twists in front of the players to make the game as fun and interesting as possible. Players react to these plot twists and clues based on their own motivations and their interactions with other players. Though players may accomplish goals, like tracking down a killer or solving the mystery of the Lost Ark of the Covenant, there is no winning or losing in roleplaying games. A game is a win if everyone has a great time.


Numenera is a science fantasy RPG inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Numenera takes us far enough into the future (a billion years or so) that the Earth is so different, with technology so bizarre and beyond our current understanding, that it feels like magic. Eight major civilizations have risen and fallen, including extraterrestrial and extradimensional incursions, and the world is coming out of a Dark Ages. Bizarre creatures and inscrutable technologies cover the planet, waiting to be discovered; floating towers, machines plugged into the molten core of the planet, strange vehicles, mutants, satellites, and a ubiquitous haze of nanobots that fills the atmosphere. These objects are scavenged by the current generation like medieval farmers using the stones of abandoned Roman aqueducts to make their homes.

The word Numenera comes from "numinous", meaning something that has a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity. The people of Earth worship this technology, often using it for purposes never intended by their creators.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pathfinder Campaign: Jade Regent Adventure Path

Jade Regent Book 1: The Brinewall Legacy
As I mentioned on my main-page post, I've recently signed on to freelance for a Pathfinder supplement on lycanthropes and am having a fantastic time with it. Going hand-in-hand with that, I and writer John Michael Perkins started a bi-monthly Pathfinder game several months ago. I'm excited to be back behind the DMs screen next week running one of my favorite of Paizo Publishing's award winning Adventure Paths--The Jade Regent.

Friday, May 3, 2013

RPG: Depth of Character, Developing Character Arc at the Table

The best characters in literature go through change. They start a story in one emotional or mental state and end someplace very different. They may want something, or believe they want something, at the start of a story, then by the end want something very different. In writing, we call it character growth, or a character's arc.

When you are developing a character for any roleplaying game, keep in mind what emotional state they are starting in and how they may change by the time the campaign or story is over. You don't have to know exactly what that change will be, but giving a character the opportunity to grow adds depth and freshness to Player Characters (PCs), particularly in long campaigns. The change may be purely roleplaying, like hating a particular race, culture or non-player character (NPC), then learning to trust them, or it may manifest itself as a game-related change, like adding levels in a new class. Or it could be both.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Gateway Strategy: Smallworld (2-5+ players)

"It doesn't matter how many players or how old they are, Small World delivers a fun, fast-paced game every time and is a cornerstone of our collection."

Small World is a tile-based strategy game for 2-5 players ages 8 and up. Rules are simple, play is fast and it is as fun for two players as it is for five. When combined with the Small World: Underground stand-alone expansion and the Tunnels expansion (found in Small World: Realms) you can play with up to 6 players. Small World is also available on iPad (2-player only).

What is a Gateway Game?

Gateway games are ideal for introducing non-gamers to the hobby. Gateway games help retrain player's minds away from roll-the-dice-move-the-piece classics like Sorry and Monopoly and opens them to new possibilities. They're also perfect for introducing gaming to kids.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

RPG: Who's Laughing Now?

Yet another example of why Paizo publishing is the best in the business is a fun little campaign book called Misfit Monsters Redeemed. At least, I thought it was a fun little book.

The aptly named flail snail.
It's as threatening as it sounds.
Misfit Monsters is a re-imagining of some of the weirdest, most inane critters from decades of Dungeons & Dragons. Ten classic creatures were pulled from the Fiend Folio, Monster Manual II, Monster Manual v3.0 and the fan-favorite module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. They were then handed to Paizo writers with the challenge of making them awesome. I picked up MMR when I was converting Expedition to the Pathfinder d20 system and had been hoping for a stat update or a few interesting ideas to keep my old-school friends off-balance. Instead this "fun little book" wrote a chill down my spine.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

RPG: In Defense of Skill Challenges

SPOILER ALERT: If you plan on running/playing Red Hand of Doom, by Rich Baker and James Jacobs, this blog makes reference to an event that occurs at the end of Part 1 (5 Parts total). Red Hand of Doom is one of the best written sandbox-style modules for DnD v3.5. If you haven't run it, you should.


A common complaint about 4th edition DnD is that it reduced all roleplaying opportunities to skill checks via the Skill Challenge mechanic. You should never let a game tell you that you can't roleplay, but I understand where the concern comes from because I felt the same way. Then I started playing with the mechanic.

What I discovered was that when properly used, skill challenges enhanced roleplaying while keeping high stress situations, like sneaking into a dragon's lair, stressful. I never used them for important social interactions, like swaying a council to heed a warning about an oncoming horde, in the same way I'd never have let a single Diplomacy check persuade them, but physical challenges like chase scenes and social interactions with less important PCs became much more interesting.

Below is an example of a skill challenge I constructed for the 3rd edition module, "Red Hand of Doom", which I converted to 4th edition. In this scene, the players are escaping the burning town of Drellin's Ferry as its being overrun by a horde they could not stop. In the module, the scene is vaguely described (something like, 'as the PCs escape from the burning town, they must evade patrols'), but this skill challenge allowed the stress of the chase to build and gave the players multiple options if they succeeded.

House Rules: Small World Underground

One of the new elements in Small World: Underground are monsters that protect Popular Places and Righteous Relics. In the original Small World, a number of starting spaces contained a single tile of an ancient fallen race (known as Smurfs in our home games). In SWU, these starting spaces instead contain a pair of monster tiles. When the monsters are defeated, the player reveals a random token from a stack of Righteous Relics and Popular Places. These new monster tiles have one of seven images on them, but all monster tiles are mechanically identical, counting as two extra tiles you must defeat to take the space.

Why waste fun art?! It only took us one game to set up house rules for our critters and now it's time to share. It's a small world, after all.