Sunday, January 6, 2013

Nitpicking and Reviews

I've accumulated a fair bit of gaming material that I'm only just now getting the chance to more closely examine and sort through. Here are some of my thoughts, opinions, impressions, and notes.
I'll do my best not to pick at every typo and mess-up, though it goes against my nature.

Left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Lamentations of the Flame Princess (with tiny dice), The Magnificent Joop van Ooms, Thrilling Locations, Monstercology: Orcs, DM Campaign Record

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Grindhouse Edition)

Overall this is a really nice set of rules, and I'm glad I finally picked up a hard copy. In particular, the spells are awesome. I know there are a lot of reviews of this already, but I haven't read most of them, so I may re-iterate tired points.
  • The tiny dice are awesome.
  • The "Adventuring" section is ordered alphabetically, which means that things like skills aren't grouped under one heading. This is weird, because they're all essentially the same mechanic, but appear interspersed with unrelated things.
  • The color pages in the middle are unreferenced and unlabelled. This probably wouldn't irk me so much if they didn't remind me of photo plates from old technical books.
  • In two places I feel like I missing something: the spell "Strange Waters II" and the example item "Purple Lotus Powder Type II", which are both missing their "Version I"s. In particular I feel like Strange Waters II is an artifact from some editing pass.
  • The Referee's booklet (p. 76) has a table for converting AC between several systems. It is unreferenced and uncaptioned, which is a shame because it's a useful thing that could use more attention.
I knew this going in, but it irks me that there is no separation of game and setting. There exists no non-grindhouse edition, and many of the rules are specific to a certain tone of campaign. For example, the summoning spell is all I'd heard it was, but several of the special forms are too dark (or meta) for my tastes. I think I may use some of Scrap Princess's stuff should the need for substitutes arise.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess can be purchased at the LotFP store. A free version, sans art can be downloaded from the LotFP blog.

The Magnificent Joop van Ooms

by James Edward Raggi IV

The stuff about Joop van Ooms himself I may or may not use (it's good, but doesn't grab me), but the first half of the booklet is excellent for any city with a wharf or a black market.
  • The convenient (half-A4?) size fits well in the box for LotFP, which is convenient because I feel like it might get damaged on its own.
  • "Down on the Wharf" - a giant encounter table:
    • 8 - "[everyone dies, Amsterdam is gone, start over]" annoys me. It might be passable, but it's not very fun and the tone offends me. I'll re-roll the event if I want to, or interpret it as I will. "Seriously." or not.
    • 28 - missed opportunity for a stealth table, by ending the list with "wherever". A trivial decision could have been avoided by padding the list of cities just a bit.
    • 48 - people die in random and unexpected ways, and I guess that could be interesting. But I'll probably make this into an assassin-mage's Lightning Bolt. This also takes care of the awkward moment when nobody at the table has a d30.
  • As an adventure hook, "rocks fall, everyone dies" is even more out of place than in a table because there are no circumstances under which someone might be forced to "run with it". Ironically, this one gives better chances of survival and more details than the other one.
The Magnificent Joop van Ooms can be purchased at the LotFP Store as well.

The Bloodmoon Goblins

by John Grana

One of the first Kickstarter projects I backed, it was finally released (a little more than a year late) last month. Despite my annoyance at its delay, it seems like a solid product to me. Some of my players have expressed interest in playing goblins, so I may give it a try.
  • The lack of "splat" is surprisingly pleasing. I suppose I've just gotten used to ignoring lists of feats and spells.
  • The book keeps an informal tone, but restricts actual joking to frequent sidebars. This distinction pleases me.
  • It takes a decidedly old-school approach to the campaign, in that it starts off more controlled ("The king says to do this") but the end-game is ultimately player-driven ("We want to overthrow the king","We want to establish trade relations with . . .", etc.).
The Bloodmoon Goblins can be purchased at DriveThru RPG for (free sample at same).

Monstercology: Orcs

by Rick Maffei

Of all the 4E stuff I got, this book looked the most approachable (I know very little about 4E). It's basically what it says on the tin: a book about orcs. Unfortunately, most of the fluff (not all) falls flat and the crunch is too system-specific for me.
  • Physiology and Habits is the best of the fluff to me. I may make some notes on this section before inevitably passing it on.
  • Relationships with Other Races is something I hadn't considered before. Most of this I don't care for, but I like the Orc-Drow dynamic.
  • I don't think it was necessary to make four subspecies of orc and three new  cross-breeds. I just can't justify it.
  • The table Pocket Items (p. 43) was almost reason enough to keep the book, except that it's been done before (and non-specific pickpocket tables would also work). Upon further investigation the Flask Subtable does not actually have anything alcoholic, which is a grave oversight.
  • The names orcish deities are occasionally confused: I'm tempted to let it slide, but I take it as an indication that they were becoming bland and indistinguishable even to the authors.
Monstercology: Orcs can be purchased at the Goodman Games Store.

DM Campaign Record

Another pull from the grab-bag, and also technically a 4E supplement, but it seems pretty system-neutral to me.
  • Pretty good coverage of what I'd want to keep track of: calendars, major NPCs, character stats, deaths, custom encounter tables, house rules, etc. and also what books are allowed.
  • Does not have any pre-compiled content, which is something I've taken a liking to.
  • Has one of those aforementioned pickpocket tables, with a target social-class subsystem. Handily, this system is also used in the quick NPC features section.
  • Has one of those tavern name tables. Probably not the most useful of things.
  • Is missing credits for Interior Art, Graphic Design, and tellingly, Proofreader.
  • Although its a 4E product, it still has the OGL in the back, and the text of it refers to "Character Codex".
Then again, this was from a grab bag, so it's possibly a reject of some sort.
The DM Campaign Record can be purchased at the Goodman Games Store.

Thrilling Locations

A Supplement for the James Bond 007 Game

Contains rules for playing in casinos, hotels, restaurants, trains, boats, planes, and airports, as well as floor-plans for major locations in the movies. I will confess to not only having no familiarity with the system, but also to not having really watched very much James Bond.
  • Information overload. Some of these things really could have been left out:
    • Population of Monaco, pros and cons of citizenship (p.14-15).
    • Rules for roulette, baccarat, blackjack, etc. (p. 19-22).
    • Great Hotels of the World (p. 44-45)
    • Great Restaurants of the World (p. 65).
    • I could go on . . .
  • It's unclear to me if this is intended for the players or the GM. Most of it is clearly GM-only, such as who is secretly spying for who, and whether or not the wine is poisoned. But, for example "The Bed's Too Small" (a sub-section of "Notes for the Gamemaster" (p. 47-48)) contains two pages of tricks that players may wish to employ in securing their rooms. Many of them are not at all obvious to the player, so I don't see what use a GM would have for them.
  • It's unclear to me what this is: sometimes it reads like a set of pre-written unlinked encounters, sometimes like vicarious fiction about the life of luxury, sometimes like a leaflet from the board of tourism, sometimes like the CIA World Factbook, and sometimes like the toolbox I'd kind of expected.
  • The system has some wonky separation of character and role, which makes it difficult for me to follow what's meant to be happening sometimes.
Now that I've written all that, it occurs to me that this was probably not a great purchase. But if you're interested, or know something I don't know, I bought my copy of Thrilling Locations from Paizo.

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

by Zak S.

Let's not end on that note, shall we? Here's a truly awesome product that is maybe the best thing I have ever paid money for. And the competition is all more expensive.
(Bear with me, my notes are rough and I don't have my copy with me.)
  • The covers being used as "drop-tables" to generate random values is immensely cool. But it makes me want to model the probability distributions of the dice, how different dice bounce and roll, how it changes if the edges are bounded, what biases are introduced by a right or left-handed player . . .
  • Something somewhere in the book triggered a ramble in my notebook about the common tongue that I can't figure out at the moment.
  • My lovely girlfriend suggests that the cursed tome could inflict more accurate psychological afflictions by using DSM-IV codes. If I ever figure out the dice to do that, I'll be posting it here.
  • When re-rolling on the table of book subjects (p.49) to determine the actual subject of the book you have just determined the language of, there is no need to discard rolls of other languages:
What I believe to be a Swedish textbook about the French language.

Which takes care of that particular ugliness (I dislike discarding and rerolling). A lot of the mechanics in the book are particularly elegant, to say nothing of the actual gaming material, which I can't wait to use.
Print copies of Vornheim are increasingly difficult to find, but a PDF can be purchased at the LotFP store.

Let's Read the AD&D 2E Monstrous Manual

While we're on the subject of really awesome things, here is one of the best things I have paid no money for. I can't possibly begin to communicate the number of ideas I've gotten from it, or the amount of time I've spent reading it (I'm still only in "G"). Whoever linked it to me, I hate you forever and thank you so much.
  • My only regret is the occasional dead link, usually to a picture. I suppose I'll have to go actually acquire a copy of the Monstrous Manual, but then I'm not sure I could call this a free product anymore, because this is the only reason I would buy it for money.
  • When I eventually finish, it might be amusing to go back through and tabulate the creatures with usable corpses or valuable eggs or some other recurring theme.
The threads are consolidated here, and formatted and indexed in a PDF here. The author, noisms, has an excellent blog, and this guy informs us that one of the contributors also publishes stuff on Paizo's website.

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