Monday, December 19, 2016

D&D 5e: Running Nightstone (Storm King's Thunder)

Source: Tumblr of Gabriel Cassata, freelance artist (used with permission).
I've just started my players into A Great Upheaval, the first chapter (free from Wizards of the Coast) in Storm King's Thunder adventure path . In a prior article, I've already noted some of the adventure design mis-steps that I've come across just in the reading, but a few other minor foibles have been revealed while running the opening chapter in the village of Nightstone.

So here are just a few small tips for DM's to make it run a little smoother.

Some spoilers follow, so if you are planning to play in a Storm King's Thunder campaign, you should stop reading now. For my own players, you can read this after our early January sessions.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One

Disclaimer: This is outside of my usual D&D-related posts, but I have to comment being a huge Star Wars nerd. 

Go see this movie. Just go. Like right now! 

No real spoilers ahead.

Back before Disney, I was never a huge Expanded Universe fan. Many of the books often read like some authors' Mary Sue (or Marty Sue) versions of Luke, Han and Leia at best, or internet fan fiction at worst.

But there were some exceptions... specifically books that featured other characters in the Star Wars universe outside of the core three (or four, if you include Chewbacca, but he never really got his own novel...). The point is I was more interested in seeing different protagonists in the Star Wars universe aside from the movie characters. Among those novels were the likes of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy and Micheal Stackpole's Rogue Squadron.

So when Rogue One was announced, my interest was piqued. I was pretty sure it would not include Corran Horn, but I liked the idea of a movie that told the story of the Rebellion from a different group of Rebels... and the fact that no one has force powers is HUGE.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

D&D 5e: A Plethora of Class Options in Unearthed Arcana

Wow, I must have been sleeping under a rock to miss this one!

I knew that the revised Ranger options had come out in the last couple months, but I had no idea Mike Mearls' Unearthed Arcana articles had been putting out new class options nearly every week!

If you have desired more class options for 5e (I hadn't really... until I read some of these!), then you definitely need to check out the recent UA articles.

There's a few "meh" options, but there's also so much cool. I definitely recommend checking out their wild shape suggestions for Druids. The Druid also has a couple of really interesting new circles... and if you hadn't already been awaiting the Ranger updates, you should check it out! There's really a lot to digest in these.

Be aware that these are play test option, so may be somewhat broken in some places. A discussion between the DM and players needs to occur beforehand, so that there are no hard feeling if the DM has to nerf some power.

Artificer (new class) - Alchemist, Gunsmith

Barbarian Paths - Path of the Ancestral Guardian, Path of the Storm Herald, Path of the Zealot

Bard Colleges - College of Glamour, College of Whispers

Cleric Domains - Forge Domain, Grave Domain, Protection Domain

Druid Circles - Circle of Dreams, Circle of the Shepherd, Circle of Twilight, Wildshape Options (!)

Fighter Options - Arcane Archer, Knight, Samurai

Monk Traditions - Way of the Kensei, Way of Tranquility

Paladin Oaths - Oath of Conquest, Oath of Treachery

Ranger Revisions - Beast Conclave, Hunter Conclave, Deep Stalker Conclave

More Rangers and Rogues - Horizon Walker, Primeval Gaurdian, Scout

Divine Casters -  Warlock Patron: The Seeker, Arcane Tradition: Theurgy

Upcoming weeks will feature the Mystic, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard.

Tell me what you like about the new class options in the comments. I'm still wading through a number of these PDFs, but this looks a bit like a Player's Handbook 2 in the making. Also, let me know if you or your player have tried any of these new options. I'm interested to hear what may be broken... Leave a comment!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

D&D: Giant Miniatures Are Back (and bigger than ever) Again!

Even since the earliest days of D&D Miniatures Game (the skirmish game), I have been collecting the skirmish minis for use with the D&D table top game as well. I'd hazard a guess that the great majority of the consumers of the random booster packs were actually using the minis for D&D table top and not necessarily for the skirmish game. In 2008, Wizards of the Coast stopped selling the skirmish game, but continued to sell random booster packs of miniatures. The most recent line, Icons of the Realms, is licensed for production through WizKids.

Due to the high price of plastic, larger miniature were quite expensive to produce, and were therefore almost always rare creatures. The sculpts themselves were also often not particularly large in order to save production costs. Wizards of the Coast tried to mitigate some of this problem by introducing booster sets that specifically included at least 1 large or huge creature in each booster pack, but large creatures were still rare and pretty expensive on the secondary markets. With Storm King's Thunder, Wizards of the Coast (through WizKids) has brought back huge miniatures, and they don't disappoint. It is likely the falling price of oil (the main ingredient in plastic resin) has made these much larger figures cheaper to produce than in prior years. (Makes a great Christmas gift!)

A line up of the new giants showing the enlarged scale - Fomorian, Frost, Cloud, Fire, Hill. You can get them here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

D&D 5e: Haunting Halloween Adventures

Looking for a spooky adventure for your Halloween game? It's that time of year again when people are searching for thematic adventures with a Halloween twist [updated for 2018!]. So, what if you are not running Curse of Strahd?  Is there anything else out there which will scratch that Halloween itch?

Well, you are in luck. There are several 1 to 2 session length adventures that can add a spooky side trek into your current campaign. Here are a few quickies that might work out. A couple of these might take a bit of translation for D&D 5th Edition, but the work will be well worth the fun.

Death House
This free adventure from Wizards of the Coast is the opening volley for the Curse of Strahd adventure path. However, even if you don't plan on running a Barovia game, you can modify some of the elements to be able to drop it into any campaign. As a one-shot, it works wonderfully since you can playing it like a DCC "funnel" adventure and kill your PCs with impunity.

Nothing Unusual Here
The citizens of Mudhole are unusually fond of their miniature pigs, carrying the pigs with them everywhere... all the time. Is it a pet fad or something more sinister? A side trek for 1st - 3rd level PCs.

Lord of the White Fields - Dungeon Magazine, issue #184
Also originally a 4th edition adventure, this side trek explore what happens when a sliver the Ghoul King's power leaks into a small village. This is another zombie... er... ghoul apocalypse style adventure that make the PCs solve the mystery before the realm is overrun by ghouls. This was also a lot of fun to run when my group played 4e. This has not been converted for D&D 5th Edition, but a quick conversion using the ghoul and ghast stat block right out of the Monster Manual would likely create an adventure for about levels 4 to 6 (give or take).

Horror at Havels Cross
Similar in spirit to Lord of White Field, this level 2 adventure written for 5th Edition Basic D&D, also has ghoulish entanglements.

The Chapel on the Cliffs
An army of skeletons drives away explorers of this ruined, cursed village. What secret are they guarding? Memorable NPCs and multiple paths to the end point make this adventure an thrilling story. More than just a one-shot, this adventure contains 10 to 15 hours of play!  Scaleable for PCs levels 2 through 6.

Dead by Dawn - Dungeon Magazine, issue #176 (and 5e conversion)
Originally written for D&D 4th edition, this Dawn of the Dead hommage takes place in a ruined temple where the PCs must hold out until dawn while wave after wave of under attempt to break in and devours the poor souls. An 5th Edition adventure conversion guide (written by yours truly) costs less than 2 bucks! Conversion for level 3 PCs. This was also a big hit with the group, and I tied it into the Namjan Forest story line. The key is to keep the pressure on. It's a timer encounter, and each time the clock ticks, things just keep getting a bit worse.

The Darkening of Namjan Forest (Quests of Doom 1 Volume 2)
Frog God Game's excellent Quests of Doom series contains this excellent gem of an an adventure set in a forest overwhelmed by elemental shadow. The PCs must find the source of the infection from the Plane of Shadow. Watch gleefully when they crap their pants over the strength-draining shadow creatures. For PC levels 3 to 5 and 5th Edition compatible. I ran this for my group and it was a real hit. With a little more sketching out, this can turn into a mini-campaign arc.

The House of Poe
A creepy horror adventure for level 4 - 6 PCs where the adventurers explore a manor house at the edge of town. The adventure is filled with hidden references and homages to the works of Edgar Allan Poe making it a perfect Halloween adventure.

Death in the Cornfields
A level 4 vignette encounter that has surprising legs, despite its short length (and for only $1!). This is an excellent side trek that can be dropped into almost any session in the countryside.

The Haunted Cornfield
A free Halloween themed 1st level side trek from D&D Beyond.

The Witch of Underwillow
When wolves drag a child into the forest, there is only one option: find brave adventurers to follow the wolves and save the child! A short adventure for levels 1 to 3.

The Wolves of Welton
A "basic" starter quest that may be more than meets the eye. PWYW for levels 2 to 3.

The Ghost and the Peddler
A unique take on a "haunting" with lots of role-playing potential. For levels 3 to 5.

The House of the Midnight Violet
For levels 4 to 6, the PCs uncover clues to the lives of the former occupants as they explore this creepy mansion.

The Secret of Karnov Mansion
Dinner party during the full moon? What could possibly go wrong? For adventurer levels 4 to 6.

A Haunting in Brenton
While I have not (yet) read through this adventure, it's a PWYW so you can try before you buy. For level 7 PCs.

Night of the Walking Dead
Noted in the comments by one of my readers, Night of the Walking Dead is a classic zombie horde adventure written originally for AD&D 2nd Edition. This adventure would be fairly easily translated to 5th Edition with a straight conversion using the D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual and still have the roughly the same encounter balance. For levels 1 to 3 (perhaps leaning toward the higher side of that range). UPDATE: This now has a conversion on DM's Guild.

The Haunting at Velston
A free 2-encounter side trek from Kobold Press. Impactful and emotional.

Swamp Witch Monster Party
Not an adventure per se, but a pre-loaded encounter group for dropping into any campaign or overland travel. Encounter for level 3 PCs. PWYW.

Some ideas for incorporating spooky non-combat haunt effects into your game. PWYW.

There are a few others tagged with the "Halloween" keyword on DM's Guild. I expect several others will show up before the week's end.

Happy Haunting and please support the PWYW publishers!

(Oh, and please add your own suggestions in the comments!)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

D&D 5e: Fee, Fly, Foe, Fund - A Storm King's Thunder Adventure

In my effort to fill some gaps and repair some holes in the plot in Storm King's Thunder,  I've searched across the internet high and low (and DM's Guild) for additional content or ideas. In my efforts, I came across one intriguing adventure that ties in rather satisfyingly with the other plot threads within Storm King's Thunder.

Fee, Fly, Foe, Fund - A Storm King's Thunder Adventure

Fee, Fly, Foe, Fund not only ties together the Nightstone thread with Golden Fields encounters, but was also written by none other than Greg Bilsland (of Wizards of the Coast) for the 2016 Extra Life fundraiser.

Without giving too much away, Fee, Fly, Foe, Fund addresses where the other Hill Giant wives have roamed off while Guh (pronounced "Goo" apparently) rules the roost. It's mostly a combat side-trek, but could be tweaked for diplomacy (the suggested diplomatic approach is nearly impossible).

My only complaint is that the included map is just bad... MS Paint bad. I mean, this PDF was probably just thrown together because fans who may have watched the Extra Life streams asked for it, so I don't expect much, but there are so many ways to make a decent encounter map even without hiring a master cartographer.

The best thing about Fee, Fly, Foe, Fund is that it is Pay What You Want... and 50% of the proceeds goes to Children's Miracle Network.

So throw a couple bucks at it, even if you can just download it for free.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

D&D 5e: Storm King's Thunder - Quick Critiques

TLDR Summary: Storm King's Thunder has a lot to like within its covers, but also has some glaring adventure design issues that will annoy you and require some extra DM modification.


If you've been living under a rock (or just don't pay attention to social media much), you might not know that Storm King's Thunder is the latest adventure path for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

In previous adventures, the PCs have had to deal with Dragons, Demons, Drow, Elementals, and Undead. This iteration, it's time for the Giants.

This isn't technically a full review. I've only read through the first few chapters, and this is more of a first impressions post. This is not a "buy or don't buy" review article, but just some [very subjective] observations of mine. I may follow up with a more thorough review once I've read through the whole book and start running it for my group.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

D&D Neverwinter PS4

So, this is a fun thing that happened.

A couple weeks back, I entered a little contest by sharing a Tweet and FB message from the Neverwinter MMO team. The prize was a PS4 with a really sweet Tiamat skin.

Oddly enough, I actually won one of the PS4's they were giving away. This was really cool, but what made it even more fun was a small token on the part of the Neverwinter team.

Inside the box, was the PS4, a D&D sticker, and a hand-written, hand-aged note. Basically, they wrote a nice letter and used what I assume to be the "tea bag aging" process to stain the note and make it look like old parchment. While this was just a small gesture, it really added something extra special to the whole prize package.

Table top gamers have been known to scoff at MMO players from time to time, but this was a small reminder to me that no matter the media format in which one enjoys the Dungeons & Dragons game, we all love the fantasy genre and have a deep-rooted passion for D&D.

Before our kids, my wife and I played Neverwinter on the PC when we had time to spare. After kids, that time is even more sparse, but I look forward to returning to the game with the new PS4.

Thanks to the Neverwinter team for pouring their passion into the D&D genre. The note was an awesome touch.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hero Forge Miniatures: Grey Plastic back in Beta

Hero Forge rendering of my Gnome Druid
Just a quick FYI for anyone waiting to buy. I received a note from the friends at Hero Forge Miniatures, that they have re-opened their beta period for the new "Gray Plastic" material (now called "Premium Plastic").

As I noted in my last review, the Premium Plastic is much more durable than the Ultra Detail material (no longer offered), has better detail and is just a superior product in every way.

[ Read the full review of the Gray "Premium" Plastic here ]

On a tragic side note, I did manage to break the arm on my gnome. This was in no way the fault of the material, but just through own stupidity while I was packing for Origins this year. A typical metal miniature would have suffered the same fate. #dndproblems

If you are thinking about a gift, keep in mind there may be a 4 to 6 week fulfillment based on demand. So, if you are in the market for a custom miniature, now is the time to order... and you may want to hurry because this is bound to be a popular selection!

Gray Plastic (left) beats the detail, paintability and durability of Ultra Detail by a wide margin.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Missing Gen Con

In a prior post, I mentioned that I will probably not do another Gen Con for many years, preferring smaller, more local cons (with Origins being one of the better "large" cons at 15,000 attendees). Between lodging, transportation, long lines, massive crowds and severely limited number of seats in the games I'd like to play, Gen Con just isn't as attractive.

And yet...

Seeing all the social media posts and the pre-game excitement... I really want to be there.

There are few other times and places where you can rub elbows with the designers themselves. Many of them do attend Origins, or other small cons that are regional to their homes, but you can count on just about anybody who is anybody to be at Gen Con.

And one has to admit the there is a certain energy of having over 65,000 table top gamers all in one place. There's just nothing else like that feeling of being amongst a community of people who all share a common love of games.

And I'm bummed that I'm missing out on that. This is my tribe. These are my people.

D&D Red Box display at Gen Con 2010 

Larry Elmore helped shape the direction of fantasy artwork during the AD&D era.

Playing X-wing with a great group of gamers. Ran into the fellow in black at Origins this year, too!

D&D Epics

13th Age

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gamma World: Quest for Peace - 6th Grade FanFic


I'm a bit of a pack rat... So when I moved last year, I tried to reduce (not entirely successfully) some of the detritus I've gathered over the many years. But there was one thing (among many) I could not throw out. I came across a story I had written around 5th or 6th grade (circa 1981 or 1982) based on the many games of Gamma World my pre-teen friends and I played. Gamma World was our go-to game after D&D... and sometimes before it. My memories of the games are a little vague after 35 years but clearly the game made a distinct impression on the nascent writer in me.

This story was originally written for an English Composition class at a Catholic school in Maryland. Written today, it would likely generate a call to a student counselor, a local clergy, and possibly "the authorities." Keep in mind that (to my knowledge), I have not turned out to the a psychopath and my teacher must have seen some promise in my writing as I received a 4.5 out of 5 with a "Nice Job!" note instead of a "Please have your parents call me..." (and I have the pics to prove it -- 

With all that in mind, I present to you, in its reproduced original text, the grammatically uncorrected 6th grade work entitled "Quest for Peace" (you will see the irony in that title shortly). (c) 1982 - 2016.

PS -- I hope Jim Ward gets a kick out of this. He was an inspiration for the 12 year old gamers everywhere.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Royals board game (Origins Preview)

It's good to make friends in high placed.
As I noted in my Origins Post Game Report, my wife and I were able to try out a few pre-release titles, including Royals from Arcane Wonders, an area control game with a card mechanic. Royals supports 2 to 5 players.

Royals is scheduled for official release in August at Gen Con 2016, but they had a few hundred pre-release copies for sale at Origins (and is available for pre-order at Amazon).

Monday, July 11, 2016

Raging Owlbear - 2016 Ennie Nominee

This was a nice feather in my beak to hear about last week...

Raging Owlbear was nominated for an "Ennie" (vote for me) in the Best Blog category by the eminently gracious and delightfully charismatic (I must say) EnWorld judges. This would be all true, I'm certain, if I had ever met them.

This would be even more impressive if there were more than 5 submissions to the category, but alas, they do not report on those submissions (or rather, they do list submissions, but it's hard to easily tell the category from the list)... There appears to be at least 5 blogs, so I beat at least 1 person out... So suck it!  (just kidding).

Vote for me here -- select "1".

I have to say the submission list is quite a treat to browse. I mean, check out

Wow. Talk about a niche product. But, holy f@#%... They have SIXTY different little potpourri packs to simulate your adventure locations. The are the freakin' Glade Plug-Ins of table top gaming.

I honestly don't what to think about that. Is there really a market for sixty different RPG-based scented packets? Your guess is as good as mine, but best of luck to them! I might just have to buy one now out of sheer curiosity.

Anyway, if you've ever read and enjoyed my blog, please vote for me. Even if you didn't enjoy it, vote anyway. It don't cost nuthin'.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

WTF AltSpaceVR?

So, I've been meaning to write about this for a few months now... About 6 months ago, there was a social media stir around this new "D&D virtual reality" tool called AltspaceVR.

To sum up, the players (using VR head sets) gather in a Second Life-esque virtual room to play D&D... on a flat surface... with dungeon tiles.

I need a VR headset for this?!?

Seriously, WTF?!?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tyrants of the Underdark (Origins Preview)

At Oigins last week, I got the opportunity to try out a few games that are debuting this summer/fall. One of them was Tyrants of the Underdark, a deck-building board game scheduled for release on July 12 at $75 (Amazon currently places the release date on July 28). The game was designed by Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson, Andrew Veen and produced by Gale Force 9. Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson were also designers on Lords of Waterdeep.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Origins 2016 Post Game Report

The Eagle has landed.
My wife and I were fortunate enough to attend Origins 2016 in Columbus, OH this past weekend. It was the first time in over 5 years having a vacation without kids (Thank you, Grandma Diane, Papa Frankie and Great Aunt Donna!). To say that the weekend was hotly anticipated would be an understatement... and our expectations were almost entirely met!

Origins did have a registration snafu on Wednesday due to some down computers (people always blame the computers), but we were lucky enough to miss all of that. By Thursday morning, the Registration and Pre-Registration (Will Call) lines were not terribly long and we got our badges and tickets in 15 minutes, tops. They did. however, have a snafu with printing the coupon books, so many of the vendor booth SWAG was not available to a great majority of attendees. That was a pretty bad screw up. I mean, when you pay $55 just to get in the door (no games included), you expect to get some SWAG... or at least a coupon to buy some SWAG at a discount.

I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow, but will hit some of the highlights.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

D&D 5e: Giants and Monsters

Wizards of the Coast announced two new books for the fall (and miniatures to go with them).

Storm King's Thunder is the new adventure path coming, revisiting the classic Against the Giants style story line.

It will be interesting to see how different the plot will be from the old G-series modules, and I'm looking forward to browsing this book to see how they handle the plot.

I haven't actually purchased any of the other adventure paths. I was curious about Princes of the Apocalypse but one of my players was already running that in a different group so I passed it by. Curse of Strahd also looks pretty good but I'm not looking to run a horror game at the moment... So Storm King's Thunder is really the first adventure to give me some sense of excited anticipation.

The second announcement was about Volo's Guide to Monsters.

To me, this is an even more intriguing announcement.There is a lot of speculation about this particular offering. From what we can tell from the official announcement, it will add some fluff about iconic monsters already present in the Monster Manual, as well as re-introduce a number of others that have not had 5th Edition stat conversions as of yet.

What makes this book intriguing is that it appears it may borrow ideas from Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale.

During 4th Edition, Wizards second Monster Vault book took existing iconic monsters, and created "monster groups"... Basically, variants that differ from the typical iconic monster's stat block a bit to provide variety. As an example, you might get new stats for an Orc queen, a war chief, a shaman, Half Ogre and Half Troll variants, etc... Or an NPC faction with stat blocks for the different kinds of faction members (such as the Iron Circle, or Dythan's Legion), or even a special monster NPC, like Calastryx, a red dragon with 3 heads.

Threats to the Nentir Vale was one of the best books ever produced by Wizards of the Coast in that it wasn't just another Monster Manual. Each group entry had a backstory and campaign hooks that could be dropped right into your game as a named NPC or faction. Even though it was set in the Nentir Vale, the hooks were generic enough that any home game could use what was in the book with little modification.

I don't know for certain the Volo book will take a similar approach, but it would be excellent to have a similar book created for 5th Edition with campaign hooks and background fluff. It would be preferable if it were not limited to the Sword Coast, but expanded to other parts of the Realms. Better yet, it would hopefully be generic enough to use in any home game.

Will it present details on more monstrous PC races? Will it add Feats, Backgrounds or other player options?  Hard to say. I actually like that Wizards has stayed away from creating too many player options that can be abused. Splat books almost always created unnecessary power creep in prior editions.

Final Thoughts

Outside of what appears in the official announcements, we don't have much information about what we might be getting, so all of this is just rampant speculation. However, I'm hopeful that Wizards is learning what has worked well in 5th Edition (as well as prior editions) and keeps improving their products using lessons learned from the past. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hero Forge Miniatures Review: A Massive Improvement

UPDATE 08/20: View my latest Hero Forge miniatures review here: 

UPDATE 01//18: A lower cost "Plastic" option is now available which I have reviewed here.

Too Long; Didn't Read Summary:  So, you probably just want to know, "How much better is the new Premium Plastic offering?"  In a word, immensely better. OK, that's technically two words. The new plastic offering from Shapeways means that the Hero Forge Gray Plastic miniatures are an order of magnitude more durable than the Ultra Detail figures from before. The detail of the Premium Plastic is also significantly better in my estimation than Ultra Detail was. In summary, buy Premium Plastic. Avoid Ultra Detail [Note: Ultra Detail is no longer offered].

The Bronze figurine works well as a
showpiece. Detail is very good.


A little over a year ago, I came down hard on Hero Forge miniatures (rightfully so). I had ordered 2 "Ultra Detail" miniatures ($50) as a gift for my wife and myself... a gnome and half orc. After receiving the figures, I immediately noted issues with the detail. While the detail was not considered a show stopper, the fragility of the figures absolutely was. The Ultra Detail printing process creates a very stiff and brittle plastic which breaks under even the most minor pressure. My gnome's sword blade broke off during light handling while painting, and later a drop of a few inches fractured the ankles separating the base from the figure. Both breaks could be re-glued, but it illustrated that the figures would not be durable enough for play.

Fast forward a year later, Hero Forge contacted me to try out their new "Gray Plastic" material as well as their metal offerings, Steel and Bronze, to see how they compare. They have also added some new items and features to their figure creation software, I will touch upon those later as I know everyone wants to know about the new plastic.

Full Disclosure: Hero Forge provided me vouchers to print 3 miniatures for the purpose of evaluation. There were no strings attached to provide a positive review. I hope I have provided an unbiased view of the results.

State of the Blog 2016: 200K and counting

Beaky -- the new official unofficial mascot of Raging Owlbear
So 2016 has been a bit of a hard year for the blog. It'll be June tomorrow and I will have only posted 16 articles for the entire year so far... Life can sometimes be demanding in ways that kill my ability (or sometimes desire) to post frequently...

And yet, my page views are as high as ever.

I can't entirely explain this phenomena, except to say that, of the articles I have posted this year, a couple have been very well received and reshared (a good page view driver over the long term), a couple have been controversial (a good page view driver, but only over the short term) and a couple have spiked for reasons that just can't be explained other than "the interwebs are weird". I also have been lucky in that there are a few older articles that consistently drive decent numbers every day due to D&D related web searches, and I think that may be the one key thing that keeps my blog relevant.

Monday, April 25, 2016

RPGs for Kids: My Little Pony miniatures

Miniatures month continues and this week and I'm talking about My Little Pony.

I wasn't intending to talk about My Little Pony, but my daughter (who is right in the target demographic) picked out My Little Pony: My Busy Books with a gift card from grandma when we were at Barnes & Noble the other day. It just so happens that it is a perfect fit for an MLP-based RPG.

Why is it so good for RPGs? Because along with the book, comes a  four scene play mat with 12 pony figurines. Not only that. but the figures are in roughly the same scale as 28 -30 mm D&D-size miniatures... all that for only ten bucks!

The play mats are a nice background to set the scene for your little role-player, but it appears the figures alone may only cost FIVE BUCKS! While I can't 100% confirm, it appears the set of 12 My Little Pony miniatures on Amazon is the same set of figures that comes with the book for half the price. UPDATE: Don't bother ordering these from a Chinese seller for $5. They are mostly scams and the package will never arrive. Stick with a Prime seller.

Friday, April 15, 2016

D&D Miniatures: Safari Animals (mostly)

Need some cheap animal miniatures? You've come to the right place!

While browsing for something unrelated on Amazon, I came across these little pretties - the 12 Piece Safari Animals for $6.49 (with free Prime shipping). After perusing some of the reviews and comments, these appeared to be the perfect size for tabletop RPGs, and they do not disappoint (mostly)!

(April must be miniatures month because yet another post about our little plastic friends is coming soon).

OK, so some of the scale on some of these furries is a little wonky, but overall, the group is still quite useful.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rusty Dragon Inn (Pathfinder Battles) Quick Critques

The Pathfinder Battles miniatures line from WizKids has been around for a couple years now. Since the release of D&D 5th edition, WizKids has also picked up the license for D&D Icons of the Realms miniatures

For the most part, the WizKids lines were not that interesting to me. While there were occasional sculpts I liked, I mostly skipped out on anything from WizKids due to the plethora of other owned miniatures. I own a great deal of the old miniatures from the D&D Miniatures games, a set of the Reaper Bones and a bunch of lead from the 80's and 90's as well.

However, several of the new minis from the Rusty Dragon Inn caught my eye. This is not so much a full review the entire set as it is a few quick observations about the recent release.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

No, You Are Not Being Accused Of Terrorism

OK, so I wasn't originally going to step into this bear trap, but here's the thing about the so-called "white male terrorism"...

Or art thou just butt hurt?
No one is accusing all white males of being a part of sexual harassment problems just because they are white males. To make that claim is purposefully missing the entire point of all the recent conversations in gaming circles on social media.

Let's make a comparison to an actual situation related to terrorism.

In the last few years, the FBI along with local law enforcement is talking to leaders in the U.S. Muslim communities. Not to accuse them of terrorism, or blame terrorism on Islam, but to say "Hey. We all know there is a problem with radicalism. What can we do to help? How can we work together to prevent radicalism from occurring in the Muslim community? How do we make young men and women aware that turning to radical Islam is the wrong path?"

Now, the FBI and law enforcement aren't accusing the entire Muslim community of terrorism. They are merely working with the community to prevent radicalism from growing, because, like it or not, radicalism can happen even in the most normalized communities. The best part about it is, while working together, these efforts are actually helping relations between Muslim communities and local law enforcement (Law enforcement doesn't always have the best reputation among minority communities, after all).

Now, there is sexual harassment in the gaming community. This isn't just an anecdote. This is something that many different women (not just the one who posted the controversial missive) have reported in many different instances. These women are asking for help. They are not accusing all white males of being harassers or rapists. They are asking for men to watch out for these occurrences and HELP.

Tell the person to stop being an asshole. Report harassers to game convention staff so they may be tossed out. Try to prevent sexual assault from happening in our gaming spaces. Kick people off forums for making threats of death, or rape, or similarly nasty inappropriate behavior.

Yes, it's not just a gaming issue... It's a societal issue... and yes, having it pointed out in stark, disturbing words may make some people uncomfortable or even mad, but claiming that it does not happen is bullshit. Claiming it is overstated is bullshit.

FACT: Women get harassed (and sometimes worse) in gaming situations.

You  might say, "But she said all these other things and you should not believe because... blah blah blah..."

No, no, no, no, no!

I don't give a $h!t about who said what on which forum.

It doesn't freaking matter. Women are being harassed and you are being asked to keep an eye out for those incidents and help put a stop to them. Is that so hard?

So why get all pissed off because some women are saying "Hey, we've had enough of being groped or made to feel threatened at gaming events because of our gender... So how about a little help, guys?"

The question for you to ponder is -- will you actually be mindful of these incidents and help make the community better? Or are you going to keep frothing at the mouth because you are butthurt? **

** butthurt -- An inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult. 

UPDATE: A lot of people seem to still be getting their underpants in a twist about the phrase "white male terrorism" and are generating a false sense of outrage over a label that may be slightly hyperbolic.

Get over it.

To summarize my points above for those of you still "outraged":

1) The "white male terrorism" phrase that everyone is getting their pants in a twist about is a bullshit red herring.
2) The fact of the matter is that women are being sexually harassed in the community and in many instances, if they bring it up, it only creates more abuse for them.
3) That is not acceptable... So whether you are pissed about the phrase or not, get the @#$% over it and instead spend your energies making the community better.

If you, as a white male, are pissed because the author was using harsh words, you need to turn your offended-by-things meter way down. You are a member of the most empowered race and gender the world over and you're getting pissy over a few words.

Let me repeat: One in five women get sexually assaulted in their lifetime  (look it up) and you are whining because you think you were called a bad name (when you actually weren't). Get some perspective.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

D&D / OSR: Encumbrance Made Easy

Do your PCs look like this?
I've never really liked D&D encumbrance. It's a pain. The item weights in the various equipment tables are all over the place in terms of accuracy (i.e. - mostly inaccurate) and to make things worse, the rules on carrying capacity are ridiculously broken. In one place it reads "15 times Strength" which is so stupidly over blown that even in the text of the 5th edition rules it basically implies "Yeah, you can basically just ignore encumbrance." After that, there is an optional rule for using 5x Strength as a base for penalizing movement and such... but the math is just too fiddly and players will ignore it anyway.

So what is a DM to do?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Hey, Did You Know D&D 5th Edition Is Free?

If you frequest RPG-related social media, this article is probably not for you, since you likely know all of this already... but I'm putting this out there for those that may not realize there are a lot more free resources from Wizards of the Coast beyond the D&D Basic Rules. Share with your friends who may not have tried D&D yet!

Is D&D really free?  Sure is!

Unless you don't read RPG related social media (or live in a cave), you probably already know that the Wizards of the Coast released a free "Basic" version of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

The Basic version is trimmed down including only the 4 "core" classes - Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. Similarly it only included the core races, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human. It also excludes Feats, but otherwise is a perfectly playable mechanically complete version of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. There is even a subset of the Monster Manual which includes the majority of standard D&D monsters for free.

What one may not know is that Wizards of the Coast also released the 5th Edition System Reference Document (SRD5).  The SRD is a PDF that includes the classes that were not included in D&D Basic PDF (Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Warlock) as well as the additional races from the Player's Handbook, Magic Items from the Dungeon Masters Guide, and tons of creatures from the Monster Manual.

The SRD5 does not contain all of the class path options (selected at 3rd level), but it has the primary path for each class, which is more than enough for a complete game. How much would you pay?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Review: How to Game Master Like a Freakin' Boss

You shall not pa--... On second thought, after you.
Here's a spooktacular Hallowee--
A great present just in time for Christm--...
Get your honey the gift of game mastering for Valent--
By gosh and begorrah! Happy Saint... oh, forget it.

Ok, so this review is super late. Spectacularly late.

Last year, +Venger Satanis was nice enough to send me a copy of How to Game Master Like a F#cking Boss. He asked if I would take a look and review, no strings attached. He assured me that I should be completely impartial and honest. I really dropped the ball.

In fairness, a lot has happened in my life in the last 6 to 8 months and the blog has badly fallen victim. If I post once a week, that's a good week... but I said I would give it a review and it has taken me too long to get to it. For that, I apologize to Venger for the extreme tardiness, but I will still be impartial as I am able.

Too Long; Didn't Read Summary: 
Q: Wow, that's crap-load of critique. Did you completely hate the book?
A: No, not at all. I found it a thoughtful and entertaining read. But I just happen to be detailed in my [hopefully] constructive criticism to help the reader get a deep understanding of my subjective opinion.

Friday, January 29, 2016

D&D: 99 Problems and Liches Ain't One

[So all this talk about Tomb of Horrors got me thinking...]

Raging Owlbear: Hey Ace-... Ass-... However you pronounce that stupid ass name.

Acererak: It's a short "a"

RO: Whatever, Felicia. Anyway, what kind of imbecile would ever want to become a Lich?

Acererak: I will smite you to ash for your insolence.

RO: Lich, please. I'm the DM and can wipe your ass out of existence with a Sharpie. So now that we have that settled, you need to answer a few questions.

AC: FINE! whatever.

RO: In the Monster Manual it reads that Liches are powerful wizards that wish to avoid death... So they ritually kill themselves to become undead. WTF?

AC: You know, immortality and all...

RO: You dumb-ass Lich.

AC: Hey, that's uncalled for.

RO: You have access to freakin' 9th level spells and that's the best you can come up with? And you have to pledge servitude to some other planar power in order to become undead. F@ck that noise.

Haven't you bitches heard of Clone? It's only 8th level and you come back as a younger version of yourself with all your memories and skills. Seriously. Look it up.

Now don't you feel like a jackass for becoming an undead indentured servant?

AC: Well, in AD&D, Clone didn't quite work the same way...

F#ck, this bitch is heavy.
RO: Whatever. That's not the point. You're a freakin' master wizard. You have access to 9th level spells. Wishes... Potions of Longevity...  Hell, you could do some damn homework and make up your own spells such as a better version of Clone (which if you had just waited 40 years, would have come along anyway).

And what do you do all day? Wander around your f@cking tomb resetting all the traps every few days? You have to push that f@cking 5-ton elephant roller back into place every couple weeks when you could be rollin' down the street, smokin indo and sippin' on gin and juice with your homeys. You could be back at the tavern right now with your big ass wallet, buying rounds, and hittin' on the ladies.

AC: Now you're just being mean.

RO: I mean, you basically have the universe at your somatic fingertips and the best idea you had for immortality is to kill yourself. So now you just hang out in a damn tomb waiting for idiot adventurers. What kind of unlife is that? Are you some kind of nut bag shut-in? What a freakin' waste.

AC: Oh, shut up.

RO: Change that stupid name, Felicia. And talk to Vecna about leaving his body parts all over the place. Seriously. What's up with that?

Monday, January 25, 2016

D&D: Is Tomb of Horrors actually the worst adventure of all time?

Original S1 Tomb of Horrors monochrome cover
My copy's monochrome pink cover
prior to the revised green cover.
Updated 04/25/17 after the release of Yawning Portal.

TLDR Summary: If you are not familiar with the history of Tomb of Horrors, or your players don't fully understand the stakes, just don't run it. PCs will die. If your players aren't expecting an abattoir dungeon, it will ruin your campaign.

So John Wick appears to have caused a bit of a kerfuffle on social media by posting that Tomb of Horrors is the "Worst Adventure of All Times".

A lot of people who love classic D&D (and anything Gygaxian) came out to defend ToH and in some cases attack John Wick.

I don't really have a dog in this fight... but I did want to say something about why Tomb of Horrors could be the worst thing you ever do to your players.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

B/X-5 Design Log: Elf Conversion

"I wear so many animal skins...
and yet somehow my midriff is still bare..."
So this is my first attempt at the B/X Elf class using the SRD5 as part of my B/X-5 Core Rules effort.

UPDATE: After feedback from the community, I've updated the Elf class from what is below. View my revised version here.

B/X-5 Core Rules

My issue is that 5e gives some mechanical toy for every level. B/X classes, on the other hand, have very little that change from level to level other than to-hit numbers and spells.

To remain compatible with 5e, I'm still giving some bonus or feat-like present to PCs at each level... but it's a challenge simplifying the classes to maintain a more B/X philosophy.

Keeping that in mind, this is the first draft of the B/X Elf class. I'm not completely satisfied, as it still feels "too fiddly" to me. The Elf is based on a Ranger, but will have more Druidic spells, rather than Arcane. When I'm finished it might be more of a mix of Arcane and Divine spells similar in style to a Bard but with a "Nature" flavor.

Anyway, let me know your suggestions as this is an early draft and still wildly in flux. Here is the B/X-5 Elf.

B/X-5: D&D 5e compatible rules in the spirit of B/X D&D

I have previously posted about 1st Adventures, an OSR rule set that I've been cobbling together. The recent release of the of the SRD5 has changed the course (slightly) of my intended plans.

1st Adventures has always been intended to be somewhat based on B/X rules, but inspired by other OSR games like Basic Fantasy and Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. My challenge has been trying to find the balance between the bare bones B/X character classes and the more "Christmas ornament" classes in modern D&D which give a new toy every level (or is that more like Chanukah?)

B/X-5 Core Rules

Along those lines, I'm putting together what I call B/X-5 Core Rules a 5th Edition compatible rule set that attempts to streamline [some of] the mechanics and class ornamentation. It will not strictly be a retro-clone of Holmes, Moldvay or Mentzer D&D, but hopefully will channel the spirit of those Basic sets with characters still being playable within D&D 5th Edition.

B/X-5 will include the first 12 levels of Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling (yes, race as class). Feats will be removed or heavily modified. The skill system will be optional. Healing will be less plentiful and more resource managed. Cantrips will have limited castings. Other deviations from the 5th Edition Basic D&D are still in the works.

1st Adventures will be based on the B/X-5 Core Rules, but with its own built-in setting and modifications to the core races and classes as presented in B/X-5.

With that in mind, read on if you want to see the previews for the Dwarf and Elf class designs or read the full (work in progress) B/X-5 Core Rules here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

D&D 5e SRD - An Opportunity Knockspell

Yeah, that's a terrible play on words, but I couldn't come up with anything better on short notice. It seems when you are not paying much attention, huge news breaks in the D&D world.

1) Wizards of the Coast released a 5th Edition System Reference Document under the Open Gaming License.

2) WotC also set up the Dungeon Master's Guild through One Book Shelf which allows self-publishers to sell using the power of the D&D brand.

So number 1 is huge. Massively huge.

I mean, one could technically already publish 5th Edition content under the current OGL and existing copyright law (Goodman Games and Troll Lord Games are already doing this), but for those of us who a are laymen when it comes to copyright, the SRD basically tells you exactly what you can and cannot publish related to the D&D rules in your own work. That's a huge boon to those of us who are babes in the woods when it comes to copyright law. Now we can put stuff out there without worrying about C&D letters from Hasbro lawyers.

Even better, it's not just the content from the Basic game. It includes a lot more goodies (most?) from the larger rule set. I haven't had the chance to read through it all. but I'm pretty excited about what this could mean. I had been pretty critical of the lack of SRD in the past.

Number 2 is pretty important too. The cynic in me says it's just a way to get money out of self-publishers that they would not normally get. After all, there is nothing stopping me from putting 5th Edition compatible content on RPGNow without sharing a single dime with Wizards of the Coast (i.e. - Troll Lord and Goodman, as I already noted).

On the other hand, the lure of the additional exposure is a pretty big deal, and I think we may see a lot of smaller publishers biting the revenue share bullet. Additionally, there are certain elements of the Realms lore (and IP) that you are now allowed to use if you sell through

The best best for a self-publisher would probably be to do both. It would take only a modest amount of work to have a DM's Guild version and a RPGNow version (minus the DM Guild branding). That way one version of your adventure could get the extra exposure and the other version would not have to share revenue.

Update: This appears to be against the DMsGuild terms and conditions. If you put something on their site, you can't sell the same content through other venues. There may be some legal wiggle room, especially if you are not using any WotC IP in your work, but they would most likely kick your account of the site, so you'll have to make the hard choice between extra exposure or keeping all your revenue.

So, if you are a self-publisher, what are your plans? Going to sell through the DMsGuild or just RPGNow/DriveThruRPG?  Or both?

If you haven't published anything before, are you now tempted by this new opportunity?

Will we be over-run with a glut of mediocre content like we were with 3rd Edition?

Let me know you guys think of this news in the comments!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Owlbear's Seriously Late Gen Con Post Game Report

So, I started this post on Gen Con about 4 months ago, but with my interstate move just 2 weeks after Gen Con and various other Real Life insanity, I never really got back to it. No one probably cares by now, but I thought I'd give myself some closure on this post.

However, I do want to talk a bit about my experience there even if it is less than timely. Rather than a full report, I'll just summarize a few highlights.

Other Owlbear musings