Tabletop Gaming Feeds

[ZINE] Echoes From Fomalhaut #03 (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 08:59
Blood, Death, and Tourism!I am pleased to announce the publication of the third issue of Echoes From Fomalhaut. As before, this is a zine dedicated to adventures and GM-friendly campaign materials for Advanced old-school rules, with illustrations by Stefan Poag (who did the cover for this issue), Denis McCarthy, and various long-dead Victorians. 
Blood, Death, and Tourism is centred around two longer articles. The first is an adventure module set on Tridentfish Island, an exotic island resort gone to rot, and currently being rediscovered by visitors from a sinful and decadent city state. Ancient mysteries and perplexing discoveries await! This article is the first published adventure from our City of Vultures campaign (the second on the world of Fomalhaut). Further issues will explore the city and the nearby lands in more detail.
The other large article describes the eastern half of the Isle of Erillion, with its ruins, castles, mysterious forests and inhabited settlements. From the city of Baklin to an archipelago of pirates and Northman raiders; and from gloomy highlands to magical forests, the hex entries provide half of a vanilla fantasy setting suitable for sandbox play. Erillion is easy to use on its own, or to place within the GM’s milieu of choice. The issue also includes a fold-out hex map of the island (the less accurate and less detailed player’s map was published in Issue #02).
Two smaller articles are also included: one adapts the beasts of Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant to Advanced old-school rules, while the other presents a mystery from the wastelands of Fomalhaut. What is the Great Wheel and who are the hosts who follow on its trail of devastation? The answer to at least one of these questions is revealed in Echoes #03!
The print version of the fanzine is available from my Bigcartel store; the PDF edition will be published through RPGNow with a few months’ delay. As always, customers who buy the print edition will receive the PDF version free of charge.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Quick OSR Review & Free Adventure Download - DF18 Where The Fallen Jarls Sleep For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 09/29/2018 - 00:07
"A malevolence darkens the northern reaches of The Land of Song. Can your group defeat the evil and bring peace. An adventure for characters of level 3-5." The days are growing shorter & I've had to think a bit outside the box as far as running something dangerous & dire for Halloween. I need a solid adventure to run with some of the more experienced players in my social circles. So Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Review: Tome of Holding

Ultanya - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 17:22
In a hoard of gaming accessories, it is hard to stand out in the crowd. I think Alex Ingram has done just that with the Tome of Holding Kickstarter. I waited to post my review until after I had an opportunity to use this crafty tool during a game session. It did not disappoint, with the consensus this is an amazing product.

First, let us talk aesthetics though, as the Tome is a gorgeous piece. I am personally a big fan of anything crafted from wood at the game table. When playing RPGs, it is another thing to help with immersion.

Crafted from cherry, maple or walnut, this is a just beautiful. The inner pages are lovingly fitted with dice holding slots (LOTS), a rolling tray, and even a small space that could serve as a dice jail! Other options include adding a pencil slot. All of these areas are lined with a nice red or green flocking, with a charcoal version a stretch goal!

The tome is approximately 8” high and 5” wide closed. Perfect for transport to your favorite gaming venue. Even when fully opened, it does not take up a premium amount of table space. 

All the carving is meticulously done with routers designed by Alex during his RPG Coasters campaigns. You can read my review of those here and here. I am a big fan of this style as you see enough from a distance to become intrigued. Then when you pick up the product all the details become apparent. For this reason, I believe everything Alex crafts to be wonderful conversation pieces.

The construction of the Tome is really well done. Everything fits together seamlessly and it looks like a book. The magnets…WOW are they strong! It takes a couple times before you get the gist of opening the Tome. However, rest assured; even if you dropped it from a great height, it is not inadvertently opening!

As I get older, quality is something that is more important to me. I want things that will last, things I may even pass down to someone else. The Tome of Holding definitely fits that category as a beautiful gaming heirloom.

The hinges are very sturdy.
Alex is using magnets +5 on these!
This is a great addition to any gaming space.
The Tome is a perfect conversation piece.
The Tome looks great on any shelf!
The Kickstarter is currently live and funded. With an estimated delivery of July 2019, this may be the perfect present next year for that gamer that has everything. Check it out!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cactoid [5e Race]

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 11:00
I figure a desert world under a blood-red sun should have a cactoid race. This is based on the Cactacae from the Mieville's Bas-Lag novels as presented in Dragon #352.

Cactoid Traits
Ability Score Increase. A Cactoid's Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Alignment. Cactoid tend to be lawful and neutral.
Size. Cactoid are medium.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Powerful Build. Cactoids count as one size larger when determining carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Plant Hardiness. Cactoids have advantage on saving throws against poison and resistance against poison damage
Tough Hide. Cactoids have a natural +1 bonus to their Armor Class.
Spines. The spines covering a cactoid's body allow them to do an 1d4 points piercing damage while grappling.
Languages. Cactoids speak Common and their own language.

DC Bombshells II Trading Cards - Sketch Card Previews, Part 1

Cryptozoic - Fri, 09/28/2018 - 02:26

Please enjoy the first installment of our DC Bombshells Trading Card II Sketch Card previews, hand-drawn by our talented artists. Links to contact the artists can be found below the images of their Sketch Cards

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

1d20 Random Things Found Among The Beards of Lady Dwarven Warriors For Your Old School Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 16:21
Many adventurers encounter the rare Dwarven female warriors known as Aresui out in the fields of battle. These mercenary lady warriors do not want the traditional mine ownership & business opportunities that they are afforded by Dwarven society. Instead they seek adventure & are driven by the blood fury of the Earth. Their veins pump with the seething violence of their family's warrior Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic Will Offer Exclusive Collectibles, Trading Cards, and Games at New York Comic Con 2018

Cryptozoic - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment today announced that it will sell six exclusive vinyl figures, several convention-exclusive trading cards, and selected tabletop games at Booth #244 at New York Comic Con 2018, October 4-7 at the Javits Center. The exclusive figures include the newest Golden Goddess collectible and variants of figures from Cryptozoic’s most popular lines, including DC Lil Bombshells, DC TeekeezTM, DC Pumps, and CryptkinsTM. The convention-exclusive trading cards being offered are based on Rick and Morty, Outlander, and Cryptkins. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Futura [ICONS]

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 09/27/2018 - 11:00

Art by Agus CalcagnoFUTURA

Prowess: 8
Coordination: 7
Strength: 7
Intellect: 6
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 7

Determination: 1
Stamina: 14

Specialties: Linguistics, Martial Arts, Medicine, Science

The Hope of Humanity's Future
In A Time Not Her Own
Raised by Robots

Aging, Damage. and Disease Resistance: 6
Flight: 7
Super-Speed: 3

In a possibly alternate future, a war among superhumans devastated the Earth and destroyed most of civilization. So massive were the energies unleashed, the Earth itself was damaged to the core and threatened to break apart.

Some time after the war, perhaps as long as a millennium, intelligent robots lived in a massive, enclosed city known as Eden-One. They had been the caretakers of the last humans they knew to exist, and now sought to preserve human history and knowledge. One of these robots, a bio-specialist named Maia-1A457, engineered a human embryo with superhuman attributes from stored genetic material. The infant was gestated in an artificial womb. Maia-1A457 named the girl Futura, because she hoped the child would provide a future for humanity.

Futura was raised by the robots, not knowing she wasn't one of them until late in her childhood. In adolescence, she ventured outside Eden-One with the reluctant acquiescence of her robot caretakers and encountered post-human beings and aliens, making some friends among them. Most of her time, however, was spent in training and education so that one day she could make a trip to the past and prevent her catastrophic future from ever occurring.

When she reached young adulthood, she asked for her final examinations and proved to Maia-1A457 and the others she was ready for her mission. Using an ancient time machine, she journeyed back to 20th Century San Francisco. Soon after her arrival, she rescued four young people from a mutant monster that had inadvertently been transported to the past with her. The four (Dean Hunt, Zelda Dunkel, “Crunch” Samson, and Cynthia Vandaveer) offered her a room in the house they were living in, and inspired by her story, changed the name of their band to The Tomorrows.

Futura assumed the identity of Eve Hope, and got a job at a record store to better observe the culture and way of life of the humans of the era. In her true identity, she became famous as she battled threats to peace and freedom, always staying vigilant for signs of the coming future she hopes to prevent.

See Futura's FASERIP stats here.

Art by Anna Liisa Jones

18 Games, but Three Styles

Two Hour Wargames - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 20:03

There are 18 games in the upcoming October 5th Kickstarter. 18 is a lot and if I had to learn how to play 18 different games that would be tough. Instead, we're using 3 different styles to cover all of the games. Each game uses similar game mechanics to the other games in that style, but tweaked to capture the flavor of the period and genre.  

Here's what I'm talking about.

Explore, Find and Fight
2 Hour Dungeon Crawl, 5150 Bugs - Into the Tunnels, Hell Hath No Fury WW2 Tank Combat, Casino Carnage and Back Alleys, Bright Lights.

Whether you're leading a Band of Adventurers on a Quest, hunting BUGS in a tunnel complex, commanding a Sherman on Recon, looking for an Alien in New Hope City, or trying to take over a Casino during the Zombie Apocalypse, the goals are the same.
You want to explore the area, find what you're looking for and fight the enemy to be successful.

Face to Face Combat
5150 Fighter Pilot, Aces Up - WWI Fighter Combat, 5150: Alien Fight Night, Friday Night Fights, Joust, Red Sand Black Moon, Red Sand Blue Sky and Red Streets Blue Mats.
Whether you're a WWI Fighter  Pilot, a Sci Fi one, a Boxer or MMA Fighter, or even a Gladiator in Ancient Rome, it's all about Face to Face Combat. Do you try a leg sweep on the Mat? Maybe an Immelmann Maneuver in your Sopwith Camel? Whether you're throwing punches, firing lasers, or slashing with a sword, you've met the enemy and squared off in individual combat. No need to go looking as the enemy is in your face!
Charioteers of Rome, Quarters, Wire to Wire, Dead Heat or and Win or Go Home.
Most race games are "dice and mice".  You throw some dice, move around a track and after a few turns you lose interest as the pack stretches around the track and those in the back can never win. Not with our racing games! Instead, the PACK moves around the track and you're ALWAYS in the pack, waiting for your chance to move up and take the lead. Whether you're driving a Stock Car, riding a quarter horse or thoroughbred,  driving a Roman chariot (watch out for the whipping), or "baiting" a Zed, you're always in the race.
October 5th we launch. Watch for more info !

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic and Warner Bros. Consumer Products Announce Release of DC Bombshells: Series 3

Cryptozoic - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products, on behalf of DC Entertainment, today announced the September 30 release of Series 3 of DC Bombshells vinyl figures. The latest installment in the popular line of 7-inch figures features Harley Quinn in an all-new pose, Mera, and Black Canary.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Mim’s Recreation Garden

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:14

By herror
Rowdy Kobold
Levels 1-3

The Garden is some sort of self-preserving magical botanical zoo, an attempt at avantgarde entertainment for kids – it never opened to the public, but it still works.

This twenty page adventure describes a fourteen room dungeon right out Adventure Time. Candy colored weirdness closer to Willy Wonka than the Silmarillion, it presents an interesting environment to adventure in. It’s also gota touch of the “adventure as a walk-though museum”, ala Ed Greenwood, can be confusing to decipher, and maddinley abstrated. It’s hard to recommend because of that, but it sure is interesting as all fuck.

We’ve got a wizard’s lair here, and this time a wizard interested in plants. It’s laid out in a bunch of rooms that are more garden like than dungeon like. Inside we’ve got a bunch of happy singing tree people, bumble bee people, fungus men, and so on. It’s not quite cartoonish, but does lean that way more than it does to those mean old vegapygmies of S3. That means it’s the new fresh material that was common to Psychedelic Fantasies and OD&D in general.

The common elements of “things to fuck with” is present also. The seasons can change in the rooms and/or dungeon and that impacts the things around it. Several rooms have crystals, or other things, to play with. Interactivity is a key aspect to dungeon exploring and this brings that. Doors triggered on specifical elements, and tunnels in the walls that lead to strange new, and/pr random rooms, also help bring in an element of the weird and unknown. I’m such a fan of these additional elements being tacked on. The rooms feel stuffed.

But they are actually pretty simple. Two or three bullet points generally describe the rooms, with certain exceptions being made for those long rando tables. It’s pretty easy to scan and figure out the specifics of the room. The map also helps here, color coded for floor condition (mud, wet, slime, etc) and light elements in the room.

But …

There is a fuck ton going on in this and its also hard to keep track of. While the rooms are easy to scan they also rely, heavily, on overloaded information presented in the general information before the keys begin. The slimes, fungus, seasons, trees, light, wet … it’s all a little hard to keep track of what SHOULD be going on. The single column format doesn’t ease comprehension, but I think the major problem is … English, and/or the lack therefore. I really like adventures from our foreign friends. Their takes on fantasy, influenced by their own unique cultural experiences, can lead to a freshness that still resonates like my own Brave Little Tailor upbringing. It’s generally easy to ignore or forgive any awkwardness in the language, from translation from French, Dutch, Spanish, or Hungarian. In this case though I feel like the language barrier may have contributed to the confusion. It’s not so much awkward word choices or grammar, but rather a certain … organization? I know that organization is not necessarily unique to different languages, but it FEELS like the summaries/organization of the general information was hampered by the language barrier. There’s nothing really I can point to, it just feels that way. In any event, its the organization of the general information, and the awkwardness of it, that’s an issue.

The entire thing has a touch of the Ed Greenwood Museum tour to it as well. There’s not really enough … motivation? in it. Everyone is just a little too friendly. It’s like setting a D&D adventure in a grade school … visit the classrooms and see the differences … but what do you DO? Garden of the Hag Queen had a bit of opposition to it that this just doesn’t seem to have. Long-time readers will know that I like talking to creatures in dungeons, and I like a “neutral” dungeon environment … but there has to be SOME kind of potential energy in the dungeon to drive things, and this feels weak in that area.

It can also get abstracted. “This is the treasure room, with a big pile of treasure in the middle.” Uh … great? OSR adventures also are generally aimed at Gold=XP games, and this is light in that area.

And, one more nit. Room One says “Two homunculi (programmed to “protect goblins”) wait at the bottom of the staircase, which has been covered with lard and caltrops.” I’d turn that around. The stairs are coated with lard and caltrops and two hom are at the bottom. The first thing the party will encounter is the stairs, and that should be the first thing the DM comes across in the sentence.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is four pages and doesn’t really show you much. You get to the dungeon map (star shaped, with colod coding) and the wandering table, which DOES give a decent vibe for the types of encounters in the dungeon.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: Storm: The Living Planet (part 6)

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:00
My exploration of the long-running euro-comic Storm, continues with his adventures in the world of Pandarve. Earlier installments can be found here.

Storm: The Living Planet (1986) (part 5)
(Dutch: De Levende Planeet)
Art by Don Lawrence; script by Martin Lodewijk

It turns out Alice has not arrived from Wonderland, but is instead a projection of Mother Pandarve, an avatar of the living planet itself. She shows Storm that she could appear as a devil--or as Marilyn Monroe. In surprising show of jealousy, Ember nixes that idea.

"Alice" wants to show Storm something, so she leads him and Ember away, much to the chagrin of her "unfaithful servant" the Theocrat. She takes them to an elevator to travel to her core, and she reveals what she wants from them:

It seems that Pandarve's prime intellect has been busy for a long time with a mathematical problem, and the Theocrat has used the oppurtunity to cease power for himself. He hasn't released the Egg of Pandarve from her subconscious with should grow into her progency, satellite worlds. It that's not done, her mind will splinter. Due to the unusual energy around him, only Storm can do the job:

Of course, there are nightmare monsters down there, too. "Alice" gives Storm a weapon:

Storm and Ember land in open land under a red sky, near a forest--not exactly what one would expect at the center of a planet. But then, there are the nightmare creatures Pandarve mentioned..


Caves of Chaos Poster Prints On Sale Now

Oubliette - Wed, 09/26/2018 - 10:46
I've now added the Caves of Chaos poster-sized maps by Dyson Logos to the Squarehex site. There are two versions of the map, one with numbers, and one without. There is also a set of mapping sheets that simply have a grid and the cave entrances marked on them. Finally, there is special-priced set that includes both posters and a set of mapping sheets. All the sheets measure 707mm wide by 500mm high and are printed on matt white 115gsm paper. If you need a frame I got mine from Ikea for £5 or £6 in the UK and Amazon have a wide range in the £15-20 price range. All the frames I found were 700mm wide so to make the print fit nicely you need to trim 3-4mm off each side.

Here's a link to all 4 products:

The Caves of Chaos No Numbers
The Caves of Chaos With NumbersThe Caves of Chaos Mapping Sheet

Framed Example (frame from Ikea)

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Cryptozoic Will Showcase Upcoming and Recent Collectibles at Fall Toy Preview 2018

Cryptozoic - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 13:00

Cryptozoic Entertainment today announced that it will show upcoming and recently released collectibles at Fall Toy Preview 2018, October 2-4 at the Dallas Market Center in Dallas, Texas. In Room #8400, Cryptozoic will showcase products being released later this year and in 2019, including Series 2 of CryptkinsTM, the company’s popular original line of vinyl figures based on legendary creatures. In addition, the company will preview its upcoming DC Cinematic Wonder Woman and DC TeekeezTM: Wave 2  vinyl figures, as well as other products planned for the next year. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Best Ways to Track Initiative in Dungeons & Dragons

DM David - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 12:30

In my last post on tracking initiative, I surveyed every tracking technique I knew, from apps to combat pads. Five years later, I feel ready for a stronger statement:

If you don’t use card stock tents to track initiative, you are doing it wrong.

Sure, you can still run a fun game, but with initiative tents, your game will become a bit better.

Initiative tents enable two tracking methods that both work well. If you track initiative wrong, you can choose which improvement suits you best. One technique puts names on the cards, the other uses numbers.

To use numbers, create a set of tents numbered from 1 up. When initiative starts, the players compare numbers and take the card the matches their place in the order. The highest takes 1, second highest 2, and so on. The DM takes cards for the monsters’ place in the order. Everyone sets the numbers at their spot at the table so everyone can see their place.

Initiative tents

To use names, each player puts their character name on a card. When initiative starts, the players roll and write their scores on their card. Someone collects the cards, and lines them up in initiative order where everyone can see. I let a player sort the cards before I drape them in order atop my DM screen.

These tracking methods boast two advantages: They make the initiative order visible to everyone, and they let the dungeon master delegate tracking to the players.

When players can see the tents and initiate order, they can see when their turn is coming and plan their actions. This speeds play. Plus, the visible initiative invites players to remind less-attentive people of their turns. It prevents DMs from accidentally skipping someone’s turn.

Numbered tents do a better job of keeping players aware of their place in the order, because everyone collaborates to establish the order and everyone displays a numbered tent.

Delegating DM chores to the players leads to better games. Typically, game masters run all the non-player characters, describe the action, track initiative, set up maps and figures, make rulings, and so on and on. The players mostly wait for the DM’s attention. A DM’s pace tends to bottleneck the pace of a role-playing session.

Delegation reduces the bottleneck created by the game master. Games move faster, so everyone enjoys more time adventuring. Plus, when players gain tasks to do, they remain engaged in the game and have more fun.

Unless you run games for young kids or new players, let the players manage most of the initiative.

Named tents do a better job of delegating initiative, because the DM can ignore the entire process of establishing the order.

Tracking with numbers

Dungeon master and D&D freelance author Teos Abadia champions tracking with numbers. You can read more about this method in his blog.

To make numbered tents, fold index cards and use a marker to write numbers on either side. Twelve cards should be enough for every player and type of monster. White cards work fine, but colored ones offer more visibility at the table. You can reuse numbered tents.

Tracking with names

For a minimal initiative tent, use index cards. Cutting a card lengthwise yields two tents suitable for draping across a DM’s screen. Cut from top to bottom for three, smaller tents suitable for standing on the table. I like using colored index cards and giving each player a unique color, so they can identify the color from across the table. All my monsters get white stock. Before a game session, pass out the cards and have players write a name on each side. When initiative starts, everyone rolls and writes their score on their card.

I prepare the monsters’ tents in advance. This lets me write the monster names and either pre-roll their initiatives or just use static initiatives that set all the monsters at 10 plus their dexterity bonus. Static initiatives rely on the players’ rolls for a random element. Skipping the monsters’ rolls saves time, but tends to cluster the monsters’ turns.

Many DMs who drape initiative tents on their DM screen use something to mark the current place in the turn order. A binder clip on the active character’s tent works well enough.

Although tents with just names and scores work well, I add extra information to my tents. With the tents draped across my DM’s screen, I gain a quick reference. For instance, I have players write their characters’ armor class and passive perception scores on their tents.

Some DMs who use initiative tents just give players blank tents, show a sample, and ask everyone to follow the example. But I’ve created formatted tents with spaces to write in. Download my formatted tents here.

My monster tents show armor class, the three most common saving throws, and include spaces for attacks and other information. On the player-facing side of the monster tents, I added a big box for armor class. Sometimes, when a fight went long enough for the characters to figure armor classes, I used to mark the ACs where everyone could see. This sped turns a bit.

Now, I save the monster tents so I can reuse them. This discourages me from writing ACs where players can see. Also, this encourages static initiatives. I can write an initiative score of 10 plus dexterity modifier and reuse it in every fight.

Some of my tents have initiative scores I rolled a year or more ago. Is it wrong if I reuse a year-old roll? Have you ever wondered why my shambling mounds always prove quick to act while my bugbears never get a drop on anyone? I should probably cross out those rolls.

My player tents include spaces for AC and passive perception, plus space for up to 8 separate initiative scores. As an extra time saver, I have players pre-roll initiative. During the a game session, I never slow for initiative. When an encounter starts, I hand all the tents to a player for sorting, and then I drape the folds on my screen.

Some eager helpers won’t wait for initiative. At the end of every encounter, they re-order the tents. I never have to call for initiative. While this skips a dramatic moment, it also blends the line between combat and the rest of the game. I suspect that’s better. What do you think?

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

4 Classic TSR Modules Under The Influence of The Ravenloft Setting For Old School Adventure

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 07:22
'The coiling mists of Ravenloft close their tendrils of fog & mist on other classic Dungeons  & Dragons  old school adventures. Adventures where the shadows grow longer & the aspects of monsters grow much more sinister as well as deadly. "  The idea here is to take five classic modules of  Dungeons & Dragons then marry these classics to the Ravenloft setting. How does the tone of Needles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ch. 5, Page 22

Castle Greyhawk - Tue, 09/25/2018 - 01:48
Robilar was sick of this stalker. He was sick of conjured other-planar beings. He was sick (if not also a bit jealous) of the power magic-users had and wielded with such reckless abandon, and how often they wound up using it against him with reckless abandon. And, in that moment, he himself was filled with reckless abandon. With a single magic word he ended the magic of his levitating boots and dropped downwards to the newly web-shrouded street.

Only in the very last moment did it even occur to him that his flaming sword slashing through the magic web might have consequences.

18 Game Kickstarter - Launching Friday October 5th

Two Hour Wargames - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 23:11

More info coming soon!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

PRESALE: Golden Goddess Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman Vinyl Figure (New York Comic Con Exclusive)

Cryptozoic - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 17:00

She’s still the gold standard! This is your chance to own the Golden Goddess Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman vinyl figure created exclusively for New York Comic Con 2018! You can make sure you get this extremely limited collectible by purchasing it now and then picking it up at Cryptozoic’s Booth #244 during the event.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

[REVIEW] Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun

Beyond Fomalhaut - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 16:51
[REVIEW] Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun (2018)by Jack ShearPublished by Dolorous Exhumation PressLevel-independent
In the same years when the generic AD&D product line was filled with blah Renfaire pablum which surely wouldn’t upset your average soccer mom, Troy Denning, Timothy Brown and artist Gerald Brom struck gold, and designed a world of scorching deserts devastated by sorcery, brutal sorcerer kings lording over ancient city states, and super-powerful monsters roaming the remains of a dying world. Dark Sun remains the best campaign setting produced by early 1990s TSR, and easily stands its own against Tékumel, Glorantha and other original fantasy worlds. It is a miracle it happened, and no miracle it didn’t last, as later supplements and a terrible second edition brought it down. That initial fire, though, has burned brighter than any other: it is the one 2e product I would keep if I had to part with all the others. With that in mind, any product has huge shoes to fill when it tries to follow in Dark Sun’s mighty footsteps.
Cinderheim is not a full DS knockoff, but among its sources of inspiration (from Dying Earth stories to Weird West fiction), DS is the most prominent. The world guide is a system-neutral gazetteer; it was developed under 5th edition D&D, but contains almost no rules content beyond a few suggestions on running a campaign in one of the appendices. It is still a fairly slim booklet at 44 pages, particularly considering the generous font size and breezy layout.
Cinderheim is a blasted desert far from civilisation. The sun burns unnaturally strongly here, with an almost demonic intensity. The only major habitable areas are seven oases, each hosting a town ruled by an eccentric tyrant and his or her brutal band of warriors. In turn, each oasis is under the influence of a demon tied to the nature of the place, and usually the tyrant ruling over it. It is pretty much store-brand Dark Sun and its sorcerer kings on a smaller scale, but somehow, it never really starts to work.
Theoretically, you could take DS in different directions, but this specific one feels bowdlerised and lifeless. DS was a mishmash of cool stuff blended together, but in the end, it had a sense of cohesion, and it was united by the material’s intensity. Its oddities like mantis warrior characters, thieving elves, obsidian coins, psionics and cannibal halflings felt at home within the world, even if much was (very wisely) left as a mystery. Cinderheim does not have this intensity, even if it has its moments: Tenoch the Devourer, a mantis warrior ruler publicly feasting on the bodies his foes, living or dead, yet ever hungering, is a classical DS-style nightmare.
But some elements are missing. One of these is, indeed, size: Dark Sun was writ on a grandiose scale with massive ziggurats and armies of slaves; Cinderheim is of indeterminate scale (the map is particularly lazy, a few connected dots on a deserty background), but it never feels expansive. Perhaps there is simply a lack of information at play. You don’t get to learn too much from the world. The information in the booklet mainly consists of brief bullet point lists describing the basics about the oasis towns, the warlords ruling them, some of the local points of interests, and the seven demons. This approach makes things repetitive and just too “symmetrical” – all the towns, warlords, local temples and demon princes fit a specific pattern, without deviations and true variety. And again, it also feels small and fairly inconsequential, more like a containment zone for desert scum and exiles (like an elven war criminal, a half-orc revolutionary or a religious zealot) than a world literally devastated by sorcerous powers.
Perhaps it is just not crazy enough. Dark Sun went far with its ideas; it is a world with almost no metal; there are YUGE worms and insects used as beasts of burden; there are fountains of tar and burning plains of obsidian; and lots of casual brutality for its own sake. All outlandish, yet all fitting into the big picture. Those cannibal halflings were a shock, but they made a twisted sense. You don’t get that from this document. It is more tame, and it sorta just floats around without given context or connections. At its weakest, it almost comes across as a brutal multicultural utopia, where a diverse (but of course very brutal) menagerie of scorpionfolk, aasimar, catfolk, ogre magi and dragonborn live together in harmony and peace. I counted 28 different races living in the desert towns, and it may be a low estimate. I admit I laughed hysterically at the description of Daiyu, the favoured son of Niu Bo Wei (The Prince of Pleasure), who is a hobgoblin trans-weretiger “struggling to control his transformations”, but I am probably not a good person. The back cover promises “brutal scavengers [who] battle for survival against desperate raiders and monsters born of demonic corruption”, and “a blasted hellscape of barbarism, sandstorms, and unrelenting heat”, but that doesn’t really happen. The bits and pieces which directly support running a game in Cinderheim are decent but anaemic, amounting to a random adventure generator, a wilderness encounter table, a list of local names, a random chart for demonic corruption, and a table of random trinkets.
Needless to say, this did not do much for me. There is some good stuff scattered around the book (some of the warlords and demons have promise; you could get some value out of the tables), but it did not set my imagination on fire. It lacks the visionary appeal of a good setting pitch, and the direct usability of a solid utility product. Like most “I can’t believe it is not ___Famous Artist___” albums, Cinderheim does not scratch the itch it promises. Instead of carrying forward Dark Sun’s legacy and doing something interesting with it, it reads like an early, concept-stage pitch. And that’s it. The wastelands have no mercy. The weak should fear the strong, and in the blasted deserts of late 2018 gaming, Dark Sun is still as strong as ever, while Cinderheim stands no chance. Another lifeless body falls on the uncaring sands of the arena as the champion raises his arms and the crowds go wild at the sight of blood.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: ** / *****
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