Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Kickstarter and Me

Get Lucky and The Gamers: Hands of Fate

As I was waiting for the last day or two of the Book of the Righteous for Fifth Edition Kickstarter to count down this week, the following article appeared in my Facebook feed: "Old-fashioned boardgames, not tech, are attracting the most money on Kickstarter." This news did not really surprise me, as my own pledges have been primarily for games, particularly RPGs. And even those that weren't games themselves have tended to be tied to them in some way.

Here is a quick review of the projects that I've backed in the four years that I've been involved in Kickstarter.

Re-Creating my Art from S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Jeff Dee (March 2012): Jeff Dee was one of the more prolific artists employed by TSR in the early years of the D&D game. At some point, the company lost or destroyed most of his originals, so Dee has spent much of the past few years recreating those pieces for his portfolio, as well as producing some new pieces for gods, monsters, etc., that lacked art due to time constraints when the books were published. One of his first art Kickstarters was for "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks," one of my favorite 1st edition adventures. That was the project that persuaded me to try out this whole Kickstarter thing, and I now have a signed print of my favorite Dee piece from S3 (a mind flayer) displayed above my desk.

The Gamers: Hands of Fate by Zombie Orpheus (September 2012): I am a fan of The Gamers and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, so happily contributed to this sequel. I didn't yet own the second movie at the time, so pledged at a level that included that as a reward.

Fate Core by Fred Hicks / Evil Hat Productions (January 2013): Fate is a system that I have had little experience with, but find intriguing enough to want to explore more fully. This Kickstarter provided an updated rulebook plus a staggeringly long list of stretch goals that are still being produced. Among the ones released so far are Fate Accelerated Edition (a streamlined version of the rules), Do: Fate of the Flying Temple (a Fate Accelerated setting), and the Fate Freeport Companion (for Green Ronin's Freeport setting). A friend of mine has recently started up a Do game, and I'm greatly enjoying a chance to finally learn Fate through actual play. And the Freeport book is a welcome addition to my sizable collection for that setting (I'm a bit of a completist there, as the next item will make more clear).

Freeport: The City of Adventure for the Pathfinder RPG by Chris Pramas: Green Ronin Publishing (April 2013): I've been a fan of Freeport ever since finding the first adventure, Death in Freeport, in my FLGS. My love of this product line prompted the start of what became Tim's Errata Archive, which in turn led to me becoming an official contributor to the setting (through revising the Freeport Trilogy to v.3.5, then writing, editing, and proofreading other titles). Green Ronin's announcement about this massive update to the setting persuaded me (and my players) to convert my most recent (v.3.5) Freeport campaign to Pathfinder. We ended up making that change well ahead of the book's completion, so I have not yet used as much of this book as I would have if we had been using it from the beginning of a brand-new campaign. But it's a solid resource that will ensure that I will return to Freeport for future campaigns.

The last few physical rewards for this Kickstarter (a miniature and a bookplate) finally shipped recently, but a few electronic rewards are still in progress. The first installment of the six-part Return to Freeport adventure path is now available, and the rest will be released over the rest of 2016. Green Ronin has promised to produced a Freeport Companion for their Fantasy AGE system, but that product is still in the very early development stages and does not yet have a release date. (Blue Rose for AGE--see below--has priority at the moment.)

Get Lucky, the Kill Doctor Lucky Card Game by Cheapass Games (November 2013): I have enjoyed many Cheapass Games, including the original Kill Doctor Lucky, since I first discovered the company quite a number of years ago. James Ernest reserves the deluxe color treatment for his company's very best games, so I was pretty confident of getting a good game from this project, and was not disappointed.

Advanced Bestiary for the Pathfinder RPG by Chris Pramas: Green Ronin Publishing (December 2013): The original Advanced Bestiary, for v.3.5, is my favorite non-Freeport book from Green Ronin: its diverse collection of templates adds value to every other monster book you own. With my gaming group's shift from D&D to Pathfinder, I was eager to see this book updated to those rules. The new book has been expanded to include even more templates, some of which I've already put to very good use in my games.

Prospero's Price; A Lovecraft and Shakespeare Tale by J Kovach (March 2014): This graphic novel, which promises a Lovecraftian retelling of The Tempest, has suffered delays due to health issues and other obstacles. It's impossible to tell at this time when or if the book will be completed.

MUNCHKIN® BRICKS - Accessories for your miniature figures by Crazy Bricks (June 2014): This Kickstarter produced LEGO-compatible bricks based on Steve Jackson Games' Munchkin games. Of all the projects I've backed, this one probably delivered the most promptly.

IAmElemental Action Figures for Girls by IAmElemental (June 2014): This Kickstarter produced a series of superhero action figures designed to appeal to, and empower, young girls. My wife and I appreciated the project's reaction to the over-genderizing of children's toys, and backed it for a full set of the Series 1 toys. This past Christmas, we gave the set to our two children (a girl, 11, and boy, 10) to share, and they both seem to enjoy these toys equally. 

Iron Atlas: Digital Miniatures System for Roleplaying Games by by Lifeform Entertainment, LLC (July 2014): This is the one and only Kickstarter that I've pledged to that did not successfully fund. I was not nearly as invested in this one as most of the RPG books in this list, so was not heartbroken by its failure,

Epyllion, a Dragon Epic RPG by Marissa Kelly (May 2015): This premise of this rules-light RPG could be summarized as "My Little Pony, but with dragons." My children are obsessed with both of those things, so this Kickstarter was an easy sell for our household. The game is very close to completion: a PDF preview (with the full text but without the final editing pass or art) has just been released to backers.

Blue Rose: The AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy by Nicole Lindroos of Green Ronin (July 2015): I enjoyed the original True20 Blue Rose RPG, though I never had much opportunity to play it. The setting is based on the "romantic fantasy" of writers such as Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey. As such, it was controversial for its inclusion of characters of sexuality and gender minorities. Green Ronin felt that the current state of LGBT politics, as well as the release of their Fantasy AGE game, made the time right for a new edition of Blue Rose, using those new rules. I'm intrigued by Fantasy AGE, and the tropes of Blue Rose match my children's (especially my daughter's!) tastes in fantasy quite well, so I look forward to trying out the new game with them. It's scheduled for release this summer.

A Natural History of the Fantastic by Christopher Stoll (July 2015): This art book is a bestiary of classic fantasy creatures, much in the style of Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. The author/artist gives his own unique twist on each creature, which frequently prompted me to think about how to adapt the material to use in an RPG. (I may do some of that in future columns, once the promised concept sketchbook reward is available.)

Spirit Island by GreaterThanGames (October 2015): This boardgame was created by a good friend of mine, Eric Reuss. My wife and I helped playtest an early version of the game, so we are very much looking forward to seeing and playing the final, polished version. (As an aside, I highly recommend Eric's game Fealty, published by Asmadi Games.)

The Feminomicon by Christopher Stoll (March 2016): This sequel to A Natural History of the Fantastic addresses female gods and monsters, presented in a format inspired by the fictional Necronomicon. The book is currently in production.

Book of the Righteous for Fifth Edition by Chris Pramas: Green Ronin Publishing (May 2016): The original Book of the Righteous, for D&D Third Edition, provided a highly detailed pantheon of gods, including full details on each god's mythology, religious organizations, and relationships to other priesthoods. It follows Green Ronin's modular approach toward gaming supplements, allowing GMs to drop as much or as little as they wish into their own campaigns, regardless of setting. The new book will update the mechanics to Fifth Edition, as well as expanding on the background information. I usually prefer to build my own worlds and cosmologies, so I never bought the original book, but have regretted that from time to time since. The new book will provide a wealth of new material for Fifth Edition, with new options for many classes besides just clerics. I have recently started exploring the new edition, so very much look forward to adding this to my (currently quite small) collection for it.

In conclusion, the Kickstarters that I've been most excited about involve games by people whose past work I enjoy a great deal, and who I want to see continue to make incredible stuff. I would love to have the freedom to pledge money to a wider spectrum of projects, in order to expand my horizons even further and encourage more new creators. But for now, my limited budget demands that I save it for projects that I can be confident about investing in from the beginning. So, for starters, expect to see Green Ronin continue to dominate my list of backed Kickstarters.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Creatures of Freeport: Plague Wraith

The plague wraith was originally introduced in "Focus on Freeport #8: An Unwelcome Guest." In this column, I present a straightforward conversion of that v.3.0 stat block to Pathfinder, then provide a much more dangerous alternate build using a template from the Advanced Bestiary. I then update the detect disease spell to Pathfinder.

Plague Wraith

This creature has a vaguely humanoid form outlined in greenish mist. Its only definite features are a pair of glowing pinpoints where eyes should be. 

PLAGUE WRAITH (CR 5)
XP 1,600
CE Medium undead (incorporeal)
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., sense disease; Perception +11
Aura unnatural aura (30 ft.)
Defense
AC 16, touch 16, flat-footed 13 (+3 deflection, +3 Dex)
hp 45 (6d8+18)
Fort +5, Ref +5, Will +7
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +2, incoporeal; Immune undead traits
Weaknesses sunlight powerlessness, vulnerable to remove disease
Offense
Speed fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee incorporeal touch +7 (1d4 negative energy plus disease)
Special Attacks disease
Statistics
Str --, Dex 16, Con --, Int 15, Wis 14, Cha 16
Base Atk +4; CMB +7; CMD 20
Feats Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative
Skills Fly +7, Intimidate +12, Knowledge (humanoids, planes) +8, Perception +11, Sense Motive +11, Stealth +12
Languages Abyssal, Common
Ecology
Environment any land or undeground
Organization solitary or gang (2-5)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Disease (Su) Wraith Plague; Incorporeal touch--injury; save Fort DC 16; onset 1 day; frequency 1/day; effect 1d6 Con drain; cure --. A humanoid who dies from Constituion drain rises as a plague wraith after 1d4 days. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Sense Disease (Su) A plague wraith can sense disease in any humanoid, and will not attack those already suffering from any kind of illness. Sense disease is a free action for the plague wraith.
Sunlight Powerlessness (Ex) A plague wraith caught in sunlight cannot attack and is staggered.
Unnatural Aura (Su) Animals do not willingly approach within 30 feet of a plague wraith, unless a master makes a DC 25 Handle Animal, Ride, or wild empathy check.
Vulnerable to Remove Disease (Ex) A plague wraith is vulnerable to the remove disease spell. A caster must hit the plague wraith with a touch attack. If the plague wraith fails its save, it is destroyed. Note that the plague wraith’s normal immunity to effects that require Fortitude saves does not apply.


The alternative stat block below was created by adding the plague-bearer template (Advanced Bestiary 220) to a standard wraith (Bestiary 281). This template makes the resulting creature much more dangerous because it combines all of the regular wraith's powers with multiple disease vectors. 


PLAGUE-BEARER WRAITH (CR 7)
XP 3,200
LE Medium undead (incorporeal)
Init +7; Senses darkvision 60 ft., lifesense; Perception +10
Aura disease cloud (30 ft., bubonic plague, mind fire, DC 20), unnatural aura (30 ft.)
Defense
AC 18, touch 18, flat-footed 13 (+5 deflection, +3 Dex)
hp 62 (5d8+40)
Fort +9, Ref +4, Will +6
Defensive Abilities channel resistance +2, incoporeal; Immune undead traits
Weaknesses sunlight powerlessness
Offense
Speed fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee incorporeal touch +6 (1d6 negative energy plus 1d6 Con drain and disease)
Special Attacks create spawn, disease (filfth fever, leprosy, DC 20)
Statistics
Str --, Dex 16, Con --, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 27
Base Atk +3; CMB +6; CMD 21
Feats Blind-Fight, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative
Skills Diplomacy +13, Fly +7, Intimidate +16, Knowledge (planes) +7, Perception +10, Sense Motive +10, Stealth +11
Languages Common, Infernal
SQ carrier, diseased flesh (blinding sickness, DC 20), quick incubation
Ecology
Environment any 
Organization solitary, pair, gang (3-6), or pack (7-12)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Carrier (Ex) See the plague-bearer template (Advanced Bestiary 220)
Constitution Drain (Su) Creatures hit by a plague-bearer wraith's touch attack must succeed on a DC 20 Fortitude save or take 1d6 points of Constitution drain. On each successful attack, the plague-bearer wraith gains 5 temporary hit points. The save DC is Charisma-based.
Create Spawn (Su) A humanoid slain by a plague-bearer wraith becomes a plague-bearer wraith in 1d4 rounds. These spawn are less powerful than typical plague-bearer wraiths, and suffer a -2 penalty on all d20 rolls and checks, receive -2 hp per HD, and only drain 1d2 points of Constitution on a touch. Spawn are under the command of the plague-bearer wraith that created them until its death, at which point they lose their spawn penalties and become free-willed plague-bearer wraiths. They do not possess any of the abilities that they had in life.
Disease (Ex) See the plague-bearer template (Advanced Bestiary 220)
Disease Cloud (Ex) See the plague-bearer template (Advanced Bestiary 220)
Diseased Flesh (Ex) See the plague-bearer template (Advanced Bestiary 220)
Lifesense (Su) A plague-bearer wraith notices and locates living creatures within 60 feet, just as if it possessed the blindsight ability.
Quick Incubation (Ex) See the plague-bearer template (Advanced Bestiary 220)
Sunlight Powerlessness (Ex) A plague-bearer wraith caught in sunlight cannot attack and is staggered.
Unnatural Aura (Su) Animals do not willingly approach within 30 feet of a plague-bearer wraith, unless a master makes a DC 25 Handle Animal, Ride, or wild empathy check.


And finally, here is a Pathfinder conversion for the new spell that appears in "An Unwelcome Guest."

DETECT DISEASE
School divination; Level cleric/oracle 0, druid 0, inquisitor 0, paladin 1, ranger 1, shaman 0, witch 0
Casting
Casting Time 1 action
Components V, S  
Effect
Range Close (25 ft + 5 ft / 2 levels) 
Target or Area one creature, one object, or a 5-ft cube 
Duration Instantaneous 
Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance no

You determine whether or not a creature, object, or area is diseased or is a carrier of a disease. You can determine the exact type of disease with a successful Heal check (DC 20). The spell can penetrate barriers, but 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt block it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Building the Bestiary #5: Tiny Creatures

Dragon crests from Castle knights'
helmets, mounted on radar dishes.
The D&D Monster Manual and Pathfinder Bestiary both include large numbers of creatures of size Small, Tiny, or even smaller. In a typical campaign, these smaller monsters tend to fall into a few broad categories: familiars; vermin; swarms; and fey.

Small creatures take up a 5-foot space, which is a 1-inch square on the battle map. Creatures of this size can be placed on the same 2x2 or 2x3 plate bases as Small and Medium humanoids.

Tiny creatures have a space of 2-1/2 feet, or 1/2 inch on the map, while smaller sizes take up even less space. Figures this small need a base mostly to prevent the miniature from getting lost or accidentally knocked or blown across the board. There is no plate that is the perfect size (1-1/2 studs) for Tiny creatures, so I usually use a 2x2 plate, jumper plate, or radar dish.

Familiars

Tiny animals rarely pose any serious threat, even to a 1st-level party. Because of this, individual animals rarely need a stat block or a miniature unless they appear as a spellcaster's familiar. In fact, the Pathfinder Bestiary collects these small, weak creatures under the "Familiars" heading for this very reason.

The LEGO Group has produced a vast number of animal pieces, most of which--especially the smaller ones--are a single part. The Friends theme has expanded upon this selection more than almost any other theme, both by adding cutesy versions of existing animals (like dogs, cats, and parrots) and by offering all-new creatures (such as hedgehogs, squirrels, and penguins).

LEGO animals exist for the following standard choices for familiars: bat, cat, monkey (chimpanzee), owl, rat, viper (snake), and toad (frog). For hawks, use the classic bird figure; for ravens, use that bird or the newer crow (from the Tonto and scarecrow minifigures).

For a lizard, you can use Pascal (the chameleon from Tangled), a baby T-Rex (from old dinosaur sets), or a dragon crest (from Castle knight helmets). Lacking those options, the photo below shows one example of a built lizard, using a 1x4 plate, two 1x2 jumper plates, and a 1x1 slope plate.  

For a weasel, you can use a rat or a skunk, but neither is ideal. The ferret in the photo above is built with two 1x2 and one 1x1 plates, a 1x1 round brick, and a small antenna.

For other small animals, you'll need to get creative. Just a few well-chosen pieces can evoke a specific animal, like the rabbit, squirrel, and turtle shown below.


Vermin

Spiders and scorpions are common parts available in many LEGO sets; these animals can be used to represent almost any vermin of Small size or smaller. Ants are also available, but harder to find because they appeared in very few sets (most recently, the Marvel Ant-Man set).

The Pharaoh's Quest theme introduced shields shaped like scarabs, which make excellent miniatures for beetles. More recently, the Friends theme introduced special 1x1 pieces shapes like ladybugs and butterflies, which can be used for smaller beetles and flying insects, respectively. (These parts are small enough that you'll definitely want to mount them on bases.) Sets with a seaside theme may contain crabs or clams, both of which are classified as vermin in d20.

A few examples of brick-built vermin are shown below, using a variety of small parts.

Two scorpions, a spider, and a leech

Swarms

In d20 games, a swarm has a space of 10 feet, but those four 5-foot squares can be moved around into any shape as long as the swarm stays contiguous. For this reason, the best way to represent a swarm is with separate miniatures for each square. LEGO animals for the most common swarms (bats, rats, and spiders) are almost always in production, so the easiest method is to use one animal figure per square. Bases are optional for rats and spiders, but the bats will need them to stay upright. If you need more than one swarm for an encounter, use different-colored animals or bases for each separate swarm.

For other swarms, use the suggestions under Familiars and Vermin above to build miniatures for each square.

Fey

For mostly humanoid fey of Small and Medium size, you can use regular minifigures to build the miniatures. The Minifigures theme has included leprechauns, winged fairies, gnomes, and fauns, and similar fey can be built using dwarves, elves,  or hobbits as a starting point. The LEGO Elves theme, with its slender minidolls and colorful hair, can be a useful source of parts for nature spirits such as nymphs, dryads, and sylphs.

Smaller races require other methods. Microfigures from LEGO Games such as Heroica, Minotaurus, Ninjago, or The Hobbit work well as tiny fey, as do the trophy bricks that resemble miniature minifigures. Both of these types of part will need bases for stability.

You can also build small humanoid races using bricks and plates. The simplest Tiny miniature uses one or two 1x1 bricks or cylinders for a body, with a 1x1 round brick or plate for a head. A travis brick (a 1x1 brick with studs on four sides) allows the addition of arms (using small plates) or wings (using feather accessories). Insert a plate with a clip to allow the miniature to hold a small weapon. The photos below show examples of these techniques.


That's all for this column. Please take the time to give me some feedback about this series in the comments. Let me know what you like about these articles, where you think they need more work, and what kinds of monsters you want to see me cover in future installments.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Heroes of Freeport: Janica Flamefist

One of the distinguishing features of D&D Third Edition artwork was the use of iconic characters--examples of typical members of a given class or race. Besides giving a more unified look to the game's' artwork, these characters also appeared in examples of play in the rules, and served as pregenerated characters for many adventures. The Pathfinder RPG has its own stable of iconic characters, created for the same purposes. Versions of these iconic characters at 1st, 7th, and 12th level, along with some backstory and favorite tactics can be found in the Pathfinder SRD and in the NPC Codex.

Green Ronin used this idea in their Freeport setting. The four pregenerated characters in Death in Freeport (who I've converted to a number of other systems in this blog) appear in other illustrations for that book, and other products since then. The Pathfinder edition of Freeport: The City of Adventure (FCA) makes use of this idea as well, presenting portraits of iconic characters for the freebooter, monster slayer, and noble classes as well as many of the new archetypes. Earlier this week, Green Ronin provided some additional background about one of these new characters, in a blog post titled, "Ronin Round Table: Heroes of Freeport: Janica Flamefist." That article gives no statistics for Janica, so I have taken the liberty of devising a 1st-level stat block for her, so that she can be used as a PC for "The Ironjack Legacy" (in FCA) or Return to Freeport Part One: Curse of the Brine Witch, both of which are designed for 1st-level.. (Design notes follow the stat block.)

*****

JANICA FLAMEFIST (CR 1/2)
XP 200
Female azhari monster slayer 1 (FCA 356, 370)
LN Medium outsider (native)
Init +1; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +6
Defense
AC 15, touch 10, flat-footed 15 (+5 armor)
hp 12 (1d10+2)
Fort +3, Ref +0, Will +3; +2 vs. fire spells and spell-likes
Weaknesses vulnerability to cold
Offense
Speed 20 ft. (base 30 ft.)
Melee falchion +3 (2d4+3/18-20)
Ranged light crossbow +1 (1d8/19-20)
Special Attacks turn undead (1/day, DC 11)
Statistics
Str 15, Dex 10, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 12
Base Atk +1; CMB +3; CMD 13
Feats Power Attack
Skills Acrobatics -2, Climb +4, Knowledge (religuion) +5, Knowledge (all others, for monster lore), Perception +6. Survival +5 6 to get along in the wild); Racial Modifiers +2 Acrobatics, +2 Climb, +2 Profession (sailor)
Languages Azharan, Common, Draconic
Traits frontier-forged, tactician (Utlimate Campaign)
SQ might of the efreet (1/day), monster lore (+0), monster specialist (novice undead slayer)
Combat Gear holy water; Other Gear scale mail, falchion, light crossbow and 10 bolts, backpack, bedroll, belt pouch, flint and steel, trail ratuons (5 days), traveler's outfit, waterskin, whetstone, wooden holy symbol (Eternal Flame), 61 gp

*****

When building Janica, I tried to embody her race and class as best I could. I used the elite array (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) for her stats for simplicity's sake. Her background indicates that undead are her chosen foe; the "Flamefist" epithet refers to the visual manifestation of her turn undead ability 

A first level character cannot afford masterwork weapons, so sadly, her uncle's blade has no unusual qualities. The "Heroes of Freeport" blog post is unclear about whether this falchion is supposed to be azhari-sized or efreet-sized. I chose to have it be her own size, also for simplicity, and so that she's not stealing the schtick of the iconic Pathfinder barbarian Amiri, who wields a Large greatsword.

At higher levels, Janica will continue to train as an undead slayer, but will eventually branch out into other creature types depending on what other monsters she faces during her career.

I'm hoping that we'll see similar write-ups for other characters, such as the freebooter featured on the cover and page 365. If and when we do, I will almost certainly devise stat blocks for them, too--unless Green Ronin beats me to it.