Category Archives: Gaming

Anything related to video games or table-top RPGs

Take a Bow

…and plenty of arrows. So many arrows.

Don’t mind me… just bow-hunting off the back of my robot horse.

So about a week ago the fabulous PS4-exclusive game Horizon: Zero Dawn invaded my conscious awareness, and like the horde of hostile robots filling its setting, something had to be done to address this!

Namely purchasing and playing the game at every opportunity. (And also spreading the good news, since the game hasn’t been on my radar or that of several friends.)

I must admit, I am a sucker for pre-historic / post-apocalyptic scenarios. I love piecing together the fact that something terrible happened to humanity in the deep “past” (usually our distant future), and I love seeing the elements of human culture storytellers and artists see fit to incorporate into their ruined worlds–the metal bones of skyscrapers or the rusting panels of ancient radar dishes, the “new” Bronze Age civilizations built atop the remains of what came before, the various ways people in these worlds have adopted the scraps of technology they can’t understand.

In other words, Horizon: Zero Dawn had its hooks in me pretty easy. 

I did at least look into reviews online before putting a copy in my shopping basket. I’ve learned too many painful lessons from spontaneous purchases over the years. Based on what just about everyone was saying online–both professional game reviews and user feedback–I felt I’d get my money’s worth.

I was not prepared!

If I had to narrow down what I love so much, I’d say Horizon is like Tomb Raider meets Mass Effect… an interesting combination of sci-fi story, “open” exploration, and thrilling combat in a variety of styles.
– Fluid fighting that is fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable, and rewarding for the varied approaches available. Go stealth bow-assassin, or creep up and stab unsuspecting foes, or set a variety of traps and lure enemies into them, or use elemental weapons to render enemies vulnerable to your attacks, or just run in and spear the crap out of everything. All of them are fun and exciting methods; none feel tacked on last minute or treated like less than ideal playstyles.

A friend put it as, “The game doesn’t tell you to play this or that way. It just gives you all these tools, and you realize, ‘I could do some interesting things with these…’”

– Beautiful graphics even on my plain old normal PS4. The people look realistic without being creepy. The world looks tangible and gorgeous.
I want to explore this place and take liberal use of the in-game photo mode.

– Great voice work and interesting story line. Pre-historic / Post-apocalyptic with a heaping dose of mystery. How did civilization collapse? Where did all these robots come from? What happens when I set alight all these explosive canisters on the backs of that herd of robots? (Spoilers: beautiful, powerful explosions.)

– Indepth details you can explore to piece together more of the world’s history… along with some chilling or touching tidbits. There are text entries aplenty, but you often get to see holograms or hear audio recordings from the time before the collapse.

– A perfect in-story explanation for the “magic sense” mechanic. In other games, it’s Detective Mode because of Batman’s gadgets or intellect (the Arkham series), or some kind of Survival Instincts because Lara Croft is Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). Horizon has that, but it explains why the heroine Aloy knows so much more than a random tribeswoman should.

So far, Horizon has shattered all my expectations and reliably pulled me back in for “just another quest.” 

Well done, Guerilla Games and Sony. You have a winner here. Take a bow.


I walked into the room and heard the video on my wife’s computer.

“They announced another expansion,” she told me. “I’m watching the description of what’s coming next.”

My first reaction was “Of course they did. This surprises no one.” Then I listened to a few snippets, then I found myself watching with mounting excitement.

Stupid WoW. When will it end?! (Probably not while people are still paying and playing.)

I’m interested about the artifacts… partly because I liked the idea of levelling weapons in LOTRO, and partly because these are cool, lore-related items in most cases to which players have begged to gain access. But most of all, they keep talking about how “You’ve seen Doomhammer wielded by Thrall, or Ashbringer carried into battle by Tirion Fordring. Now you’ll go recover the artifacts from the events of the beginning of the expansion, and you’ll found a new class-specific order by virtue of carrying this artifact from them on.”

So where’s Thrall? Where’s Tirion? I’m looking forward to a shake-up and a lot of death in the list of main NPCs. Muahaha!

The Terror of Terraria

Today we learned (once again) the perils of permitting a 4-year-old to play the iPad.

All three of our boys love Terraria. The teen works with his friends to take down bosses and sometimes permits middle son to help. Middle son proudly informs us all what accomplishments he’s made and sometimes even succeeds in making the teen jealous. And our wee guy runs around telling us that he wants whatever cool things we happen to have (and squealing with infectious delight at whatever he finds).

And all three express their creativity in unique ways, whether it’s a large structure full of traps and lava to grind up monsters into gold coins, a strange combination of clothes and items to give their character a funny appearance, or a silly house built into the sky.

But the happiness could not last…

What could this mean? Clicking "Yes" always seems to work well...
What could this mean? Clicking “Yes” always seems to work well…

I stepped out of the bedroom to discover my middle son sitting on the couch heartbroken and my little guy hiding in his big sister’s bedroom awaiting the trouble he knew he was in.

Alas, no amount of defensive armor or powerful magic gear will protect against the mighty delete button. Somehow, he purged my middle son’s primary character. Dozens of hours of advancement and effort, permanently gone at the touch of a finger on the iPad’s surface.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the little one did the right thing once he realized he’d done wrong. He went to his older brother, apologized, and confessed what happened–without anyone telling him to do so.

We discussed the consequences of what happened. After the initial emotion, they calmed down and made up. And then we formed a plan to help make sure no similar accidents happen in the future. I spent some time playing to help my son find a few of the items he lost, and his new character is caught up pretty well.

My wife commented that life sure is different for our four year old compared to what she experienced at that age. There wasn’t any “Johnny deleted my saved game” or “Sarah’s saying mean things over Xbox Live.”

But age-old principles still apply. When we do something wrong, we own up to it and make it right.

This reminded me of a phenomenal post on Penny Arcade, a (frequently vulgar and crass and rude) web comic I follow, written and drawn by video game aficionados. The artist spent an evening doing a presentation and Q&A for his local Parent Teachers’ Association. It’s a long but well-written discussion about rules for game time and social interaction.

If you’re a parent whose knowledge of your kids’ hobbies is “they play the Minecrafts and Call of Duty on that Game Box One thing,” then this is definitely for you. But if you’re like me and my wife, and have struggled with questions like “how much game time is too much” and “what can I let the kids do online” then that link gives some great insight.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences too. What has changed the most in your opinion since you were a child? What would you add to Mike’s thoughts in the Penny Arcade link?


My four year old has a new favorite topic of conversation… one shared with my nine year old and my teenage son: Terraria. (Or Tahwaria, as the four year old says it so very often.)

For the uninitiated, it’s a game available on PC, on consoles like XBox 360 and PS4, and on mobile devices like Kindle and iPad… and probably some others. 

So, discussions with our little Dude now center around important Terraria facts: 

Do you know about Wepis? (Lepus)
He is BIG. And he is a BOSS. And to fight him you need a subishis wooking egg. (suspicious looking egg)
His face looks funny. But he can’t kill me though. WAIT. WHAT? I DIED.

Armed with a wooden sword, ax, and pickaxe, your tiny character lands in a sprawling world full of dangerous beasties. You build a home for the character that serves as your guide, and then explore and expand from there. Finding and defeating powerful boss monsters unlocks new aspects to the game along with more assistance from the folks who want to “settle down” in your growing complex of houses. There’s a definite RPG side to the game as you find or craft better armor and more powerful melee, ranged, and magical weapons.

Like a two-dimensional Minecraft, this game usually encourages creativity and constructive cooperation among my kids and their friends. My four year old can play around and build things or dig for shiny metals. My nine year old can fight enemies and explore the dangers of the world. And my fourteen year old coordinates with his friends to take down the massive world boss monsters in order to unlock new types of materials. There’s also the option to turn on player-vs-player and fight it out with your frenemies.

The game isn’t perfect. A recent update or perhaps an inherent glitch caused the loss of my character and a few weeks’ worth of progress. Cloud saving might have prevented that, but some reviews on the iTunes Store implied that even cloud saved characters can sometimes encounter similar problems. Device issues can also cause trouble. The Kindle my nine year old uses somehow purged itself of all data, and he lost everything he’d done. 

That said, the game is addicting and interesting enough that both he and I find ourselves starting over, lamenting what was lost but enjoying building a new world nonetheless.

The kids also play with me sometimes, mocking my lack of progress and my general noob status. “Oh, you’re making items and armor out of iron? That’s cute. I barely remember ever needing that. Did I show you my rocket launcher, my space armor, and my machine gun?”

One day soon, I’ll catch up to them. I just need to find some more tungsten ore for that sword I want to make…

D&D 5th Ed: A Resurgence of Imagination

I quite possibly squealed with glee when I saw the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Player’s Handbook show up at our local base exchange book store. That meant they should carry the other books when those are published.

It's here!
It’s here!

I know there’s Amazon, but I still like picking up a physical thing and looking at it before deciding to plunk down my card or cash.

Some of my best-viewed blog posts are about 5th edition. It’s perhaps a trick of the title I chose; certain kinds of players go looking for ideas on how to build the “best” character to “win” at the game, so they’ll search online to see what combinations and tricks others have found within the rules to make (arguably) overpowered characters.

I suppose it’s the D&D version of human growth hormone, and it’s not banned… just frowned upon by some.

Leaving for a deployment plus NaNoWriMo kept me from focusing on setting up the long-awaited game for my family, let alone an actual group of people. But what D&D 5th Edition is doing well is just that: bringing groups of people back together.

Sure, your tabletop group today might bring along their tablets or iPhones for dice apps and fast tracking of information related to the game. The tabletop might even be virtual.

But people are connecting once again, telling stories together, and exploring that wonderful space between our ears. Some fear that in our digital, always-connected, everything-visualized world, there’s little room for imagination and wonder.

Thankfully I find these fears unfounded. My kids play with Legos and bring me their latest creations constantly. They also play Minecraft on the iPad or Xbox. But again, they often show off their wild palaces, deep caverns, and unique structures. They’re exercising and expressing their imagination with ease.

While I don’t fear for them in this area, I do want to encourage them–and their friends–and create spaces for their minds to play in. Because we have that ability to conceive of things beyond ourselves… beyond even the bounds of what we’ve seen or experienced before… beyond what actually exists and into what could.

Maybe that’s not for everyone. Whether the subject is video games, RPGs, or even TV shows and written fiction, I know I’ve heard the judgmental “I don’t waste my time thinking about things that aren’t real.”

How boring.

This article sums it up really well, even if the URL appears to be about something completely different (and super gross):

The awesome glory that is Dungeons and Dragons

D&D 5E: Character Creation

When the first version of D&D Next came out for playtesting, I wrote a post about my experience creating a character in the new system. That post gets more weekly views than any other in my blog. But I feel bad because it’s based on outdated materials.

So I am happy to write a proper post about the Player’s Handbook and creating a character in 5th Edition.

I finally got my Players’ Handbook (PHB) in the mail, and I dug into the book to see exactly what my dollars purchased.

It's here!
It’s here!

There’s plenty that looks familiar… but some changes I love. Bottom line up front? I got it for less than cover price on Amazon, and I have no regrets about the money I spent. But I’m not sure I’d throw $50 down and be as happy.

Chapter 1 covers the basic intro of “What is D&D?” and the process of creating a character. It lays out some key points: D&D consists of exxploration, social interaction, and combat. The game boils down to the DM giving the players a scene, the players describing their intended actions, and the DM describing what happens next.

Chapter 2 covers races. There are 9 races in the PHB – the 4 primary (dwarf, elf, halfling, human) and 5 uncommon (dragonborn, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, tiefling) – each with a little bit of sub-race variant or an option to guide that permits a little variation and character differentiation. For example, you’re an Elf? Are you a high elf (bonus INT, bonus cantrip), a wood elf (bonus WIS, better stealth), or dark elf (bonus CHA, bonus darkvision, racial spell, disadvantage in direct sunlight)? Each race has similar options.

Chapter 3 introduces classes. The PHB comes with 12 classes, so already it gives more bang for the (considerable) bucks than 4E did. The classes consist of: barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard.

Each class has a few subclass options to distinguish one version of the class from another. For example, you may have the nimble thief, the brutal assassin, or the arcane trickster, all falling under the rogue class.

Yes, that’s right, magical rogues.

My favorite section is Chapter 4, Personality and Background. It’s character concept Heaven, with an explanation of four characteristics to guide a player’s understanding of their character from a sheet of numbers to a living person. This chapter introduces traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws, and that’s where I’ll focus the majority of this post.

Traits describe likes or dislikes, past accomplishments, fears, mannerisms, and the influence of ability scores. (Perhaps my dextrous rogue takes pride in his nimble fingers and specifically his ability to pull off sleight-of-hand without getting caught.)

Ideals are what drives your character. It’s the principle she’ll never go back on, the rule that guides his decisions, the goal that keeps her up at night. If you don’t have an idea off the top of your head, don’t worry; the PHB provides a bunch of examples to choose from later.

Bonds are those ties which connect your character to someone, something, or somewhere else. It’s the prior allegiance or baggage your character brings–whether that turns out to be a burden, a weakness exploited by a villain, or a source of inspiration that pushes your character to heroic deeds.

Finally, flaws are your character’s blind spots or weak points. What vice does this character secretly cling to? What drives them into fits of rage that might challenge their morals?

When I reviewed the Starter Set, this was a feature I loved about the pre-made character sheets. Seeing it fleshed out in the PHB makes me a happy player / DM.

And if a player gets stuck, the PHB includes backgrounds that might further embellish or expand a concept of a character. Each background gives some story details that can help out in a pinch in-game or can be used as hooks by the DM to motivate a character to action.

My first party had a player who was a “by-the-dice” guy; he rolled an appropriate die for what class, and what race he’d play. He rolled a set of stats and took them in order. When he got “paladin” he rolled a die based on the provided list of gods. He ended up with a Dwarf paladin who worshiped Nature. How’s that for a unique concept?

If you’re a by-the-dice player, the PHB hooks you up. Chapter 4 includes tables to cover each characteristic for a chracter’s background. You can choose an appropriate ideal, bond, or flaw… or let the dice create a concept for you.

My D&D Next character Lamoncha (from the post mentioned at the beginning) was designed to be an artisan who crafted intricate mechanical trinkets based on his time spent with the gnomes near his birthplace. Here’s an example of how he’d shake out with a random-rolled Guild Artisan background:

Guild Artisan:
Business trade: wagonmaker / wheelwright (1d20 – rolled 18)
Personality trait: “I’m well known for my work, and I want to make sure everyone appreciates it. I’m always taken aback when people haven’t heard of me.” (1d8 – rolled 8)
Ideal: “Community: It is the duty of all civilized people to strengthen the bods of community and the security of civilization. (Lawful)” (1d6 – rolled 1)
Bond: “I owe my guild a great debt for forging me into the person I am today.” (1d6 – rolled 3)
Flaw: “No one must ever learn that I once stole money from guild coffers.” (1d6 – rolled 3)

That’s something you can start a character with. He’s arrogant, but he’s noble. He’s driven by a sense of duty based on a debt owed, both figuratively (out of gratitude) and literally (due to his secret theft). And that’s just rolling dice without giving any thought.

It’s really that easy to come up with a character concept if you have no previous idea walking in.

Here’s an example from start-to-finish, rolling dice for every decision:

Race: 1d10 for 9 races, rolled 9 = Tiefling (one of the few classes without subracial options)
Class: 1d12, rolled 7 = Paladin. To add to my concept, I’ll roll now for the 2nd level choice of fighting style.
Fighting Style at 2nd level: 1d4, rolled 2 = Dueling (bonus for wielding only one melee one-hand weapon).
Ability Scores: 4d6 minus lowest, rolled 15 STR, 10 DEX, 11 CON, 14 INT, 10 WIS, 12 CHA (Not a perfect set for a pally, since CHA and CON should be up there right after STR, but it’ll do. So I have a smarter-than-average paladin who’s not as tough as others.)
Gender: 1d4 split evens/odds, rolled 1 = Male
Height: using provided base 4’9“ + modifer 2d8, rolled 9 = 5‘6“
Weight: using provided base 110 lb + height modifier of 9 x(2d4), rolled 6 = 164 lbs. (Does this matter? Not really. But a character can be completely random, and might end up shorter or taller, larger or smaller than average, and that might add something.)
Alignment: 1d10 for 9 possibilities, rolled 2 = Neutral Good “folk do the best they can to help others according to their needs.” (I lucked out, since a Chaotic Neutral paladin might be quite the contradiction.)
Deity: 1d8 for 7 Neutral Good deities, rolled 7 = Mystra, goddess of magic, with domain of Knowledge (using the Forgotten Realms list provided in the Appendices)
Background: 1d12 for 11 backgrounds, rolled 10 = Soldier (skill proficiency for Athletics and Intimidation, some equipment listed)
Specialty (Soldier): 1d8, rolled 4 = Cavalry
Feature (Soldier): Military Rank (with description of how that plays out in social interaction)
Personality Trait (Soldier): 1d8, rolled 8 = “I face problems head on. A simple, direct solution is the best path to success.”
Ideal (Soldier): 1d6, rolled 1 = Greater Good. “Our lot is to lay down our lives in defense of others.”
Bond (Soldier): 1d6, rolled 4 = “I’ll never forget the crushing defeat my company suffered or the enemies who dealt it.”
Flaw (Soldier): 1d6, rolled 6 = “I’d rather eat my armor than admit when I’m wrong.”
Starting wealth (Paladin, 5d4 x 10, rolled 11) = 110 gp

So now I’ve got a Tiefling Paladin who served as a cavalry soldier and suffered a terrible defeat. He’s not a sword-and-board “tank” but a powerful and skilled striker. He’s smarter than average, and his chosen deity is focused on knowledge, so that gives him perhaps a touch of the rational and logical beyond your average religious devotee motivated by faith. He’s straight-forward and direct, willing to sacrifice, seeking to help others… but (perhaps due in part to his above-average intelligence) he won’t admit when he’s wrong. And he has a history that drives him to do good, but might also be a tie to connect him to the story of the campaign, when the last survivors of his defeated company fall under the sway of the new dragon cult encroaching on the borders of civilization…
Yeah, that works as a concept, eh?

Chapter 5 covers equipment, and that looks pretty much like previous versions. One addition I like is the “trinket” table. It’s a d100 table of odds and ends that might be part of a character’s story, since each character gets to start with one. It can also be a DM tool to provide something more in a treasure hoard than just “X gold pieces and a +1 sword.” To me, it’s ripe with possible hooks.

The Soldier background states that the character already has “an insignia of rank, a trophy taken from a fallen enemy (a dagger, broken blade, or piece of a banner), a set of bone dice or deck of cards, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp.” But everyone also gets a trinket!

Our tiefling paladin’s trinket, rolling 73, is “the shell of an egg painted with scenes of human misery in disturbing detail.”
I did not roll for the trinket prior to writing the bit above, but this fits perfectly as a token of the true nature of the dragon cult mentioned. Perhaps a former comrade brought this as evidence of what’s really going on, before she suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.

Finally, Chapter 6 is the “optional” chapter, covering multi-class rules and feats. These can be ignored at DM and group discretion, which is great for newbie players who don’t need to be overwhelmed with more options on top of everything thus far. Looking over the multi-class rules, it seems to make more sense than 4E ever did. I can easily picture my fantasy story’s main character as a cleric/warlock multi-class character. The rules make it easy to see how that might play out, covering possible rule conflicts and how different class features interact with one another. Minimum ability prerequisites are established to keep my kids’ favorite NPC, the dumb-as-dirt “HorcSorc” half-orc Sorcerer from going Wizard, and so on.

For feats, there’s enough to give you something useful, but no pages and pages of options like 4E.

There’s a decent section to cover how the game actually plays, with Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores, Chapter 8: Adventuring, and Chapter 9: Combat. These all look pretty familiar compared to 4E. I’ve noted elsewhere that advantage and disadvantage seem (to me) to be the biggest change. Instead of a million bonuses, if you have a lot of things in your favor, you roll 2d20s and take the higher as your attempt. If you have things working against you, you take the lower of 2d20. It seems elegant and simple, but I still have yet to see it in play to know how well it works.

The last part of the book covers spells, and there are plenty: 3.5 pages of 4 columns per page listing all the spells, since 8 classes use magic. So there are heaps of magic to start with. Spells fill a quarter of the book, from pg 211-289 out of 320 pages. Naturally, pally and ranger are shortest lists, and wizard goes on forever. But the point is, magic is robust in 5E.

And I don’t just mean in the spellcasting mechanics.

I’m quite pleased. The character sheets may be flat but that doesn’t mean the characters have to be. With a little creative thought or even just a few dice rolls, your character can go from zero to 3D with ease.

Thanks for reading! Have you checked out the PHB or playtested 5th Edition? What are your thoughts on it?

Is there something I didn’t answer? Ask a question in the comments, and I’ll look into it.

Forced Extended Rest

I saw this on the shelves of our local bookstore yesterday.

Urge to spend... rising... RISING...
Urge to spend… rising… RISING…

My PHB and copy of Hoard are in the mail, ordered from Amazon a couple days ago. It has to make the long trip across the Pacific to reach my mailbox, which usually takes about a week.

In addition to the two new books, I’ve ordered the set of minis that go along with the Starter Set. Hopefully, once all has arrived, I can sit down on a Saturday with my in-home natural D&D party (my wife and three kids old enough to understand the rules) to get a feel for 5E.

So for now, I impatiently wait.

Back to Albion Again

A couple months ago, my family moved (back) overseas to Okinawa, Japan. When my XBox arrived with some of our belongings, I looked for a few favorite games. I was working my way through the high-definition Anniversary edition of Fable, and I kept finding myself looking for features that were missing from the game.
There’d be something I wanted to purchase, and I’d think, “I need some quick money. Maybe I can pour drinks in the tavern or chop some wood. Where’s the place to do odd jobs to earn money?”
Then I’d remember: that’s in Fable II.
This sparked a madness in me, and I wanted to play Fable II right then. Thankfully, XBox Live has Games On Demand, where you can purchase and download a bunch of old games. Fable II is on the list.
But for some reason, it simply would not download. The purchase would not go through. I kept getting an odd error code.
A quick Google search informed me that – for whatever reason – Fable II was not authorized to be sold online in Japan. It’s no worse than Fable III (not by a long shot) or the original game. So for a few months, I waited for the rest of our belongings, hoping I still had the game and, if so, that it survived the journey.
I finished off my playthrough of Fable Anniversary edition last weekend – playing a completely evil character, as you can get things done quicker when pesky morals don’t stand in your way. I immediately got started on a new game of Fable II.
And happiness filled my addled gamer brain.

Photo (obviously) taken from IGN

So, to refresh your memory or perhaps inspire a look at a great game you never played, why is Fable II so awesome?
Much of my argument assumes you’ve played and enjoyed the original Fable. If not, here’s a synopsis:
The series is about the consequences of your hero’s moral choices. The world changes and characters respond differently based on whether you choose noble deeds or wicked misdeeds. Your appearance shifts over time the more you go to one extreme or the other. There’s a fun-enough swords-‘n’-sorcery fantasy storyline that takes you from a nobody to shaping the destiny of the world, but you almost always have a choice to make about how you get there.
If you played Fable, Fable II widens your exploration options dramatically. You can vault over obstacles, jump off of ledges, dive into pools and swim across lakes. The world feels far more free to explore.
The magic system brings some finesse to its controls. Every spell has two options, a targeted effect when you move a directional stick towards a foe, or an area-of-effect around your character when you leave the stick centered. Lightning isn’t just a bolt you shoot at some unfortunate foe; leave the stick centered and it becomes a storm that damages every foe in range around you. Force Push doesn’t just create a bubble that shoves everyone away from you; push your stick toward a target, and you smack a single foe with a blast of power.
Your options for defining your character’s virtues are expanded (slightly). Instead of a simple “good vs. evil” slider, you also get a “pure vs. corrupt” slider. The most obvious visual representation of this is your character’s pudgy or petite body. Right or wrong, a “corrupt” character does whatever they want, including eating pies and fattening meats. A “pure” character (whether good or evil) lives by a stricter set of rules , and thus doesn’t end up flabby.
Fable II advances the “history” of the kingdom into a light Steampunk vibe. There are mechanical creations. More importantly, this means guns are a thing in the game. It’s so satisfying to shoot (and potentially decapitate) some bandits with ranged zoom before they pose a threat. Plus, turret rifles and pistols! Multiple shots before you need to reload!
You can customize far more than Fable ever permitted. First, you can choose your hero’s gender, and both genders are well represented in the wardrobe available in game. Next, you find or purchase dyes that allow you to tweak your clothing’s primary and secondary colors in addition to your hair color. Makeup is another option, and it’s not just for the female Hero; the game incorporates some twisted makeup schemes similar to the Joker that are just fine for your male character.
There are often Jobs available for you to earn money by playing mini-games. Chop wood, forge blades, pour mugs of ale… the games are easy enough you can earn a good chunk of change when needed, and monotonous enough you won’t want to play forever.
I also love the story aspect of seeing the future of Albion. There are plenty of parts of the game that call to mind some of the original Fable’s locations. It’s interesting to learn what became of many of the my old Fable haunts in the 500 years between the two games.
Perhaps most important, it’s NOT Fable 3. The original Fable was an ambitious game that didn’t quite measure up to the amount of hype which preceded it.
(On the other hand, Fable 3 seems like a terrible object lesson in the pain of trying to manage a nation preparing for inevitable calamity. You either have to play as a tyrant who crushes the citizens in order to save the day, or you play the benevolent ruler who fails to prepare the kingdom for war and thus lets it fall into destruction.
No matter which path you take in Fable 3, you feel punished all along the way… which defeats the whole escapist (and FUN) aspect of playing a video game where you get to be the hero.)

Fable II is hands down the best game of the series. The fact I’m ranting about how much I love it several years after its release should make that clear.
Not surprisingly, when we received our household belongings, one of the first things I looked into was the case of XBox games. There right on the first page sat Fable II, as though subconsciously I knew years ago that I’d want to play that game again someday.
Me from a couple years ago was so very right.

Starting an Adventure

After reading through the Rulebook and looking over the pre-made character sheets, I dug into the adventure booklet provided with the new D&D Starter Set.


Some background info:

I recently moved overseas for my job in the military, and all my household goods are ready to be delivered to my house. I have a trunk full of all my RPG materials, including several piles of miniatures I used for 4E campaigns.

I feel like I could reach into that trunk (once it arrives) and dump the minis out on the table, because this adventure has a little bit of everything.

It’s really not that bad. There are 27 entries in the “Monsters” Appendix, and at least one of them is a guy who’s supposed to be on your side. (If you end up fighting the NPC you were sent to rescue, then something has gone horribly wrong with your players’ decision-making processes.)

I did glance through descriptions of some of the different caverns and off-shoot rooms in the major adventure areas, and I found it odd to discover that one room would have some zombies, the next a flameskull, the next ochre jellies, and then a doppelganger running around causing mayhem.

I get it. They’re sprinkling a little of everything in, because maybe that gets them a repeat customer, and maybe that tells the DM what the players at a specific table are most interested in. Still, it feels like a jumble of monsters conveniently sharing the same cave complex for no other reason than “Hey, we could toss in some of these…”

That’s the overall impression I came away with. But there were some specifics that caught my eye and made me smile.

First, the intro explains a bit about taking on the mantle of DM. Some key phrases I’m glad to see: “The rules are a tool to help you have a good time. The rules aren’t in charge.”

Suck it, rules lawyers.

In fact, here’s a pic of “Rules to Game By” from page 2:


The adventure starts with the PCs escorting a wagon of supplies to the central town. They come upon a goblin ambush to start out with an easy combat. The last goblin attempts to flee, and the previous victims are NPCs the characters are supposed to have a connection to. So this discovery and event inevitably leads down a trail to a goblin cave hideout.

I said in a post about combat that there is no mention of squares or emphasis on miniatures and tile/grid maps. The adventure leaves the option open by providing a grid map of the hideout, while making no effort to mandate a certain style of combat or play. The map is clearly provided to give the DM an idea of where things are. If it gets blown up and printed out, or doodled onto a grid map, great. If not, that’s fine too.


Each room is described in plenty of detail and offers interesting options other than “this room contains five bags of hit-points you can beat down for XP.” The writers assume you might be a new DM, so they provide useful tidbits and reminders along the way, such as “Check to see if any of the characters or monsters are surprised when combat starts. Do this by looking at passive perception…” with an explanation of how the rules work, or at least a reference to the applicable rulebook section.

Part 1 is intended to get the players past level 2, and there is a helpful reminder just in case.

Part 2 puts the heroes into the central town, with a host of NPCs and potential side quests as they try to learn more about the Big Bad Evil Guy. There’s a handy explanation for new DMs about role-playing NPCs (don’t try to wow your players with your acting skills, do try to get into the head of the particular NPC and think about what that person might care about, etc.).

Potential threats and locations of interest are all thoroughly explained. Part 2 should get the players to level 3.

Part 3 involves a variety of leads and inquiries to learn more about the main villain and his plan. There’s a handy explanation for rules using the overland map provided earlier in the book, along with suggested description to make the journey interesting. This section also includes everyone’s favorite, the Random Encounter Table!

There are a few locations described for the purpose of roleplaying social interaction (or as much social interaction as you get from trying to get answers from a banshee). While these can conceivably degenerate into fight scenes, the idea is for this to be more talking than punching. Again, this serves the purpose of introducing concepts, like “Perhaps the Mage with the zombies would be willing to strike a deal” instead of “Kill every living thing we encounter.”

The leads eventually bring the heroes to Cragmaw Castle, which (once explored, and once its inhabitants are defeated) will point them to the location of the Big Bad’s lair. Again, this all captures the idea of a sandbox. There are several locations available and several branching decision paths open to the players. Some areas may not be visited because they’re not necessary.

All this kind of goes without saying, because of course that’s what D&D is about. But my point for including it is to show that the writers took the time to ensure there is a robust set of options available for new players and/or DMs.

By the time the Big Bad is defeated, the players should be level 5. All the levelling information and perks are already printed out on the back of the pre-made sheets, so there’s no painful delay while everyone figures out their options and upgrades their sheet.

Besides the Monsters appendix, there is also an appendix for all the magic items the players might potentially encounter.
Finally, the back cover of the Adventure provides a Rules Index, pointing to appropriate pages in the Rulebook. Perfect for the new DM who is put on the spot to answer a player’s question, “How does it work if I want to try to Persuade?” or “What does it mean if the Ogre smashed me in the face and dropped me to 0 hit points?”

All in all, this looks pretty slick and well-prepared for a group of 4-5 players. I’m excited about the Starter, for the low cost I paid for it.

I’m not sure this gets me signed up for a $50 price tag for each of the core books once those come out later this year. When I get home and have time to give this a shot with my wife and kids, that answer will become more clear.

But for now, the set accomplishes its stated purpose. It gets me eager to gather a group, set the stage, and roll some dice. I want to get started playing some D&D (again).

I hope this post and the others help if you’re on the fence about looking at a new edition. If you get the starter, what’s your take on it? If you’re not getting the starter, do you like what you saw here? Let me know your thoughts in a comment.

Adventuring and Spellcasting in 5E

Continuing my read-through and thoughts on the D&D Starter Set, this post covers Chapters 3 and 4 (and the appendix) of the Starter Set Rulebook.

Chapter 3: Adventuring feels to me like the Miscellaneous segment of the book. It covers important rules, of course, but they’re just a mash-up of everything not Spells, Introduction, or Combat. You get a description of special movement situations (long jump, high jump, climbing rules, that kind of thing), a break-out of short vs. long rest and how the characters benefit, a brief discussion of rewards, and then a few pages of specifics on gear the characters might need to purchase with the wealth they gather over the course of the game.

Can I just say electrum pieces and their value at 5 silver pieces annoys the crap out of me? If everything else is going to be based around a 1:10 ratio, why make an unnecessary complication? But whatever, I digress (since magically I can decide that my game world has no such thing as an electrum piece).

All the basic weapons, armor types, and adventuring gear gets listed along with some common expenses like food, drink, and lodging. Weapons give a pleasant variety of options; the keyword versatile remains, allowing a one-hand weapon to be used with two hands, improving damage slightly. Finesse is the term for a weapon a character can used based on Strength or Dexterity, so if you want that Zorro-style masked fighter hero wielding a rapier, it’s a viable option.

The entry for “Oil (flask)” kindly lays out the rules for using a flask of oil as a thrown weapon or dousing a nearby foe, since it seemed every group I’ve run with had a player who had to try that at least once.

And there is even an entry for playing cards. Yes, it assures the reader “if you are proficient with playing cards, you can add your proficiency bonus to ability checks you make to play a game with them.” Or you can just go play cards with someone else because this is Dungeons & Dragons, which is designed to be played as a group where everyone has fun, not “Chaotic Neutral Rogue With a Gambling Habit”

…because it’s always the chaotic neutral rogue…

And for the DM who loves to force players to keep track of things, there are two entries for rope: Rope, hempen (50 feet), and Rope, silk (50 feet).

“Sorry, but don’t you only have 37 feet of rope left since you tied up the goblins during the last session? You can’t climb down the 50 foot chasm. Go back to town.”


Chapter 4: Spellcasting got me excited again. Chapter 3 was the pile of plain steamed vegetables on the plate; necessary and good for you, but bleh! The chapter on spells is the delicious cake Mom brings out as a reward for finishing dinner.

(Disclaimer: I’m 37, and I’m married with four kids of my own. I’m so not living in my parents’ basement playing D&D with my unemployed friends. Death to stereotypes!)

The chapter starts out with a primer on everything your magic user needs to know about casting a spell. I particularly like the breakout on components needed. A spell may have a verbal component (words the character must say), a somatic component (gestures the character must make), or a material component (reagents needed for success). More likely, it’s a combination of two or all three.

So if a character’s arms are bound, somatic spellcasting is out of the question. If the wizard’s component pouch is taken, material-based spells are going to be problematic. Yes, this sort of thing is in 4th Edition, particularly for rituals. But I don’t remember it being so clearly laid out as it is here. (Maybe that’s why 4E gets ridiculed as being too much like World of Warcraft, where all my mage needs me to do to cast spells is to roll my face on the keyboard.)

Clerics have 28 spell options in this starter. Wizards have 30. There’s plenty of room for creating the desired style of magic-user instead of a cookie-cutter wizard. The level 1 wizard knows 6 spells in his/her spellbook, and can prepare 4 of them, but only has 2 “spell slots” to utilize. Clerics are similarly structured in how they can use magic.

While 5E does put restrictions on the number of spells available to the character between long rests, it also rectifies the old problem of the wizard with no spells left, trying to hit creatures with a 1d4-2 dmg dagger stab. Each class has at least one offensive cantrip, an “at-will” spell to use the 4E terminology, that the character can cast repeatedly to deal some damage.

Spells once again have spell levels which are completely separate from the level of the caster. It takes a level 5 wizard to cast level 3 spells, and he/she only gets 2 of those level 3 spell slots between long rests. There’s some strategy to spell slots, too; a level 1 spell cast from a level 3 slot gains significant power and damage, so it might be a better bet than a giant fireball.

”I cast Magic Missile at the darkness… from a level 3 slot! Boom! What!”

The almost 60 spells give a wide variety of effects, and plenty have no combat application. “Charm Person” in particular is one I can’t wait to see crafty players employ, even though I know it will shatter any devious DM chicanery I have planned. I picture “Command” being used to great monster detriment as well.

And if your cleric leans a little Evil, there’s the 1st level necromantic spell “Inflict Wounds” to capture the idea of a touch of death. (I simply must have a dark cleric-style villainness with a kiss of death… what DM doesn’t want to slam 3d10 necrotic damage into a player’s face?)

Finally, the Appendix lists a number of mostly impairment conditions frequently encountered in D&D, like blinded, deafened, petrified, prone, stunned, and so on. It’s on the back cover of the book, so while it’s no DM screen, it’s a handy reference tool for DM and players alike to know what effects mean.

All in all, the Starter Set Rulebook does its job and gets a DM (and hopefully the players) ready for the more important part: the adventure itself!

The included adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, will be the focus of my next post.