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Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


PurpleXVI posted:

I'm actually kind of surprised no one's tried to make an X-COM RPG, even as a fan thing of some sort, that I've stumbled across. I've made some hacks myself(mostly based off of AFMBE), to accomodate X-COM games, it's not exactly difficult(aside from eyeballing difficulties and figuring out how Psi works best), but you'd figure someone would have at least decided to license it out to wring some PnP money from the crossover between tactical turn-based nerds and PnP RPG nerds, which I imagine to be pretty broad.

I was in, as I've mentioned before, a Spycraft 1.0 game that turned out to be X-COM and it was fantastic.

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Terrible Opinions
Oct 17, 2013





Feinne posted:

I mean the Imperium's big problem is that they overexpanded when they were at their peak and aren't able to adequately defend most of it now.
The Imperium's real problem is that that it's just straight up worse than the fairly normal scifi society that directly proceeded it and that the Emperor more or less just leeched off the achievements of for his entire period as despot.

PurpleXVI
Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
ALL PART OF MY BRILLIANT STRATEGY!


Horrible Lurkbeast posted:

Is it even role playing? The game is purely tactical.

The way I'm running it currently is that X-COM is too understaffed to handle everything with their own goon squads, plus the official X-COM troopers are kind of meat heads who're mostly only good at seeing a problem and then either tazing it into submission or blowing it up. So the PC's are X-COM's mercenary contractors for dealing with human cultists, alien infiltration plots, etc. without setting everything on fire. Plus it took a bit of creative rewriting to justify why X-COM doesn't just have the entire globe's resources at their beck and call or why the aliens don't just glass Earth from orbit, not all of which I can share here since I know some of my players read this thread.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


Terrible Opinions posted:

The Imperium's real problem is that that it's just straight up worse than the fairly normal scifi society that directly proceeded it and that the Emperor more or less just leeched off the achievements of for his entire period as despot.

Yep. There's an old story where the last priest on Terra sees through him completely and sees the whole golden shining savior bullshit is just that, psychic glamor, and says 'You're no better than any other warlord', to which Empy replies 'Of course I am, I've won'. That causes the priest to say he'd rather die than join him, because Empy is nothing but a murderous despot with good publicity and a lot of personal power.

hectorgrey
Oct 14, 2011


D&D 3rd Edition - The Core Books

Part 14: Running the Game (Part 1)

So, now that we've gotten past the character options, it's time to get into the nuts and bolts of how the game works in practice. Or, at least, how it's intended to work. Here's the thing: I'm pretty certain most new DMs completely ignored this chapter other than to mine it for specific rules subsystems (much like the previous two chapters, and the one that says a Wizard needs a small but expensive library if they're going to have anything close to the versatility that most tend to assume of a high level Wizard). Why do I say this? Because of how this chapter starts.

Encounter distance is determined by a few factors. Firstly, we have terrain. If you're travelling in open ground in the middle of the day, the distance the encounter occurs at is 6d6*20 feet - 420 on average. Even at high levels, this is likely to be outside of the effective range of a Wizard's combat spells, but a Fighter with a composite longbow will only take a -6 penalty to hit - -4 with the Far Shot feat. I mention the composite longbow here since at higher levels a fighter will hopefully have a mighty one in order to take advantage of their strength bonus at range. Going through a light forest, on the other hand, gives you a range of 3d6*10 feet - far more likely to be in range of a wizard's spells, but there's also more cover and concealment.

This range is rolled, and a spot check with a base DC of 20 is rolled by each group to determine whether they two groups spot each other at this range. If a group fails, they don't see the other group until they reach half the rolled distance (or until they get hit by a fireball, whichever happens first.

Creature size influences the DC of the spot check - each size category greater than medium reduces it by 4; each category lower increases it by a like amount. Exceptions may be made here, depending on the creatures involved (for example, a large snake would be harder to spot than a large humanoid since one is presumably standing while the other is slithering on its belly.

After this, we have contrast - or put another way, camouflage. If you're walking in a verdant meadow wearing bright red, then unless a person is colour blind they're going to get a -5 to the DC; if, on the other hand, you've added camouflage to your already dull brown and green clothing, they're going to increase the DC by a like amount. Stillness also makes a group harder to spot - if they're still, then the DC increases by 5 again. Large groups, meanwhile are easier to spot - a group larger than six reduces the spot DC by 2.

The last thing that affects the DC of the spot check is lighting - moonlight increases the DC by 5 and starlight by 10 as compared with broad daylight. In both cases, low light vision gives a +5 bonus to the check, while darkvision that extends far enough gives a bonus equal to the increase in DC (essentially cancelling it out). Total darkness makes the check impossible, unless the spotter has darkvision that extends far enough.

Next, we get a section on missed encounters - while the rules assume that both sides will eventually notice each other and just establish the distance at which they do so, they don't take into account such things as the party trying to avoid guard patrols or the like. The suggestion here is to assume that roughly fifty percent of creatures encountered never get closer to the party than the encounter distance. It is also suggested that the likelihood of a random encounter should be increased if this rule is in use, since fewer of these encounters will result in combat.

As has been noted by other people, 3e was almost certainly written (and playtested) from the perspective of people playing AD&D, and the writers and playtesters just took for granted that that's how people would try to play the game. This, I think, is another sign of this - if you just montage all your journeys, then outdoor encounters will be rare, if they ever happen at all. If you plan all your encounters in advance, they'll almost always happen at a range where the Fighter dives into melee and the Wizard can throw around devastating close range magic. I honestly don't think the designers of this game took that kind of behaviour from DMs into account.

Once the encounter distance has been determined, there are three ways in which a combat encounter can begin - either one side becomes aware of the other side first, both become aware of each other at the same time, or some, but not all, of the creatures on one or both sides become aware of the other side first. Depending on distance, that last last option could be roughly the same as the second option (at 420 feet, for example, there's probably time to point out the other side), or it could result in the combat starting off as a mad scramble to make sure the Wizard doesn't get skewered in the opening rounds of the fight.

If one side is aware first, then it's up to the DM to determine how long that side has to prepare. This should be tracked in rounds in order to work out just how much can be done to prepare; either explicitly if the players are the aware side, or behind the scenes if not. Either way, once any prep time has been had, each creature in the aware side gets a partial action before initiative is rolled.

If both are aware at the same time, then either combat begins immediately or else preparation for combat begins immediately, with no need for partial actions. If some creatures (but not all) on one or both sides are aware of each other, then the aware creatures each get a partial action before the main action starts.

As a variant rule, all fights may begin with a surprise round (and thus only partial actions allowed) in order to prevent, for example, a high level archer from dropping four or five arrows on an opponent before they get to do anything. Personally, I wouldn't bother - it's a pain in the arse to get used to in the first place, and frankly the martial classes don't need nerfing further.

Next, suggestions are given for what might happen when new combatants enter a fight. If the new combatants are aware of either side of the combat, then they get to take their actions before anybody else in their first round of combat. If they are not aware, then they still enter combat at the start of the round but roll initiative normally instead.

When it comes to keeping things moving, the book reiterates advice given in the PHB (such things as rolling attack and damage at the same time, or allowing players to preroll dice). It also suggests writing down the initiative sequence once it is determined, and put it on display so that everybody knows how close their turn is, and can think about what to do in advance.

It is also mentioned that sometimes you might need to impose some simultaneity - ultimately, if a character moves into a trap towards the end of their turn, then logically the other characters should not be able to react to the trapbecause they would presumably have started acting before the trap was set off (since initiative is an abstraction rather than a real model of reality where people just stand around and wait their turn to attack).

A number of options are given with the example of someone doing a double move and reaching the trap at the end: firstly, play by standard initiative, and let the other players know about the trap at the start of their action. This is the most true to the mechanics, but probably the least true to the fiction. The third is to not tell the player about the trap until the end of the round, when everyone else has acted. This is probably the most true to the fiction, but the least true to the mechanics. The second is to get some commitment from the other players about what their characters are doing, so they can't use the information about the trap to help determine their characters actions, before resolving the effect of the trap. Personally, I prefer the second option as a reasonable compromise between the other two.

Another variant rule is introduced here: rolling for initiative each round. Honestly, I don't see much use for this - it's ultimately just more rolling. If your actions determined your initiative to some extent, then fair enough, but since they don't, it's just extra busywork.

In combat, the DM is expected to play each NPC appropriately, much like out of combat - for example, a Fighter with decent Intelligence isn't going to allow opponents to get attacks of opportunity unless they absolutely must, but a particularly stupid goblin might. Likewise, an Intelligence 7 phase spider might be able to tell that the Wizard is the biggest threat, but an Angheg (which has Intelligence 1) probably wouldn't.

In addition, players might want to try actions not covered by the rules. In such cases, it is the DM's job to come up with rulings on the spot to cover these actions. The advice given is that the DM should bear in mind the existing mechanics in order to keep things reasonably similar. For example, swinging from the chandeliers and attacking that way might be treated as a charge that requires a tumble roll of DC 13, while a sorcerer readying a spell to cast when a beholder uses an eye ray on them might have an opposed roll of their Wisdom vs the beholder's Dexterity to get the spell off first.

Also, while combat actions should only really take place in combat, sometimes situations will occur where having them happen outside of combat makes sense. In such cases, this should be allowed.

Next, we come to a section on adjudicating the Ready action. This is usually relatively simple - it should only ever happen in combat. It also requires some level of specificity from the player - what are they specifically waiting for, and what specifically do they intend to do about it. Outside of combat, the fact that you're keeping an eye on the door means that you're aware of anyone who comes through (and therefore get a surprise round before combat starts provided whoever rushes through wasn't aware of you).

If a readied action has been prepared and the character chooses not to do it when the opportunity arises, by default the character simply keeps the action ready. However, one option given to the GM here is to make things a little more difficult - either forgoing the action at the expense of losing it, or make a Wisdom check of DC 15 to avoid making the action at the first opportunity (for example, if you readied an action to shoot the first person to come out of a door, and it's an ally who comes out of the door, then you make a Wisdom check to not shoot your ally).

Also, while being specific is a good thing with readied actions, you shouldn't allow the players to be too specific. For example, if they specify the first unwounded ghoul, then that begs the question of how they'll be able to tell in a split second whether a ghoul is wounded or not.

Following combat actions, we have attack rolls. It mentions that if hitting is either almost guaranteed or almost impossible, attack rolls become boring - this is part of the reason why multiple attacks come with penalties. Another suggestion they make is to make sure to give good descriptions of the action when combat occurs (with more advice to follow).

There are two variant rules here: firstly, regarding automatic hits and misses. The option given here is that to get rid of hitting a minimum of 5% of the time and missing a minimum of 5% of the time regardless of training, you might instead choose to make a natural 1 count as a -10, or a natural 20 count as a 30 - in most instances, play will happen exactly the same way anyway, but it means that a level 20 fighter with 16 Strength will always hit someone of AC 13 or lower, while a level 1 Fighter will never hit someone of AC 50. Honestly, I wouldn't bother. DR is a far better way of dealing with PCs not being capable of hurting something, IMO.

The second variant rule is one of defence rolls - basically, instead of having a fixed AC, you roll a d20 and add your bonuses and penalties to AC. This would probably slow down play a fair bit if used as suggested here, but as an alternative, you could use it to have players roll all the dice (assuming for the sake of the game's maths that their enemies always roll a 10, and have critical hits against the PCs be tied to their defence rolls).

Speaking of critical hits, that's what we come to next. The book points out that a critical threat should always be called such - calling it a critical hit before it has been confirmed could lead to more disappointment if the player who rolled the threat then procedes to roll a lovely confirmation roll.

Again, we have a few variant rules here; the first is the idea of an instant kill. Essentially, if creature rolls a natural 20 to hit, and a natural 20 to confirm, they should roll a third time. If this would hit, the target is dead. Note that this only applies to natural 20s - your keen rapier stacked with improved critical still needs two natural 20s in a row (0.25% chance) to threaten an instant kill. This will naturally make the game a little more random (a level 1 commoner could roll three natural 20s in a row to insta-gib an ancient red dragon, for instance), and more randomness in combat will ultimately screw the players more than it screws any individual enemy of theirs.

The second variant is to make critical hits less dangerous, by reducing a weapon's capacity to inflict them. A weapon like the dagger or the long sword, which threatens a crit on a 19-20, would instead only threaten on a 20; one like the battle axe, which does triple damage on a crit, would only do double. Weapons that do double damage on a crit and only threaten on a 20 lose their ability to deal critical hits entirely. Where before, increasing the randomness screws the players more than any given enemy, this reduces randomness and as such benefits the players more than any given enemy.

The third variant is the idea of critical misses, or fumbles. On a natural 1, the player must make a Dexterity check of DC 10. If this fails, the character fumbles. As with the instant kill, this increases randomness, which will hurt the players more than any given enemy. Also, not only do I not find fumbles fun in practice, I also don't think they make any real sense from a verisimilitude angle either, as the only thing you're really likely to screw up massively in a fight is, funnily enough, something you never roll for - drawing a weapon.

Around here, we get a side bar on critical hits in general, explaining that Critical hits are in the game to add moments of particular excitement to combat. That said, they are deadly. Over the course of a single game session (let alone campaign), the PCs are subject to many more attack rolls than any given NPC. This makes sense, since the PCs are usually in every fight, while the NPCs are only usually in one. As such, any given PC will be subject to more critical hits than any given NPC on average. Also, the main reason they multiply all damage rather than just the die roll is so that they remain significant at high levels - the example given here is of a high level Fighter with a magically enhanced strength bonus of +10 and a +5 damage bonus from a magical longsword - rolling 2d8 instead of 1d8 isn't really going to make much difference in terms of the damage dealt.

After we leave critical hits, we get another variant rule - this time involving ranged combat. This variant is for when it becomes important where an arrow that misses its target goes. Direct fire is more likely to miss to one side than to come up short or long, while indirect fire is more likely to fall short or long than miss to either side. Direct fire is typically shorter range than the maximum range of a given ranged weapon - for bows, it is limited to the first range increment, while for crossbows it is typically a little more than two range increments. Shots fired further than this are always indirect.

Regardless of which kind of shot it is, a miss is always dealt with the same way. First, you see if the attack roll would have hit the target's Touch AC. If it would, then the arrow struck its target, but simply didn't penetrate the armour. Otherwise, you roll a d20 to determine the direction and distance by which the attack missed. For direct fire, if there are characters in the path of the attack, make ranged touch attacks against each one in turn, starting from the closest to the attacker, until one is hit. Then, compare the attack roll with the new target's full AC to determine whether they get hurt as normal. For indirect fire, if there is a character in the indicated square, then roll to hit once more; on a hit, the character is hit, otherwise the projectile goes no further. In either case, you ignore BAB and Dexterity for these attack rolls, but include magical adjustments and modifications for cover.

Here is the end of part 1 - part 2 coming soon.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Horrible Lurkbeast posted:

Is it even role playing? The game is purely tactical.
Just add some mechanism on top where you can scam bonuses for being grim and sacrificing things you invented purely for the sake of sacrificing them!

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



NS10: The Broken Shieldwall



This is it. The final adventure in the Northlands Saga Adventure Path, for levels 16th to 18th. There has been 6 years of relative peace since the defeat of Althunak and the passing of Hengrid Donarsdottir. In that time old Meg's prophecy of nine years of bliss came to be, as Njal Magnusson took up leadership of Hrolfland after the passing of his father. After finishing a successful war against mountain folk and thrydreg raiders he established trade ties with Nieuland . He even established a colony of Hrolfsberf in the far western edge of the continent of Libynos. For a while, things were on the up-and-up, but his wife Sveni died in childbirth after the delivery of their second son. To make matters worse the colony of Hrolfsberg was attacked by strange forces, its entire population slaughtered and ritually staked. It was discovered that the raiders bore coins minted in Mulstahba, a pseudo-Arabian city-state whose land-bridge canals control trade between the northern and southern seas. Normally they were neutral and kept out of people's affairs beyond trade, but this seeming hostility was enough to get Njal to mount an army to take the fight to their citadel-city of Jem Karteis. He also took along his 14 year old eldest son Eymund and eventual High Køenig . The result of the campaign has not been heard of in months, and the loss of such warriors risks opening much of the eastern Northlands to attack. Fritha, the 8-year-old daughter of Njal, is a preternaturally-gifted seer who with the aid of other godi experienced a vision: to save not only the Køenig and his army from destruction (who are alive yet caught behind enemy lines) and to save the entire Northlands, a Great Northern Army must be assembled with the PCs at the helm. But the real masters behind the scenes are the Huuns, whose advance forces more or less took over Mulstahba via a coup. This is but a part of a much larger plan to invade the Northlands and eventually all of Akados.

One Thing to Clear: the PCs gained the sword Kroenarck as a reward for NS9, as the dwarf smith Bvalin may only rear end to the afterlife when the sword's placed in the hand of the rightful High Køenig of the Northlands. Given that merely carrying this sword will summon all manner of opportunistic troublemakers and no end of grief, Bvalin transforms the sword to appear as a different legendary blade: Magnarck, a golden sword lost at sea.

The adventure begins with the PCs arriving in Trotheim at a gathering of some of the greatest political rulers of the Northlands and Kollsveinn Hearthson. The above information is more or less relayed (save the details of Njal's ascension which is public knowledge), and after taking a palm-cutting blood-oath to Odin and Thor the PCs have a task: gather up warriors from Storstrøm Vale, Estenfird, and Vastavikland. Gatland and Hrolfland are already willing to commit given Eymund's blood relation, and the Køenig of Hordaland has also committed his forces. The PCs can handle each region as its own sub-plot in whatever order they please, but before they head off Kollsveinn has one more thing to give them: Skíðblaðnir, the magical dwarven ship capable of shrinking down into a portable cloth!

Man, this adventure path hands out ships like candy. But this isn't just for fun; it's meant to get around Mulstahba's territorial defenses later on down the road. The adventure path notes that while the PCs are more than capable of using divination and teleportation to locate Njal's forces, the point of the AP is to gather an epic army and a small-group hit and run would rob them of that.

All Southerners Look Alike to Me posted:

This is not some vapid Southlander adventure where so-called heroes battle evil simply for profit or diversion, and the means to the ends are no more important than the ends themselves. No, this is a Northlands’ adventure, and its heroes are Northlanders for whom concepts such as courage, striving against hardship, and mind’s-worth stand as greater reward than a king’s ransom in hacksilver. As such, a Northlander has no qualms about going at it the hard way rather than finding the easiest route. That’s not to say that they won’t take the easier route if there’s no good reason not to; Northlanders are lusty and often larger-than-life, but they’re not stupid. Rather, in this case the Norns have spoken through the runecasting of the soothsayers and Frítha. Though it may well be within the capabilities of the PCs to quickly travel to Mulstabha on their own and singlehandedly defeat the enemy and rescue Njal, as Northlanders they would not because the fates have decreed it so. The runes said that the venture of the Great Northern Army would be successful only if it the PCs led it personally. For whatever reason, that is what the gods stipulated to prevent failure in the rescue of Køenig Njal, and as true Northlanders, the PCs know it is not the place of mortals to question the will of gods. Instead, it is their place to bear up under whatever hardships the gods have placed before them and prove their mettle so that they may brag about it to legendary heroes of old over drinking horns filled with mead in the corpse-hall of Valhalla. That is the stuff that makes a Northlander. Wyrd bið ful aræd.

It's rather railroady, although I wish the adventure built around this a bit. Although saving Njal is a thing drawing the adventure forward, the larger threat in waiting is the Huun Imperium's plan. Even if Njal is found and taken back, the creation of a Great Northern Army is a necessity if this information is found out by say, scouting around Mulstahba and noticing that the city's underwent a change in leadership. Anyhoo back to the adventure.

The Great Army of the Northlands



The first chapter out of four is actually the longest at 31 pages, enough to equal an entire adventure in page length. In order to gather the forces for Storstrøm Vale, the PCs must attend the Althing and use Perform (Oratory) and various other skill checks to win over the votes of various factions. Given that the PCs are quite literally the highest-level badasses in the Northlands, holmgang cannot be used to win votes given that the PCs' victory is a sure thing and slaying/disgracing beloved leaders for what is to be a unitary thing isn't a good idea. Additionally, no magic may be used in the hall during the votes. Every faction has a list of their concerns, their spokesmen, how many votes they have, and what arguing points can be used to help persuade them. The actions of previous adventures can play into this: mentioning the saving of Trotheim to sway the traders, having a colony in Nieuland to act as a supply line in war, using NPCs from prior adventures such as Jarl Anud Curse-Spear to vouch for them, etc. I particularly like this, in that it strongly plays upon the actions of earlier adventures to make the PCs' accomplishments matter right now.

If the PCs can score 95 out of 142 votes (2/3rds majority) they get army units from Storstrøm Vale. If not they will have to make do without them in the coming battles.

The side-quest in Estenfird you'd think would be harder, given that they use direct democracy. But the adventure has this covered. The PCs' heroism and the news of a great army has already reached this frontier land, and the larger villages appointed representatives to head for Vöss to hear from the PCs and carry the news back to their people to deliberate. The meeting was intended to take place in a large barn, but Jomsviking assassins under the payment of the Mulstahbin government already got here. The 24 representatives are dead and hanging from the rafters, and the Jomsviking's druid officer transformed the warriors into disguised trees to better ambush the PCs. The Jomsvikings underwent some level-ups since Raven Banners Over Gatland with assassins being multi-class barbarian/fighters/rogues at 4 levels each; the common giants have 5 levels in fighter, and the leader is a 15th-level druid. Mulstahbin coins can be found on their persons or in their longship. News spreads fast of the massacre and soon the Estenfirders are united in a way the PCs could not do. Their anger will initially be towards the Jomsvikings, but the coins are ample evidence of Mulstahba's guilt.

The final realm is in Vastavikland, the hardest and toughest realm of a hard and tough campaign setting. Even the ruler Kol the Redhanded's authority is but as long as his sword-arm, and when the PCs meet him in his fortress-village he's quite eager to explain how things are done here:

quote:

I am Kol the Redhanded, who killed Hermund Giantson on the mountain and drank the blood of Óleifr’s wife before his very eyes — just before I plucked them from his skull. I am the deadliest raider of the North Sea and the Scourge of the Southlands. I am Køenig of Vastavikland by right of the might in my sword arm, and my blood-worm drinks deep of any who dare challenge. I will rule until I am too old to fight and some other comes to challenge and wets the floor of my hall in my battle-dew. This is the way of the true Northlander; this is the way of Vastavikland. None question my right to rule, yet even still my word reaches only the length of my sword. Beyond the walls of Smølsünd other Vastaviklanders may say unto me ‘Køenig,’ but it is not worth a piss in the sea if my sword cannot reach them. They know this, and I know this. This is a land of free men, and it is the way of Vastavikland!

This is but a portion of the boxed text, but I really like this dude. Kind of a shame we only see him in the last adventure. Instead of politicking or voting at a Thing, the only surefire way the PCs can unite Vastavikland for their fleet is to fulfill a prophecy: kill the legendary dragon Hlundel. Before they do this, the PCs can make skill checks to learn of the dragon, the legend, and previous heroes who fought it (Diplomacy attempts gets them laughed at). When they are ready, the party along with Kol and a gathering of people prepare either to fight or watch the proceedings. Hlundel is a taniniver, basically a disease-focused dragon, and the last two heroes it killed are juju zombies under its control. It is powerful in melee and has some sickness-related debuffs and spells, but since the PCs have 3 rounds to prepare before the mountain quakes and it shows up it should not be too hard for characters of this level.

Once the PCs get as many factions as they can, we get a detailed write-up of the Great Northern Army using the Mass Combat Rules. Instead of a single huge unit, it’s a bunch of units separated into smaller armies based upon region. The Vastaviklander and Hordaland armies are by far the most disciplined, being made up of 3rd-level Barbarians and 2nd-level Fighters respectively. Estenfird is the smallest army with 1st-level Warriors, and Storstrøm Vale's Army are also 1st-level Warriors but whose numbers can vary depending on whether the PCs made a deal to keep some warriors at home to defend the Vale or not (in order to gain the votes of one of the factions). Hrolfland has the largest army numberwise but most are 1st-level Commoner feudal peasant conscripts. There are also rules for splitting up the armies into smaller units after they take a certain amount of casualties. All told, the maximum number of this army is 14,000 souls (not counting leaders and PCs) and 280 longships.

Before sailing out the warriors feast, drink, and give their goodbyes to friends and family. Ljot Gatson makes an animal sacrifice of a prized stallion to win Odin's favor and hopefully bring a good omen. The 19-day long journey to Mulstahba has no random encounters, on account that any common dangers by now would be trivial to the PCs and not worth worrying about.



When the fleet reaches Mulstahba, making land is far from straightforward. Much of the island is covered in marshland and the water level changes rapidly based on whether it's high or low tide. To prevent ships from being stranded on land, the people of the peninsular land-bridge use long willow stems known as withies to mark passages that can support vessels in both high and low tides. Unfortunately the city-state's magical diviners are well aware of the planned invasion and moved around the withies. One of the Northlander scout ships is beached, but Skíðblaðnir's portability serves as a useful countermeasure. The PCs cannot carry the whole army with them, but they can scout ahead to find safe landing quickly. There is a swamp fort which must be taken care of to let the rest of the army pass through without incident.

The fortress is kind of a "filler" dungeon. The main entrance is guarded by carved animal statues which transform into enemies in waves for the PCs to fight (but can be dispelled). The interior is full of marsh giants and lizardfolk mooks of middling challenge rating (8). Iskarfa is a green hag witch and commander of the giants, who when killed transforms into a peluda dragon which causes the ground in the room they're fighting to give way to lower flooded passages.



After the fortress is taken care of, the PCs are tasked with scouting further inland. There is no army on the main shore, but there is a small elite team of assayers dispatched to lay magical and alchemical traps along the shore to cripple the Northlander fleet. They also happen to be some of the most politically powerful people of Jem Karteis remaining after the Huun coup. They're a five-person band: Boabey Mhez, a crazed pyromancer who believes he's actually a fire elemental and can wild shape into one; Ezkercia S’tinbxa, a conjurer wearing a veil of coins who has a legion of eunuch bloodragers to carry her in a palanquin to prevent her from touching the ground (a superstition among Mulstahba's rulers); Bolatehbu, a dragon disciple sorcerer who initially wears a cloak but disrobes in combat to fight naked; Shith Kalhe, a necromancer who commands a war chariot pulled by a hill giant; and Tbyx, a crazy fire mage who is eager to kill people and is only along for the ride after the rest extracted a promise from him to obey their every command.

Interestingly all but Bolatehbu do not have stats in the book; the other Assayers make reference to stat blocks from Paizo’s NPC Codex, which is surprisingly common for this last adventure. Most enemies beforehand were fully-statted in the adventure path. It's generally only monsters and mooks who get the 'see book X' treatment. Fortunately all of these statblocks are on the D20PFSRD, so you don't need to buy a whole new book to use this adventure!

The Land of the Bull From the Sea



This is a relatively short chapter. From way back in Blood on the Snow we used Mass Combat Rules only once, but now they're coming back in full force! The main battle here is when the ships of the Great Northern Army begin to sail to the shore to meet the first of the Mulstabhin army. The PCs' actions can help even if they don't choose to command the army; using area of effect and terrain-based spells on the army can lower their Offensive and Defensive modifiers when the actual battle comes,. There is an encounter on the plateau when a team of elite assassins will sweep into the northern units to lay havoc if the PCs don't wipe them out as its own encounter. Initially the battle begins with crappy Hrolflander conscripts and a better Gatlander unit on the PCs’ side; although initially outnumbered, every few army phases (basically rounds) more Northlander ships dock to provide more units until the whole Great Northern Army is present.

In case the gaming table's not interested in mass combat rules, there is a Narrative Summary to sum up the action. Although a good idea in principle, it's very wordy and has the feel of reading a fictional novel. It even dictates the actions of PCs (presuming common archetypes), which I personally find a big no-no. There's also a detailed sidebar explaining how to calculate treasure shares gained during this battle and future ones, both to divide among the PCs and the army units. I personally find this extraneous; it's already late in the campaign and given the process it's unlikely the PCs are going to have enough time to craft expensive magic items or buy more longships/siege equipment given that the only major trade city nearby is the one they’re invading. One thing that brought a chuckle out of me is in an example provided in the sidebar, the party cleric keeps a larger share via a loophole where he's the owner of Skíðblaðnir and entitled to a captain's share...with no crew to split the proceeds. The party acquiesces to his demands as he's the only provider of magical healing.

I get the feeling this happened in the Northlands' playtesting phase...

The army makes camp at the shore to recover their losses. The battlefield attracts all manner of carrion, including creepy crab swarms that make distressing scuttling sounds and are kept at bay from the ships via ring of brushfire torches. The assembled godi spellcasters are doing their best to cast divination after divination spell to locate Njal to no avail, while using their own to ward the army from scrying attempts. The reality of the situation is that the wyrd of Njal is not to be hunted and cornered, but to face his foes in open battle. As such the Æsir are engaging in a cosmic spellslinging game with Nergal (the Huun's patron deity) to counter the influences of each other's spellcasters on Midgard. The Northern Army does not have much to go on besides the fact that "the setting sun hides the Køenig of the Northlands," but a distraught new soldier comes in. He claims to have seen the shade of Lord Jorund (a Hrolfand leader who perished in the preceding fight) repeating a single line:

quote:

'The doom of the North lies where the Bull climbs from the sea. They that would stay the hand of darkness must go there and look for the mark of Donar, but they must go alone for the army marches to Ragnarök and not god nor man can say its fate while the Bull yet stands unbroken.’

Certain skills and research infer that Mulstahban folklore tells that a mythical bull rose from the sea to become leader of what is their modern nation, and the city of Jem Karteis has an architectural design akin to that of a bull: two fortress-spires as horns at the front gates, with buildings sloping down a cliff to form the bull’s back, and the "legs" are a pair of sturdy cliffs rising out of the sea where the docks are located. As such the Great Northern Army must continue westward to find Njal's forces while the party infiltrates Jem Karteis to find the mark of Donar.

Along the way the adventure provides optional encounters in the form of mass combat encounters for the army and encounters for the PCs. The adventure advises changing the size and scope of challenges to avoid the army from taking too many casualties for the eventual grand final battle. The "random" encounters for the PCs are one-time occurrences and appropriately powerful, providing a bit of world-lore for Mulstahba:

1.) a road of staked skulls who provide divination to the Deathspeaker necromancer responsible for its upkeep (an astrological divination spoke of a Road of Souls to defeat the Northlanders);
2.) a former battle of Mulstabhins and a portion of Njal's forces dead, where appropriate checks can show that it's not just Mulstahbins they fought (the Huun) and possibly non-humanoid tracks among them;
3.) villages either occupied (whose folk are protected by hobgoblin mamluks, elite forces of the city-state) or empty (Huuns slaughtered inhabitants for withholding tax grain);
4.) the Titan of Mulstahba, a jack-in-irons giant who is has an arcane archer and drummer bard strapped to each of its soldiers, and is one of the islands' most notable guardians.

The Mulstahba of Jem Karteis



This chapter is a two-parter: the first portion is dedicated to an extensive write-up of Mulstahbin society and culture, and the second half covers the PCs' adventure for the mark of Donar. The detail for Mulstahba is quite commendable, especially on account that ordinarily in the adventure a lot of this would be passed over given the nature of it (sneaking in followed by big battles). I'm not going to cover it all, but I'll cover a few salient points.

“Mulstabha” is a rather interesting word: it's derived from a minotaur sailor of the same name who landed his ship here and conquered the native tribes to build a large city. Very little is recalled of the minotaur king beyond speculation and legend, but the iconography of a bull rising from the waves to walk upon land is a huge fixture in Mulstahban art. The word "Mulstahba" is meant to represent government as well as a social contract forged to unite the people. Therefore, it is used to describe the homeland, the city-state, and its ruling king. The Mulstahba (city-state) of Jem Karteis is located inland, and is ruled by the Mulstahba (king) of Jem Karteis. This confuses a lot of outsiders, and the meaning of the word is meant to be sussed out based on the context of the sentence it's spoken in. Additionally while many people use Mulstahban passage for north-south trade (and indeed Northlanders have to pass through here to raid the Southlands beyond Monrovia), the city of Jem Karteis restricts entry to citizens only. Foreigners may only set foot on and trade in the docks which comprise the city's "hindquarters." Their monetary units are directly inspired by real-world Greek and Jewish currency: staters, shekels, drachma, dekastarter, and electrum staters. Although the sample NPC names don't sound Arabic or Greek that I know of, their use of mamluks and a military rank title of Emir-general were concepts of authority in the real-world Islamic Caliphates (and later the Ottoman Empire).



Mulstahba is a caste-based society, where theoretically a person's lot in life is based upon the astrological divinations and prophecies. There are the Unseen, rulers directly related down five generations to the current and former Mulstahbas. The Unseen mask their faces and have strong taboos upon walking on the ground outside their homes (footwraps and palanquins get around this to varying degrees). The Unbearing are a conglomeration of religious and governmental authorities whose function is vital to running the city but do not otherwise have royal blood. The Unknown comprise common laborers, workers, and business owners, and one among them every year is elevated to the Unbearing caste to encourage loyalty and a sense of contentment ("if I win the nobles' favor I stand a chance!"). The Unwritten are slaves, criminals, and the poorest of the poor. It is common for higher-ranking Castes to be banished to this one for great crimes. The Uncasted includes nomadic tribes living outside the city and certain Hykadrion priests who are tolerated but do not have any specific privileges or restrictions. Then there are those who lie outside the caste system in their own social orders: the hobgoblin slave-soldier mameluks and the Unspeaking, an undead slave labor force responsible for mining, road-building in swampland, and other dangerous jobs.

There are two major religious orders: There is Mulstahbin Astrology, where people chart the course of the future via a combination of study of the heavens and the natural philosophy of the world's elements. The second religion is known as the Hykadrion Prophecies, who hold more temporal authority and believe that dragons are sacred beings to revere and emulate. It is believed that such creatures will help save humanoids from a prophesied "Time of Darkness."

As for the Huun, much less is talked about them, with the bulk in a single-page sidebar. The authors of Frog God Games have been building them up as a mysterious evil force for the Lost Lands Campaign Setting, with scant references to them in other products. This adventure ends with hints at their plans of a magical network of portals as a teaser for their eventual world domination. This is done by transporting whole armies around the world. The book doesn't out and out say it, but after looking at their military titles (aga, chorbaji, etc) as well as their scribes wearing red felt caps (a fez) they are more or less Fantasy Counterpart Ottoman Turks. That is, if Ottoman Turks were uniformly dark-skinned and worshipped the Babylonian death god Nergal. The Huuns live on the far eastern side of Libynos and contributed to several major campaigns fighting the Foerdewaith Empire and most recently the city of Bard's Gate. Their homeland is an arid desert and their warriors dress in black robes and paint their eyes and top half of their faces with kohl (mascara make-up). This last part earned them the title of "black-eyed Huuns" among their enemies. They are ruled by an immortal King of Kings who sat uncontested since their empire's founding, and they believe the people of the continent of Akados (which includes the Northlands) are descendants of one of their ancient enemies, the long-dead Hyperborean Empire. As a result, they have a major grudge against everyone west of Mulstahba and seek to show this in campaigns of slaughter.

What I Changed: I made the Huuns in my campaign based off of real-world Hunns on account of the one-letter difference. They were much more steppe-archers than Ottomans. While their King of Kings still plotted the domination of Akados, he wants to turn the inhabitants into loyal subjects rather than outright genocide. During Return of Hallbjorn I had a colony of lost Huun scouts as one of the settlements along with Northlanders and people from the Ammuyad Caliphate; I had the Transborean Current be a sort of Bermuda Triangle-like effect of taking lost voyages to Nieuland’s shores. Although I still had the Huun as a sort of mysterious stand-offish group, they allied with the PCs when a branch of the Children of Althunak was using supernatural localized winters to force the various settlements and (human!) indigenous people to pledge loyalty. I plan to combine bits of NS10 with NS9 to wrap up our campaign early, where the Huuns invade the Northlands while an Althunak-possessed Hengrid is stirring up trouble. Although the King of Kings is villainous (he wants to find a way to control Althunak's power to direct the Fimbulwinter against enemy nations) the allied Huun NPCs from NS7 can make for potential strange bedfellows. But I have yet to tell that story...

But enough about late-game world-building, let's move on to the adventure!

This part of the chapter is a dungeon crawl where the PCs encounter a massive ringed fortification. As the PCs are presumed to have all manner of magic, class features, and even just high Stealth at their disposal, encounters and eluding detection are assumed to be automatic. There is a section of wall being repaired where a huge split from a great lightning bolt hit many years ago. This is obviously the mark of Donar, and here the PCs can go into an underground section and make an unlikely ally. The dungeon beneath the wall holds brass golems, a pit of chain worms, and legions of undead slave miners in tunnels full of flammable gas. Some undead will notice the PCs' intrusion to report to their master: Islaug, the first Jomsking cast out from the Jomsvikings to sail to unknown shores. He and a crew of loyalists landed in Mulstahba and gifted with undeath from their dark god managed to survive for several centuries underground. If the PCs do not immediately attack, he will explain his story and how he can aid the party in the eventual battle: the undead laborers are commanded by a necromancer bearing a black stone which can bend undead to his will. If the stone is destroyed he can lead an army of the unliving to fight for them. He addresses the PC bearing Kroenarck, even if the blade is disguised and not currently wielded.

Later on in the dungeon the PCs can find several Huun soldiers, who are alternately spear-bearing infantry or astride Karkaddan mounts. There is also a prison where Huun scribes take notes of the confession of Mulstahbin prisoners with the aid of a crucidaemon and a giant martuush (cobra-scorpion hybrid) to feed less compliant captives. The PCs can find a shrine to Nergal tainting a local water supply, as well as an incense-heavy shrine where several priests and Egyptian-style golem guards are maintaining a soul gate where several Huun assassins cross through to teleport elsewhere. This is one of the Huun's major military breakthroughs: via the use of unholy water mixed with blood a watery one or two-way portal can be made that acts as a scrying focus for the connected areas. Although still in the development stages, the Huun Imperium plans to create large enough Soul Gates keyed to strategic locations around the Material Plane to move entire armies around the world in an instant.

In fact, examination of this particular Soul Gate after the battle shows a stone corridor hallway bearing the clan emblem of the Hrolfs. The Huun sent a team of assassins to kill Njal's family and other important people of the Hrolf clan!

The next dungeon takes place in the tower of Stone Keep, the Northlands' greatest (and only) feudal-style castle. It's a short six-room affair, with the rest of the castle beyond the scope of this adventure. A group of Nachtjäger Rogues ambushed the guards while the Huun and their daemon allies went further into the tower. A pair of cacodaemons will shapeshift into guards to convince the PCs that nothing is amiss and the intruders are taken care of, although talking with them reveals that they know little of Northlands culture and a Perception check spots fresh flowing blood leaking out below a nearby doorway they’re guarding. Lady Sanja, the wife of the late Magnus Hrolfsblood, was killed by a daemon who’s now taking her disguise, but the two younger children (Fritha and Grimr) are in the last room. Fritha's precocious magic was able to ward the doors for a time, and when the PCs finished off the assassins she opens the door to thank them. She explains how the future for once is uncertain, where the Norns left their wyrds to chance instead of cutting the string. This is significant, as the forces of Fate do not often let mortals plot their own destiny. Still, Fritha explains the Huun's portal plan for world domination along with an omen from Odin:

quote:

"The sun does set but also rises
’Gainst blackest wyrd of fiends and men
Call forth the dead the North despises
The sword that sleeps must wake again."

And with that she tells of how the PCs are needed in the east again to help their father. The adventure mentions that one of the assassins has boots of teleportation the PCs can use, along with a portable hole to transfer the whole party if they cannot do so themselves (the soul gate to the castle's one-way).

The Battle of Jem Karteis



We're in the home stretch baby! The last chapter of the last adventure of the Northlands is a good old-fashioned final battle between tens of thousands of soldiers with a mixture of Mass Combat Rules and personalized encounters for the PCs. The first part occurs when the PCs aren't here: Njal's forces, who managed to survive so far via hit-and-run raids and sacking villages for supplies, are headed to Jem Karteis. Njal saw an omen as two one-eyed ravens visited him while sleeping, which he interpreted as a sign to seek out their ultimate foes directly. Meanwhile the Great Northern Army is closing in on Jem Karteis.

Our first mass combat encounter has Njal's outnumbered, inferior forces facing Mulstahbin cavalry. When the good guys suffer a heavy beating, the Great Northern Army joins the fray to save their Køenig and High Køenig-to-be. There's a bunch of detailed tactics listed for the Mulstabhin forces, along with a two page-long Narrative summary (but no PC-dictating this time!). Unfortunately, the assembled forces are but a fraction of the Huun's true might. Via a complicated series of sluice-gates and canals, a massive Soul Gate forms like a side-ways lake of blood over the wall, revealing a vision of a desert land with an old pyramid...and countless legions of Huun warriors, from humans to giants to Colossal armored glyptodons bearing siege towers! They charge through the join the fray and the Northlanders’ resolve wanes.

Our PCs join the fray once they teleport back to Mulstahba. There is a strong sensation (like fingers pulling at golden threads connected to their souls) to head to the wall which bore the mark of Donar. Upon the wall is Servant Ali-Asekar, Death’s Master and Herald of the Bringer of Peace, the general responsible for Mulstahba's subjugation and the eventual destruction of the Northlands. He does not have his own stat block, instead using the NPC Codex's Death Master but with several domain spells swapped around. The PCs must scale the wall by might or magic and destroy the Soul Gate along with Ali-Asekar and his many guards and zombies. Additionally the black stone Islaug spoke of, is here too and destroying it (and Ali-Asekar) causes the next scene to occur. Setting fire to the tunnels below, sections of wall crumble to disrupt the Soul Gate (the PCs automatically escape harmlessly).

Now the PCs can join the battle directly. If they tarry about on their own rather than shacking up with the larger forces, they encounter a fight with one of the glyptodon war-beasts and its tower's occupants. We go back to Mass Combat Rules, save that an Army of the Dead gives two more units on the battlefield (and of course more Narrative Summary).

The final encounter is the Broken Shieldwall, the same name as the adventure. Some serious poo poo happens in a long amount of boxed text: Kol the Red-Handed lands a lucky critical hit on a war-beast's neck and sends it and its riders tumbling to their deaths, Eymund grabs a Huun's spear and stabs the eye of another war-beast to kill it, only for Eymund to encounter a pair of giants and Njal follows to save his eldest son. The PC bearing Kroenarck feels a strong pull, and if they get there super-fast via magic a pair of desert giants ambush them while the following boxed text is presumed to happen while the PCs are fighting. This is an interesting touch I haven't seen many other adventures do:

Njal gets into a one-on-one duel with an armored troll. Although at one point the troll loses his weapon, just like way back in Raven Banners Over Gatland does Njal allow his opponent to regain his footing. But instead of rising the troll deceptively thrusts forward with his blade, straight through Njal's stomach and spine before the monster's skull is crushed in from one last blow. Njal breathes his last and a vision of the Norns cutting his thread flash by the PC's eyes. Eymund's sword shatters at the troll’s hands, leaving him weaponless as the enemy advances. He does not take his father's weapon, knowing that he must have it in his hands to reach Valhalla...

At this point the adventure encourages the PCs to give/throw him Kroenarck, and the PC who does so gets 100k EXP and a +1 bonus to an ability score of their choice; the rest of the party gets 50k each. Eymund uses the sword to kill the troll in one hit (what's with all these Cutscene Powers lately?) as a pair of Sand Giants ambush the PCs. They're like desert giants but stronger.

If the PC does not give the sword, the adventure's kind of at a loss for words as to what happens:

quote:

The rest of the adventure assumes that the PCs follow their wyrd set in motion decades ago with a call to the mead hall of Jarl Olaf Henrikson and give Eymund the sword. If they choose to not do so, all is not lost. Continue the adventure as written with the modification to remove Eymund receiving the sword. It may just be that the PC is destined to become the High Køenig of the Northlands, if the GM wishes to develop that campaign ending.

But that's not all. The sword may be united with the High Køenig, but the Final Boss of The Northlands Saga has yet to appear. Continuing on, the Northmen seem to be winning against all odds, but something terrible happens: the bodies of the Huuns twitch, roll, fly, and otherwise move together to form a giant mound. But instead of a pile of bodies the corpses melt together into a giant amorphous pillar of bubbling acidic flesh. This is Ali-Asekar's last gambit, the summoning of one of Nergal's divine messengers into Midgard.

I'm just going to say it. It doesn't compare to the fight against Hengrid Donarsdottir. The "Pillar of Nergal" is a living monolith, a monster from the Tome of Horrors 4. It is a CR 20 extraplanar ooze with good sensory capabilities (tremorsense & blindsight out to 120 feet), regeneration vs non-fire attacks, an impassible DR 10, and Spell Resistance of 30. It has the ability to spawn offfspring every 1d4 rounds (treated as their own monsters) but it's presumed that the Northern armies are fighting them so it's just the Pillar vs the Party. The Pillar has 5 attacks and can deal lots of damage in melee and 10d8 acid to those it swallows whole...

BUT THE FINAL BOSS HAS NO RANGED ATTACKS OR MOVEMENT CAPABILITES!

Yes, a PC with overland flight or even a winged mount can basically stay out of this thing's reach and whittle it down with spells and arrows (ideally fiery arrows). I realize I didn't get time to do an in-depth look at Hengrid in the previous chapter, but at least she had an iceberg AoE and a magic hammer which can be thrown and used to call lightning/wind wall. Besides the least-powerful yeti, each of the forms had some kind of ranged capability: cone of cold (wendigo), polary ray (ice yai oni), rock throwing for the jotun, a fly speed (wendigo and oni), and possibility some battlefield control and defensive capabilities such as a solid fog or gaseous form with the ice yai oni, or an at-will phantom steed and freedom of movement as a cold rider. Both bosses have an action economy disadvantage, but in this case Hengrid is most likely going to be a more entertaining fight.

And the Pillar of Nergal is the ooze type, the second-least common creature type in this AP besides Fey and of a type not vulnerable to the Saga’s most iconic weapons!

Concluding the Adventure

Once the Living Pillar is felled, the remaining Huun forces fall into disarray and retreat. The Mulstahbin forces either surrender to beg for mercy from the Northlanders or attack the retreating Huuns for taking over their country. In the aftermath, a great haul of 1.7 million hacksilver is taken as loot to divide among the commanders and PCs. Many of the most powerful leaders of the Northlands fell in battle, and they cannot be resurrected as they became Victims of Fate. Aha, that explains all those one-hit kills! Eymund inherits the crown of Hrolfland at the tender age of 14 and is appointed ruler of Gatland as well as their Jarl. Køenig Leif Ragison of Hordaland swears fealty to him, and the Althing of of Storstrøm Vale appoints him Køenig of the Vale. Vastavikland and Estenfird are the only lands to not officially recognize him, but the possession of Kroenarck as well as the aforementioned claims of rulership more or less unite the Northlands. Eymund takes the surname Njalson instead of Hrolfsblood in honor of his father.

As for the PCs, they are recognized as the greatest heroes of the Northlands and there's a bullet-point list of suggestions for their futures. They include becoming Køenig of Mulstahba which is conquered as a Northland province, becoming Køenig of Vastavikland for defeating Hlundel, becoming head of the Hall of the Hearth Stone for a godi PC, an arcane spellcaster is appointed to train Fritha, a diplomatic PC is appointed emissary to the Southlands in Bard's Gate, a guardian-type PC replacing Hengrid Donarsdottir as Protector of Estenfird, and for a Nûk or dwarf PC leading their people to establish a new homeland in the Seal Coast or Mount Helgastervän respectively. Finally we have an option of venturing beneath the Wold Tree's roots to bring news of the daughters of Skuld to the Norns, or clearing out the undead beneath Jem Karteis.

quote:

But all of that, as they say, is another story.
So ends the Northlands Saga Complete … Wyrd bið ful aræd.

The last bit translates to "Fate is inexorable."

Concluding Thoughts: The Broken Shieldwall has the right tempo for an epic battle, only to be hamstrung by "but thou must" options and a little too much Cutscene Dialogue in both narrative summary and boxed text. The environs of Mulstahba, although quite evocative and cool, are a place never before mentioned in the adventure path. Eymund and his legacy feels like a bit of spotlight-stealing. Although his legacy was mentioned before by Old Meg 5 adventures ago, Eymund’s an NPC who the party has never interacted with and won't until the final battle. He's 14 years old by the time of this adventure, and the inclusion of a Chosen One Kid Hero doing all this superhuman stuff feels a bit jarring in comparison with the Northland's intended gritty sword-and-sorcery feel. The Huun more or less come out of nowhere and do not have that feeling of leading up to the big confrontation like one would do with say, Althunak's defeat. Whereas the Mulstahbins were portrayed with some nuance and had a surprisingly detailed society, the inner SJW in me can't help but bristle at the Huun being more or less swarthy Middle Eastern invaders part of a death cult.

In short, Broken Shieldwall does not rate highly for me. But I feel that for a more holistic view of the entire sourcebook, we need to separate the Northlands into several "arcs."

First we have the Prequel Arc of NS0, both very strong adventures which in spite of their low level sell you on the setting's themes and make you feel like big badass heroes right from level 1.

Then we have the Kenneth Spencer Arc of NS1-NS4. It too is good, with plenty of variety from one adventure to the next. From Argonauts-style voyages to lift a curse to leading an Inuit uprising, there's something that keeps this Arc feeling fresh instead of stale.

Then we have the Post-Ken Arc, NS5-NS10 where other writers take over based on his existing notes. And hoo boy do we see a massive change here! Raven Banners Over Gatland is good, clean fun. Plague in Trotheim is passable if a bit too high fantasy, and Return of Hallbjorn is straight up "slaughter the Indians for loot and EXP." Hallburning is several levels too high for its concept and involves characters the PCs never heard of or cared about to make things personal. Daughter of Thunder and Storm is perhaps the best adventure in that it wraps up the long-standing BBEG of Althunak with a touching mixture of role-playing and Nordic martial heroism. Broken Shieldwall feels like an extended sequel-bait for a Huun Invasion metaplot for a future Lost Lands book.

But in spite of the gradual downward curve and additional personal changes to make the campaign work, Northlands overall is a very good book. I do not regret purchasing it and running it for 1.2 years. For in spite of the problems I outlined throughout this review, there is a golden core of material for a GM to mold into something beautiful.

Join us next time as we cover a bonus stand-alone adventure in the back of the book: Winter's Teeth!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 01:49 on Apr 15, 2018

DalaranJ
Apr 15, 2008

Yosuke will now die for you.


The Lone Badger posted:

Trying to make sure the Imperium gets conquered by the Tau isn't even on the top 20 craziest plans Inquisitors have had to Save The Imperium.

Buddy, it might be the best plan to save the imperium. *is killed by a commissar*

Desiden
Mar 13, 2016

Mindless self indulgence is SRS BIZNS


Terrible Opinions posted:

The Imperium's real problem is that that it's just straight up worse than the fairly normal scifi society that directly proceeded it and that the Emperor more or less just leeched off the achievements of for his entire period as despot.

Plus, of course, the one thing he theoretically did better than the previous golden age, i.e. understand the warp and focus on negating/bypassing it for humanity to flourish, he completely cocked up. Tons of scheming and however many quadrillions of future bux to engineer his demigod sons and build the infrastructure to invade the webway, and he figures the best way to protect humanity from the warp in the interim is not tell them there's malign creatures in there. Because apparently, the fanatical alien killers out blowing up all sorts of weird poo poo just would not be able to handle alien weird poo poo that happened to be in a different dimension that they drove through on a regular basis.

Smart guy, the Emperor.

DAD LOST MY IPOD
Feb 3, 2012

Fats Dominar is on the case




the best piece of imperial tech trivia is that the common land speeder is named after its discoverer, Arkhan Land. That’s up there with Sir William Bluntinstrument in terms of puns

Cythereal
Nov 8, 2009



DAD LOST MY IPOD posted:

the best piece of imperial tech trivia is that the common land speeder is named after its discoverer, Arkhan Land. That’s up there with Sir William Bluntinstrument in terms of puns

You know the Land Raider, the Marines' signature superheavy assault transport? Also discovered by and named after Arkhan Land.

Libertad!
Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!



The Long Night of Winter NLS 1: Winter's Teeth



Yes that's reused artwork. And the main monster of this adventure uses the artwork of Grendel back in the Monster chapter too.

So after the major Adventure Path are two appendices: a handout and map appendix, which includes player-friendly copies of all the maps and encounters as well as the GM's versions. I find this to be an excellent gaming aid, something a lot of books of its kind do not include. The pre-generated PCs are nothing special and don't really have anything to stand out being 1st level and all. The only exception's Jón the Tree, a giant-blooded fighter who due to his Large size and 20 Strength has a greataxe which deals 3d6+7 damage at 10 feet of reach. He's so clearly a superior option to the human huscarl fighter it's not even funny.

But back to the main topic: the Northlands Saga had six stand-alone adventures known as The Long Night of Winter series published as their own books. They could be played between the major events of the Adventure Path or on their own. Each of them are prefaced with in-character text from a skald about to tell people a story which just so happens to be the adventure. The first of the series is included for free within Northlands Saga Complete, so I'm reviewing it here.

Winter's Teeth is a horror-themed adventure for parties level 6th through 8th. The backstory is that late in the year the PCs are invited by Jarl Anbjorn Olefson to winter at his hall. Given that winters can very easily snow people in, both sides agreed to a pre-meetup 3 days in advice so that both they can gauge whether the other is agreeable company for several months. But when the PCs finally travel to Jarl Anbjorn's holdings, they find some vicious beast has rampaged through the village and slain just about everyone. The bulk of the adventure is a sort of murder mystery where the PCs look for survivors and possibly find the nature and weakness of the monster so as to slay it.

The responsible party is Ofieg the Axe-Bitten, one of the jarl's Bearsarkers. Remember how way back in the section for new setting class archetypes I talked about inner fires? Well a bearsarker must temper their powers in moderation: rage balanced by wisdom, physical might with divine compassion, and madness with civilization. A bearsarker who becomes too isolated from one's fellows, uses their powers for wicked endeavors, or forsakes the gods is at risk of turning into a slåtten, a creature more bestial than mortal driven by a never-ending hunger. In Ofieg's case, he grew tired of his peers and chose to live up in the mountains by himself, and the next time he came back he slaughtered everyone here.

The stats for a slåtten are given at the end of the adventure, but I'm describing it here for ease of reference. They are very powerful CR 12 creatures, which given the relatively low levels of most Northlanders earns their reputation as slaughterers of entire villages and breakers of shieldwalls. They are melee-focused, with claws and bite attacks (+23 to hit, 1d8+7/1d6+7) with rending powers and very high AC and CMD (27 and 33 respectively). But they are animalistic in nature (Intelligence 2) and besides this their major weakness is their formerly-divine connection. Divine spellcasters of Wotan, Donar, Baldr, or Tiwaz who attack the monster ignore its Damage Reduction, which is normally pierced by good-aligned weapons. When hit by such a foe, the slåtten must make a Will save or suffer degrees of fear which stack with every hit. Additionally, an herbalistic extract known as Wotan's Eye moss can be applied to weapons as a poison to get around its damage reduction.

Personally speaking, I feel that this monster is rather over-powered for the promposed level range, barring PCs with builds to take advantage of its weakness. Although the adventure has some investigation as preface and wants to play up the horror angle of being in over your head, it jives against the Nordic heroism of standing your ground and fighting. To remedy this a bit the adventure proposes that if the PCs do meet the creature early on it may briefly attack delivering grievous injuries (or a death) before retreating.



The adventure begins at the beach of area 6, where the PCs presumably sail in and find a dozen dead bodies. After that the plot becomes a mystery sandbox. The adventure has a set of skill checks regarding investigation where the PCs can put together the pieces of what happened by visiting various areas and meeting survivors. When they come to the conclusion of the monster's nature, either by the aforementioned checks, meeting the monster itself, or visiting area 11, they can then roll checks to know more about what a slåtten is. When they learn of its weaknesses, checks to learn about Wotan's Eye moss and its possible location (south-facing slopes of steep cliffs) can let the PCs find its location.

Area 1 is the farm of the now-slain Leifson's, who were done in by human treachery but whose corpses were later found and eaten by the monster. Area 2 is the jarl's hall, which has the scenes of dozens of people killed with rent mail and rotting half-eaten bodies all about. The hall has 3,000 hacksilver worth of treasure but looting the place is considered highly dishonorable.

There are a few survivors, not all of whom are necessarily trustworthy: sometime before the rampage began a beached whale washed up on the dividing line of property between the farms of Bjarik Leifson and Jorund the Bald, whose farm is area 3. Bjarik and Jorund are far from friends and gave the jarl many headaches in resolving disputes over who claimed the whale's resources of ivory, blubber, and ambergris. When the slåtten began going on a rampage, Jorund took advantage of the situation. While the town was either out hunting the beast or staying to guard their homes, Jorund and his three sons attacked Bjarik's farm and set the home on fire. To ensure that the beast would not come for his family, Jorund tied down several goats and one of his thralls to stakes leading away from his home and towards the Haddsons' farm (area 8). But the reverse happened and the monster attacked Jorund's house. Jorund, his daughter Tofa, and his thrall Sigvat barely escaped.

Jorund's group of survivors can be found in the fields of area 4, but although Jorund puts up a good front he is one sneaky snake who has no compunctions in betraying the PCs and other survivors if given the chance. Sigvat is a mute sailor who washed ashore in the village but could not prove his background. So when Tofa saved his life and nursed him back to health Jorund declared he had to pay off the debt as a thrall. Sigvat is very smart and loyal to Tofa in spite of what Jorund claims about him. There's also the jarl's son Egil who although capable of wielding a blade, yet is only 15 years old and filled with fear and survivor's guilt.

Another survivor can be found in a secret sea cave (6a) who can reveal a rough description of the beast to the PCs. Area 7 is a safe haven being a godshouse and thus avoided by the slåtten. There are 3 survivors in here: Halli Buisdottir, a pious daughter of the village godi, Gnupa whose mind is broken and is reduced to crouching and stuttering, and Little Bolla, a 9 year old girl who was injured by the monster but managed to survive. Although lucky, she has the inner fire of a Bearsarker which is now just coming to the fore. Depending on the PCs' actions they can help her learn to temper this and not do anything stupid (like flying into a pseudo-rage at the slåtten's arrival). In time she will eventually grow up to be one of the greatest Bearsarkers of the Northlands. I almost feel as if this was meant to tie in to the late-game adventures in the main book on account of the year progressions or just a bit of personal plot development for the GM to take as they may.

Area 8 is the Haddsons' farm, a sprawling collection of homesteads thanks to the clan patriarch having many children sired from his wife and thralls. In fact the slåtten was so busy killing the Haddsons it took the creature 3 days to kill them all. Now their large herds of cattle are roaming free in panicked packs about the place.

Area 9 is Ofieg's cave retreat where he now sleeps during the day as a monster and leaves at night to hunt. Area 10 is the cottage of a local herbalist who wrote a clue in Runic about Wotan's Eye extract, and she fell to her death in area 11 trying to pick some from the cliff (which requires a risky climb check and/or Reflex save to avoid falling 50 feet).

Rounding out this adventure is a table of random encounters, using a d20 table where +1 is added to the roll for every previous encounter for progressively more difficult fights. The slåtten can be encountered on a roll of 20 or higher, but the adventure advises having it show up immediately until the right tempo/progression has been met. Otherwise the author cautions you to have it be an indirect encounter: seeing a vague shape of the monster tearing cattle in half a fair distance away, a vague shadow of the creature shining down from a hilly slope, and so on and so forth. The other encounters include a very ornery dire bear who doesn't want to give up its hunting grounds to some new predator, a wolverine that went mad drinking the monster's blood, dismembered human body parts which animate as undead due to the slåtten's lingering malice (a one-time event), packs of wolf scavengers, very desperate bandits hoping to loot the farmsteads fast enough before whatever did this returns, a two-headed troll with a +2 morningstar wandering down from the monsters driven by the smell of blood, and a small family of yetis hunting the slåtten after it killed and eaten one of their kin.



The troll encounter may be a bit of a red hearing. Such a monster is relatively rare enough in adventures and supposedly strong enough to kill a bunch of people. The PCs may assume it to be the culprit.

Concluding Thoughts: Winter's Teeth does not have a set conclusion or epilogue, unlike the main adventures. It has the right structure for a horror mystery, although the slåtten's stats should be considered carefully for GMs. Given the investigation-based nature, it favors PCs trained in Knowledge and wilderness skills to suss out clues, and less cerebral warriors may not do as well.

Overall, this is a fine adventure. It doesn't wow me, but it's not bad and can make for a fine change of pace.

So, that's it. We literally have nothing else to cover besides the OGL, the book's back cover, and a full-color poster map of the Northlands. I am glad that I got the opportunity to review this thing in such fine detail and share with you this truly unique adventure path and setting.

I can't make any promises, but I have plans to review another setting I am passionate about in the near future: Midgard World Book by Kobold Press!

Glagha
Oct 13, 2008

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAaaAAAaaAAaAA
AAAAAAAaAAAAAaaAAA
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AaAAaaA
AAaaAAAAaaaAAAAAAA
AaaAaaAAAaaaaaAA



I have no idea if this is supported in the text of 40k lore but I vaguely recall being told once that the whole "barely animate corpse of the emperor" thing was actually counter productive to helping the imperium because if they'd just let him die his soul could escape and do something instead of just being trapped in a rotting shell.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Glagha posted:

I have no idea if this is supported in the text of 40k lore but I vaguely recall being told once that the whole "barely animate corpse of the emperor" thing was actually counter productive to helping the imperium because if they'd just let him die his soul could escape and do something instead of just being trapped in a rotting shell.
Possibilities include

1. Nothing, they just lose the Astronomican
2. The Emperor reincarnates anew somewhere or other, greatly refreshed, but may have to conquer his way back out given that #1 would have happened
3. The Emperor becomes the new Chaos God of Death
4. Critical Hit

Ghost Leviathan
Mar 2, 2017

Exploration is ill-advised




Basically, though the Imperium would get hosed up pretty hard in the meantime losing the Astronomican. There's a ton of questionably canon, popular fanon theories along those lines.

Interestingly, the Emperor had the Golden Throne under construction or at least the schematics before he was crippled by Horus, it seems implied someone else was meant to be seated there (whether they liked it or not), likely Magnus.

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




The Golden Throne is a kludge that was throne together in desperate times, and so are the daily psyker sacrifices. The whole Imperium is 10000 years of the least bad of many possible bad decisions that have solidified into dogma, punctuated by occasional moments of being forced to ignore the dogma by external threats.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





Ghost Leviathan posted:

Basically, though the Imperium would get hosed up pretty hard in the meantime losing the Astronomican. There's a ton of questionably canon, popular fanon theories along those lines.

Interestingly, the Emperor had the Golden Throne under construction or at least the schematics before he was crippled by Horus, it seems implied someone else was meant to be seated there (whether they liked it or not), likely Magnus.
Based on the extremely canon and mature wiki articles I remember reading, it seems like the Golden Throne's original purpose was to just let him mind the access to the Eldar webway and supervise generally, possibly getting spelled by a Primarch when he wanted to go take a poo poo or host a Mofference.

gradenko_2000
Oct 5, 2010



Lipstick Apathy

Horrible Lurkbeast posted:

Is it even role playing? The game is purely tactical.

X-COM has always had a sort of "emergent behavior" RPG feel, where the troopers come to you with zero backstory, and then create a backstory all their own as you play through them, with the player often projecting personalities and idiosyncrasies of their own make onto the otherwise faceless troopers.

It's kind of like playing OD&D in a way, where Rob the Fighter is the 3rd iteration of Bob and Dob the Fighters, but then Rob is the one that makes it to a third dungeon as a level 5 character, and in the process he's done things that have gone down in legend.

I'm also of the opinion that the only real thing separating "wargames" from "RPGs" is force persistence. Panzer General is an RPG, and so is a proper game of ASL: Red Barricades.

Libertad! posted:

So, that's it. We literally have nothing else to cover besides the OGL, the book's back cover, and a full-color poster map of the Northlands. I am glad that I got the opportunity to review this thing in such fine detail and share with you this truly unique adventure path and setting.

I appreciate the effort that went into this review. Reading adventures is a weakness of mine, but the attention to detail you showed even for the adventure parts that you hadn't run yet was very cool.

Ghost Leviathan
Mar 2, 2017

Exploration is ill-advised




Wasn't there recent discussion in the TG Chat thread of a game that's basically almost literally X-COM?

I do wonder what the old Ghostbusters RPG was like to actually play. Also, a GI Joe RPG would be amazing.

Dawgstar
Jul 15, 2017





Ghost Leviathan posted:

I do wonder what the old Ghostbusters RPG was like to actually play. Also, a GI Joe RPG would be amazing.

GB International seriously over-complicated things, but the original Ghostbusters RPG is a classic for a reason.

As for a GI Joe RPG, if you want to stick to playing it like the cartoon there's various iterations of Cartoon Action Hour, or stuff like Spycraft in general and things like the newly-funded Freedom Squadron on Kickstarter for Savage Worlds.

Cassa
Jan 29, 2009


Ghost Leviathan posted:

Wasn't there recent discussion in the TG Chat thread of a game that's basically almost literally X-COM?

Coulda been Strike! ? It's cover system is super x-com, though people have raised fair concerns about it's out of combat systems.

Hunt11
Jul 24, 2013



Grimey Drawer

The real issue with the Emperor is that he was such a lovely dad. Like in setting Guilliman calls the Emperor out for being such a lovely parent.

Hedningen
May 4, 2013

Enough sideburns to last a lifetime.


Ghost Leviathan posted:

Wasn't there recent discussion in the TG Chat thread of a game that's basically almost literally X-COM?

I do wonder what the old Ghostbusters RPG was like to actually play. Also, a GI Joe RPG would be amazing.

I think it was Fragged Empire that was compared thanks to the in-depth tactical combat aspects.

Cythereal
Nov 8, 2009



Hunt11 posted:

The real issue with the Emperor is that he was such a lovely dad. Like in setting Guilliman calls the Emperor out for being such a lovely parent.

Angron also knew and openly talked about how the Emperor was a slaving tyrant, and that if any of the primarchs were actually moral men they'd kill their father.

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


hectorgrey posted:

Speaking of critical hits, that's what we come to next. The book points out that a critical threat should always be called such - calling it a critical hit before it has been confirmed could lead to more disappointment if the player who rolled the threat then procedes to roll a lovely confirmation roll.

Again, we have a few variant rules here; the first is the idea of an instant kill. Essentially, if creature rolls a natural 20 to hit, and a natural 20 to confirm, they should roll a third time. If this would hit, the target is dead. Note that this only applies to natural 20s - your keen rapier stacked with improved critical still needs two natural 20s in a row (0.25% chance) to threaten an instant kill. This will naturally make the game a little more random (a level 1 commoner could roll three natural 20s in a row to insta-gib an ancient red dragon, for instance), and more randomness in combat will ultimately screw the players more than it screws any individual enemy of theirs.

The second variant is to make critical hits less dangerous, by reducing a weapon's capacity to inflict them. A weapon like the dagger or the long sword, which threatens a crit on a 19-20, would instead only threaten on a 20; one like the battle axe, which does triple damage on a crit, would only do double. Weapons that do double damage on a crit and only threaten on a 20 lose their ability to deal critical hits entirely. Where before, increasing the randomness screws the players more than any given enemy, this reduces randomness and as such benefits the players more than any given enemy.

This really feels like "Man, we couldn't come to a full decision on any of this, figure it out yourself." Like, they know there's an issue, but... well, it also feels like Tweet's influence of "Eh, maybe do it this way... or this way, whatever?"

But it reminds of attribute rolls in most most modern D&D games, where they know it's an issue but rather than come up with a definitive fix, they come up with a half-dozen means to tweak it instead.

wiegieman
Apr 22, 2010

Royalty is a continuous cutting motion




Hunt11 posted:

The real issue with the Emperor is that he was such a lovely dad. Like in setting Guilliman calls the Emperor out for being such a lovely parent.

Like all the primarchs that turned out remotely well, Guilliman grew up with an actual father and mother figure to learn from and look up to, who were cool people that were loved by their citizenry.

Horus had the Emperor.

gradenko_2000
Oct 5, 2010



Lipstick Apathy

Alien Rope Burn posted:

This really feels like "Man, we couldn't come to a full decision on any of this, figure it out yourself." Like, they know there's an issue, but... well, it also feels like Tweet's influence of "Eh, maybe do it this way... or this way, whatever?"

But it reminds of attribute rolls in most most modern D&D games, where they know it's an issue but rather than come up with a definitive fix, they come up with a half-dozen means to tweak it instead.

In a sense, you've got to hand it to Gygax for sticking to his guns on critical hits. Dude really did not want to give any ground on it - and then as soon as Zeb Cook and the AD&D 2e gang introduced them into the game, they immediately started hemming and hawing: crits were in, nat 20 is double damage, but then there's a sidebar of "uhhh perhaps you can make it such that a nat 20 is only an extra attack roll" ... and then Combat & Tactics adds more crit systems on top of that.

Night10194
Feb 13, 2012

We'll start,
like many good things,
with a bear.


It's one reason I appreciate that WHFRP and 40kRP are both clear that Critical Hits (Fury) are a PLAYER ABILITY and do not apply to enemies. They'll recommend in OW that 'you could have enemies Fury if you hate your players' or say that particularly powerful, individual enemies who have Fate Points could be permitted to do it, but otherwise it's 'Players only, this is their 'I have a shot even though I shouldn't have a shot' or 'big dramatic moment' edge.'

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!




Rifts Index & Adventures Volume Two, Part 3: "The preacher has a good thing going here, and will certainly not appreciate the party's interference."

It's time to wrap up the Hook, Line, and Sinker adventures before moving on the actual adventures. The whole Hook, Line, Sinker format feels just kind of limiting and it's hard to ignore how many writers just start effectively ignoring it. I'm sure it seemed like a clever gimmick, but not every adventure hook needs a twist. But it's definitely Palladium style to grab onto one format and just never let go.

Click here for Part 1 of the review!
Click here for Part 2 of the review!
Click here for Part 3 of the review!

Review Notes:
  • This part covers the Hook, Line, and Sinker adventure seeds written by Christopher Jones, who will contribute to The Rifter, but that's all that I'm aware of. He also writes "Treasure Hunt", coming up next.
  • I completely missed the adventure hook "The Simvan's Prey", where there are two Cyber-Knights pinned down by a ground of Simvan Monster Hunters. The twist is that even through the Simvan are traditionally bad and the Cyber-Knights are traditionally good, these Cyber-Knights have been murdering local Simvan and that the Simvan are looking to stop them. Another hook designed to punish PCs for good samaritanship, and no, I would not run it.
  • Three of these hooks - "The Mark of the Wolverine", "The Simvan's Prey", and "The Preacher" all have the PCs dealing with themes of revenge. I imagine this is flogging one concept rather than deliberate, though.
  • The music used is "Hook, Line, and Sinker" by Apache Tomcat and is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Pretty sure this picture of interspecies dentistry was used somewhere in Palladium Fantasy.

Next: A stolen treasure map?!

Young Freud
Nov 25, 2006



gradenko_2000 posted:

X-COM has always had a sort of "emergent behavior" RPG feel, where the troopers come to you with zero backstory, and then create a backstory all their own as you play through them, with the player often projecting personalities and idiosyncrasies of their own make onto the otherwise faceless troopers.

It's kind of like playing OD&D in a way, where Rob the Fighter is the 3rd iteration of Bob and Dob the Fighters, but then Rob is the one that makes it to a third dungeon as a level 5 character, and in the process he's done things that have gone down in legend.

I'm also of the opinion that the only real thing separating "wargames" from "RPGs" is force persistence. Panzer General is an RPG, and so is a proper game of ASL: Red Barricades.

This was entirely my experience when playing the Close Combat games on the PC. They were just a sprite not even 100 px big and a name pulled randomly from a list, but when they pulled off something cool, like a single soldier getting caught behind enemy lines after a failed charge but manages to take out a entrenched position, or an anti-tank crew sneaking up on a Jagdpanzer that has managed to wreck half of your armor at a bottleneck and putting a bazooka round at close range to its rear deck, you suddenly remember those names, want to see how far they go and protect them if necessary.

hectorgrey
Oct 14, 2011


Alien Rope Burn posted:

This really feels like "Man, we couldn't come to a full decision on any of this, figure it out yourself." Like, they know there's an issue, but... well, it also feels like Tweet's influence of "Eh, maybe do it this way... or this way, whatever?"

But it reminds of attribute rolls in most most modern D&D games, where they know it's an issue but rather than come up with a definitive fix, they come up with a half-dozen means to tweak it instead.

They did come to a full decision though - the full decisions are listed in the PHB. These are alternatives that a group might decide they prefer - some might prefer a more lethal game, some might prefer a less lethal game. Likewise some groups might prefer to do 3d6 down the line, while others might prefer 32 point buy. None of them are playing the game wrong.

JackMann
Aug 11, 2010

Secure. Contain. Protect.


Fallen Rib

I love that in Rifts stuff, Hook, Line and Sinker gets a TM, despite the fact that he admits he borrowed the concept from someone else. Jolly Blackburn, wasn't it?

Alien Rope Burn
Dec 4, 2004

I wanna be a saikyo HERO!


hectorgrey posted:

They did come to a full decision though - the full decisions are listed in the PHB. These are alternatives that a group might decide they prefer - some might prefer a more lethal game, some might prefer a less lethal game. Likewise some groups might prefer to do 3d6 down the line, while others might prefer 32 point buy. None of them are playing the game wrong.

That's fair, I just feel like it speaks to a certain lack of conviction. It's a different thing if you're offering suggestions on the outright feel of a game with intent, but these are more like "Well, maybe this isn't the way to do it!". Moreover, they can break certain aspects of the game and can have a major impact. How you do attributes will affect what classes are viable or effective. How do you crits has major impact on magic weapons. And so on. Presenting alternatives is fair, but it can have major impacts on various areas of the game, and the variants don't seem to be done with a purpose other than the acknowledgement of the extremely well-known flaws with either system.

JackMann posted:

I love that in Rifts stuff, Hook, Line and Sinker gets a TM, despite the fact that he admits he borrowed the concept from someone else. Jolly Blackburn, wasn't it?

To be fair, Blackburn "gave" it to him. To also be fair, Palladium also tried to claim trademark on "vibro-blade".

Alien Rope Burn fucked around with this message at 03:30 on Apr 16, 2018

LatwPIAT
Jun 6, 2011

Do I need a title?

gradenko_2000 posted:

I'm also of the opinion that the only real thing separating "wargames" from "RPGs" is force persistence. Panzer General is an RPG, and so is a proper game of ASL: Red Barricades.

I had a discussion on this very topic with a tabletop roleplayer/boardgamer I know a while back, and he argued that in strict terms, the significant difference between a board game and a roleplaying game is that the board game is always strictly confined to the rules and the state of the game. Even if you can get an emotional attachment to your pieces, or start roleplaying in a board game (e.g. daring swashbuckling in Merchants & Marauders) you're totally bound to the board and its state.

In an RPG, you're not. You engage with the game at some level outside the strict confines of the rules.

He has a comp-sci background, so he further argued that this is equivalent to saying that a board game can be perfectly represent as a state in a state machine, while a roleplaying game is one type of game among those that cannot (whole brain emulations aside).

hectorgrey
Oct 14, 2011


Alien Rope Burn posted:

That's fair, I just feel like it speaks to a certain lack of conviction. It's a different thing if you're offering suggestions on the outright feel of a game with intent, but these are more like "Well, maybe this isn't the way to do it!".

To be fair, this is the book that only the DM is supposed to have access to, in a game that already has a long tradition of house ruling. It's a book aimed at beginners, so in addition to mentioning that changing the rules to better suit a campaign is perfectly fine, it gives ideas of small tweaks that might improve your enjoyment.

quote:

Moreover, they can break certain aspects of the game and can have a major impact. How you do attributes will affect what classes are viable or effective.

Absolutely true. As mentioned before, without magical assistance, the average wizard genned with 3d6 will never be able to cast 9th level spells without magical assistance, and won't be able to cast 8th level spells until level 20. They'll still get the higher slots though, which can still be used to cast lower level spells. This results in a lower power level. Likewise, the fact that some classes rely on multiple stats means that those classes end up being rarer in play. This is not a bad thing, so long as the DM is aware that this is the case.

quote:

How do you crits has major impact on magic weapons. And so on. Presenting alternatives is fair, but it can have major impacts on various areas of the game, and the variants don't seem to be done with a purpose other than the acknowledgement of the extremely well-known flaws with either system.

Given that their variant rules for critical hits are either that they're either slightly more deadly or significantly less deadly, that's not exactly a big impact on magic weapons, unless I'm missing something.

Also, you keep mentioning extremely well known flaws - for the benefit of the audience (and myself, having not taken much part in discussions about this game at the time), would you care to elaborate?

TheGreatEvilKing
Mar 28, 2016



4e PHB: A critical review

Chapter 7: Equipment

Unusually for D&D, this chapter has not just generic equipment but the game's magic item selection as well. it has the usual pointless shuffling of the bonuses granted by various anachronistic and impractical armor getups (studded leather anyone?) as well as a pointless new currency unit (astral diamonds) for the sole purpose of change for the sake of change. Admittedly, carrying a few diamonds is probably easier than making some kind of magic device to carry a literal ton of gold, but almost every group I've played with has handwaved these kind of personal logistics.

Of more interest are the weapons. Weapon proficiency has had a long and dumb history in D&D. In the old days the fighter was a punishment class for rolling poor stats and the ranger and paladin could do everything the fighter could do but better. People wanted to know why "being a badass warrior" sucked in a game trying to emulate ancient myths where swording things to death was a fairly effective tactic, so the fighter got weapon proficiencies which let him get extra attacks and more killing power if he stuck with a specific weapon. In 3rd edition this got split off into a series of lovely feats that you only took if the DM pointed a gun at your head, and the "proficiency" terminology was just used for what weapons you could use without penalty.

In 4e it was decided that penalties were bad, and anyone could use any weapon without incurring a nonproficiency penalty - except now all the weapons gave you a bonus for using them if you were proficient. To compound this, all the weapons have different bonuses in an attempt to make them feel different. Now, remember what I said about the to-hit math being borked? People in 2008 were definitely prioritizing getting attack bonuses over most other things, so that immediately locks us down to 10 weapons with max bonus. This isn't something D&D has ever done well - you get a ton of weapon options with a few that are strictly better than the rest of the list - but trading a point of average damage for a +1 to hit is a no-brainer.

They also got rid of weapon sizing, which was a fairly clunky mechanic where a halfling's greatsword did less damage than a human's because it was smaller, and replaced it with the weird expedient where halflings can't use greatswords at all. I don't know why people in the Points of Light setting can't manufacture halfling-sized halberds, but they don't.

You get the usual collection of mundane gear that is written on the character sheet and then rarely checked for (with the exception of rope), but the real meat of this chapter is magic items.

One of the many, many complaints people had against 3rd edition D&D was the wealth by level system. In 3rd edition you had a set budget you were supposed to get at each level which would count against magic items. You needed certain magic items to have numbers good enough to fight monsters, and as you can probably guess the warrior classes needed piles and piles of these things and mages could get away with a casting stat boost and a cloak of resistance (both boring items that boost spell power and saves respectively). In the year before 4e came out the designers said they were going to remove the Christmas tree...then there was going to be a slightly smaller Christmas tree...and then the book came out and it turned out they'd put everyone back onto the schedule of begging for bonuses to be relevant, just like Diablo. Everyone needed a neck slot, magic armor, and magic weapon to keep their numbers at a place where you could fight, except that weapon bonuses go up to 6 to accomodate the 10 extra levels tacked on to the game. A lot of the items have powers, and they're mostly boring. Do you really care that Bloodthread Armor gives you a +2 to AC and saving throws when you're at half health, and are you really going to track it with all the 1-turn buffs and other powers being flung around? The vast majority are small numerical bonuses to something that might be your characters' schtick, and it's yet another thing where you stack up all the bonuses with your favorite keyword - pushing! or Fire! or Saving Throws! - and become a cool dude who can spam at-will attacks for 1 less round of grindy combat. Hilariously even powerful magic items such as the cloak of invisibility or flying carpets get nerfs that make them suck, because god forbid you use character abilities to avoid small unit combat.

It's interesting to compare D&D's treatment of magic weapons to actual mythology, because they kinda diverge heavily. The Greek gods had signature magic weapons such as Zeus's thunderbolts or Hades' invisibility hat. These tended to be character-defining abilities that people didn't get very many of, with people like Perseus getting to borrow four (the Winged Sandals of Mercury, the Cap of invisibility, a shiny shield, and a sword). Of note is that the shield is just really shiny and the sword just...maybe cuts better? Mythological sources don't give weapons as many crazy properties, but if you get a magic carpet or a Tarnhelm you can do crazy poo poo like fly, shapeshift, and teleport pretty drat far. You're probably stuck with the one item though, better make it count!

D&D on the other hand is going to swamp you in piles of crappy bonuses you don't care about. I don't think anyone actually LIKES Diablo-style itemization where you continually swap out items for new bonuses. People tolerate it because its in a lot of games and is really easy for designers to implement, but I've never seen anyone post about how this hat gives them 5% more fire damage than the hat they got 10 minutes ago and it totally makes their crushing breakup tolerable. People will go for the bigger numbers, but a ring that turns you perpetually invisible is just going to be more exciting than raising your firebolt damage.

Chapter 8: Adventuring

Did you know D&D characters go on quests? On the plus side, that entire wasted page has a picture of a very cute lady warming a poker in a fire, so it's not a total loss. There's a discussion of encounters, and how some encounters are resolved by fighting and noncombat encounters are resolved by skill challenges. As previously discussed, skill challenges are a nonfunctional system that's been overhauled a stupidly high amount of times to the point where I don't even know what the official rules are for them anymore, so we might as well just say "noncombat encounters don't work". Amusingly, the book calls out utility powers as being useful in a skill challenge despite people like the fighter getting nothing that is useful outside the scenario where you are stabbing people.

There's a brief discussion of rewards, where you get experience points, cash, and action points when you've fought enough milestones. Action points are new, you can spend one to basically get another combat turn, or spend it to activate another ability which you won't do because an extra turn is better than 99% of them. It's an attempt to incentivize having multiple fights a day instead of burning all your daily abilities and calling it a day, and it just doesn't work because if you wanted multiple fights a day you should just put everything on the encounter schedule. If the Races and Classes preview book is to be believed, early drafts of 4e actually had everything on a per-encounter schedule and were convinced to ditch it by Mike Mearls (who later spun the draft into Tome of Battle).

There's a short section on "intangible rewards" such as noble titles, favors, honor, and whatnot. In a better and more interesting game, we'd actually have some systems somewhere for what it actually means to become High Priest or Duke and what kind of political/military power you can call upon, but this is just a paragraph about how because it doesn't impact 5v5 small unit combat we're not going to mention it at all.

There are a few more pages on resting and interacting with the environment, including actual strength DCs for breaking through walls, which I missed on the first read. The rules for resting hilariously lock the 8-hour rest to once per day, bypassing the traditional wizard trick of getting up for 5 minutes, blowing all their spell slots, and going back to sleep. The fact that you need to include this kind of clunky fix maybe indicates that daily schedules don't do what you want?

Anyway, that's the chapter. It's time for violence!

TheGreatEvilKing
Mar 28, 2016



4e PHB critical review - final update

Chapter 9: Combat

As combat is the traditional method of solving problems in D&D, this is a fairly lengthy chapter. Of note is that the first page has a huge sidebar about "use a battle grid, we want position to be important in this game". This pissed off a lot of people who wanted to keep playing with vague descriptions of how you were kinda maybe close enough to the orcs to use a sword, but you're already gathered around a table with dice, printing a 1-inch grid and using some markers isn't exactly a huge financial sacrifice. They've also standardized actions, avoiding the 3.5 problem where every new splatbook had to re-explain quick and off-turn actions because they weren't in the PHB. They're here now. Rejoice!

Other than that, combat is mostly the same with the exception that everything is measured in squares instead of feet, AoEs are squares instead of circles/circle equivalents, and everyone in 4e-land can fold space and time to move diagonally without penalty. That's different, but it's not actually objectionable as...well, you already play D&D at a table with dice, go ahead and use a board. It's a game. What the chapter also points out is that you have a little pile of fiddly ongoing effects, which can end at the beginning or the end of your turn. It also introduces the saving throw mechanic, which is intended to prevent people from getting permanently paralyzed, but manages to gently caress up in every possible way. At its core, you have a 55% chance of ending an effect on you each turn, regardless of the effect or originator. If you are a god - an actual thing the game says you can become - and you mind-control a commoner, that commoner has a 55% chance of breaking free of your control every turn. If said commoner somehow gets a domination power and hits you with it, you have a 45% chance of not making your save.

Now to make matters worse, there are of course numbers you can apply to the roll. Notably the divine classes and wizard can penalize saving throws, with the wizard being the outright best at it. The end result is that the wizard can just lock down encounters forever again. This probably could have been avoided by having the attack repeat against the target's defenses, but I don't write rules, I just make fun of them.

To its credit, the book does a good job of simplifying some of the combat terminology, with "combat advantage" replacing the clunky old "denied its Dex bonus to AC" and cutting down on the endless triggers for attacks of opportunity. Combats are still going to be fairly complex due to the nature of 4e powers, but the basic engine doesn't have anything unduly terrible except saving throws and the fact that you can throw nonlethal balls of sulfuric acid in people's faces.

Chapter 10: Rituals

Amusingly, this chapter opens with art of a dead Regdar - the iconic fighter from 3.5 who got killed off in as much official art as possible. We see a dragonborn with a scroll trying to raise him from the dead while a panicking elf lady draws her dagger to fight some jumping drow. This might give you the impression that rituals are powerful and worth using, so let me assure you right off the bat: the ritual system is awful and makes everyone sad.

To start with, you need a feat to use rituals. Now, already we see that wizards and clerics get that feat for free, but it gets better! Many of the rituals are keyed to arcana, religion, and nature checks - skills the wizard and cleric have, but the fighter doesn't. Now, if you get a scroll of the ritual instead of learning to use it yourself, it takes half the casting time and anyone can use it, but that costs more money.

That's the balancing point for these rituals - they all cost money to cast, but provide a list of utility powers that in theory any character can access but in practice is much easier for mages to do as they basically get it for free - wizards even get free rituals known as they level up.

The rituals all take 10 minutes+ to cast, so I hope you didn't want to use magic to break out of jail or something that requires quick action. You'll probably end up yelling at your wizard to take Planar Portal, Raise Dead, and the Item Crafting rituals. Now, to be fair, those are the kind of things that I can see taking time and money to cast. The problem comes when things that shouldn't take long take 10+ minutes and money - for instance, the image spells, or magic mouth (which is a bullshit effect that I've never, ever seen a PC use). This scales to ridiculousness with the View Location ritual, which requires an hour to cast and 1,600 gp (plus a 1000 gp focus) to spy on a location for...up to 30s. Bonus points go to the flavor test:

PHB page 313 posted:

The secrets of the world are yours to plumb, for your magically enhanced eyes can see into the king's chambers, the wizard's library, or the dragon's cave

I have no idea how you're supposed to plumb anything with 30 seconds of viewing time especially if each casting takes an hour. To make matters worse, the money for this all comes out of the magic item budget, so if you want to make sure you have the best *KEYWORD* you don't want to use these things at all. Half of them are "argue with the DM to get advice" anyway, plenty are tiny effects you don't care about (do we really need to charge money and 10 minutes for Tenser's Floating Disk?), and a lot of them would be improved if you could drop them in combat.

For bonus points, the Loremaster's bargain spell mentions contacting a demigod for assistance, but you can't actually just know this stuff despite the fact that you can become a demigod. It's nuts.

One last bonus piece of bullshit to really rub in how bad this system is.

DMG page 27 posted:

For instance, the Observe Creature ritual requires the caster to be extremely specific when describing the ritual's intended target. If allowing the ritual to succeed would throw a monkey wrench into your plans for the adventure, you'd be within your rights to rule that the ritual failed to locate the intended target because the caster's description wasn't specific enough.

That's right, kids! These drat things aren't even guaranteed to work, because this might be a cutscene, and you HAVE to surrender! gently caress you for trying to take actions other than fighting in 5v5 combat!

These things were so hilariously bad that Essentials took them away.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, this book set the stage for the collapse of 4th edition as a product. It's not a coincidence that the head of D&D got fired every year or that Pathfinder enjoyed as much success as it did, this book did probably the most to set down the paradigms for 4e that people didn't like. Let's go through it again.

4TH EDITION DIDN'T FIX poo poo

A lot of the major complaints about 3.5 involved class balance, and mostly came down to the wizard being a guy who could end combats forever while the fighter sucked and could maybe do one trick. The wizard also got a bunch of flak for being able to do things out of combat to solve problems that the martials couldn't do. Now, this iteration of the fighter is actually hardcore and can win fights. Good for him. You can build 3.5 fighters who are hardcore, can win fights, and have mechanics to keep the monsters off the back ranks, that's not even new (spiked chain tripper). The wizard can still end encounters in a turn by firing off Sleep with an Orb of Imposition, and while it requires a very specific build it's exactly as powerful as it sounds. Out of combat, the wizard is still better than the fighter as they get rituals for free! The fighter even gets boned in skill challenges, because their only social skill is Intimidate, and that's an automatic failure! Good luck convincing the DM to let you use Endurance, sucker!

Now, this doesn't come up as often in discussion because the eternal debate is "wizard vs fighter", so the fact that warlock and paladin are trash garbage almost never gets brought up when people are wildly insisting that 4th edition fixed everything. That's still 1/4 of the classes in your book, and they were even advertising the warlock as the cool new hotness class!

The only things you can argue 4e fixed are the abilities they excised from the game entirely (in this book) - summoning, polymorph, etc. While they avoid the trap of having Gate be able to summon Angels who are better than you and can summon more angels, they do not get credit for not trying to solve the problem at all. People want to play shapeshifters, angel summoners, necromancers, faustian demon summoners, mounted knights, etc and when you tell them that you need to wait another year and pay $35 for actual summoning rules because "we can't figure out how to balance it", people get furious. It's the precursor to the Republicans complaining about Obamacare for 7 years and then coming up with a plan that costs more money and covers less people. Sure, they may have legitimate complaints about how health insurance premiums are way up, but their actual solution is terrible and they should be ashamed of themselves. The fact that when these rules came out they required you to spend your turn yelling at the lone skeleton like it was some kind of pokemon just made everything worse. The "no narrative skills" problem didn't get addressed for years, and when it did it involved giving utility powers to the wizard and cleric and reducing the fighter to an auto-attack bot.

The game didn't even work as intended, because you could completely ignore the roles and make a party of three bow rangers, orb wizard, and consecrated ground cleric and own everyone forever without caring about positioning. Now people are going to point out that a lot of these criticisms were mitigated, and maybe they were after the years of errata and splatbooks. Yet, at that point it's in the exact same state as 3.5!. Yes, if the DM and players work together you can get a tactical battle that doesn't revolve around burning your encounter powers then at-wills to slowly attrition the mobs for hours, and if you use the MM3 revised monster math maybe it's even faster...but this is exactly the same as explaining that if you have people use beguiler, warblade, and favored soul you can get a more balanced 3.5 party as long as you avoid X spells and prestige classes, and for gods sake don't have the ice devil spam wall of ice and retreat. Yes, you can build a good warlock now with all the Dragon/splatbook crap I'm sure, but you can build a competent fighter in 3.5 with enough dumpster diving and charge bonuses! Hell, you might even be able to build a competent utility wizard with enough splatbook utility powers and free ritual poo poo, I don't know and I don't have DDI. I look at the 4e threads and see people talking about "themes" and "backgrounds" - those aren't in this book! The only actual difference seems to be that the class named "fighter" is considered useable by the 4e fanbase, while the 3e fanbase tells people not to play it.

And at that point, why did you have a new edition at all?

THEY DELVED TOO GREEDILY, AND TOO DEEP

Those of us who fought in the 2008 Edition Wars (instead of say, meeting women or something healthy) probably remember the old $e meme that used to float around the Wizards of the Coast forums as well as Enworld before Morrus purged all the non-4e fans. Sure, Wizards is a business, and they need money to eat as well as produce D&D books. I don't have a problem giving people money for a good product. What I dislike is being told that things are arbitrarily spread out around various splatbooks to get people to buy it. Heck, even with this caveat people pre-ordered tons of 4e, people were excited for 4e, people wanted to like it. There was a small minority that noticed that maybe splitting all the classes into separate books was an obvious cash grab, but the vast majority were willing and eager to try 4e.

Then they saw it, and people realized that no, they could not just port their 3.5 characters and campaigns over to 4e, and furthermore the PHB2 wouldn't be out for another year with druids and bards and other characters. No, they did not want to play dragonborn warlords. No, we were not going to refluff our Thyrm cleric and just say that the radiant damage was actually ice bolts. No, we'd actually like to finish this campaign. Et cetera.

In short, 4e's insistence on extremely narrow character classes bit it in the rear end. If you had a cleric of a trickster god in 3.5 you got shoehorned into shooting Jesus lasers or bashing people with a mace. Now, they could have possibly fixed it by shoveling new classes out the door really quickly for people to buy, but they were too busy making a whole new book for rangers/warlords/fighters which gave us such gems as "fighter with two weapons", and "ranger whose animal is too stupid to attack each turn on its own power" - both of which the system needed and people wanted, but their release schedule was FAR too low for them to match the character options available in the 3.5 PHB, and they very often had no clue how these mechanics were supposed to work. When they DID put something back, it often had many mind-boggling restrictions (such as familiars being unable to interact with the outside world, or the ritual to raise a 1 hp zombie having it completely unable to hit people, or the ritual making a giant beast not making it better at combat...the list goes on, and on...). The 4e team declared that they had all the answers, so playing 3.5 was a fool's game...but they obviously didn't, got caught out, and disgusted potential fans.

We see the foundations here, where the entire book is padded to disguise the fact there aren't as many character options as they want you to think. Each class has two builds, each build gets two powers, and there's a good chance powers from one build get locked out by the way you build the other. Hell, people like the fighter have powers locked to specific weapons. You are not churning out all those powers for every character concept supported by the 3.5 PHB, and that's because you locked all the classes to specific weapons. Someone wants to play an archer bard? That's yet another splatbook!

Yet this is all usually drowned out by the chorus of "4E === THE WOW" which, while there are some similarities (and the designers referenced WoW for design ideas), people would have forgiven WoW influences if the game had let them continue playing their characters and actually fixed all the problems they identified. People would have thrown money at WotC like a lonely man in a strip club.

Instead the product crashed and burned, leaving us with Essentials, Pathfinder, and 5e.

Mr. Maltose
Feb 16, 2011

The Guffless Girlverine


Ahahahahahaha

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.





quote:

I have no idea how you're supposed to plumb anything with 30 seconds of viewing time especially if each casting takes an hour.
You see, this sort of thing, this sounds to me like a CHALLENGE.

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MonsterEnvy
Feb 4, 2012


You going to cover a bit of the monster manual and how the math was borked there for 4e.

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