My rating: 4 of 5 stars
We really got a deep dive into the mind and actions of Rhys as a character as well and he opens up to the reader in a very touching way, and I really felt connected to him and his motivations. I can see how it would be hard for Feyre or pretty much anyone who knows him, not to love him.
I really only have a couple of real critiques of this book.
We left off our last session with our party opening a secret door only to find themselves confront with five orcs in a lit room. The interaction devolved into combat and resulted in two of the Orcs going down and the remaining three running out of the room into the hallway to the ast. Our party, who took a decent amount of damage decided to backoff and re-group.
They piled the two dead bodies in front of the east door to provided a bit of a barricade and they then took a quick ten-minute rest. After considering their options our party decided to head back down the secret entrance and they investigated the previously unexplored tunnel to the west towards.
This Brough them to Room 16, which exhibited a new exit from the dungeon that is partially collapsed and veered with dirt. They once again found themselves face with a potential wolf den to get past to get to the entrance. The party decided to chop off the arm from one of the dead Orc bodies and threw that to the wolves as a distraction. The wolves ended up fighting over the arm and the party was able to exit the first level of the dungeon.
They took this opportunity to head back to the farmer's house to spend a night and rest since Cybil was in very poor shape. With an additional piece of gold the farmer allowed Cybil to sleep in his bed and she was able to regain here Strength, while the rest of the party slept outside.
There was consideration if the group should take the half day journey back to the Morgansfort and restock, but the fact that some of the old fort is now cleared out and people from the fort know that the were headed there, it became apparent that other treasure seekers may try to take advantage of our party's hard work and they instead decided to dive back in.
The next morning our party once again headed back to the dungeon main entrance and this time decided to head south (whereas they previously headed west). They found a pit trap in this southern hallway and discovered a switch on the far side of the trap. They disabled it with a crack crossbow shot and continued their exploration to the south.
It was at this same time that the party decided to wonder whether they should've offloaded some of their treasure either with the farmer or back at the cave entrance. They decided to continue on.
As the group continued they came across another room filled with the sound of buzzing. They discovered a nest of giant bees in this room. While the bees were clearly aggressive the party decided to sprint past this room and continue further down the hallway and found that the bees did not pursue them past 60'.
Continuing on our party discovered the Kobold Lair. Because of their positive interaction earlier with the Kobold patrol earlier they were met with a generally positive attitude. They were able to continue to convince the Kobolds that they were here to hunt Goblins and were given a scroll of "knock" and informed that the Goblin lair was located in the northwest area of the current dungeon level.
And that is where we ended session 3.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Last Dance is a pretty solid hard sci-fi book, that takes a primary scientific concept and applies it to the story without bogging the narrative down too much with the technical details. The book takes place on the Earth to Mars orbital vessel known as the Aldrin. The premise of the story is focused around the concept of the Mars Cycler or Aldrin Cycler, which is a physics concept developed by Buzz Aldrin to allow a spacecraft to cycle around two gravitational objects (i.e. Earth and Mars) while utilizing almost no fuel. It's a fascinating concept and sets the premise and location of the entire story.
While the story does hinge on this concept and a pivotal event focused around this concept, the story that is being told is done in a interesting way. Almost the entire book is told through interviews conducted with the crew through flashbacks with Captain Aames. It is a fascinating way to set the tone of the crew and setting, and the character basis of the Captain.
The method of storytelling however is hard to digest though as the book progresses. While the concept was novel for the first couple of chapters it began to wear thin as the book progressed and it made it hard for me to grow attached to any particular character. Especially since the Captain is portrayed as a wholly unlikable character.
I personally struggled to stay with the book at times since I had no idea what the crime the Captain was charged with was until the last couple of chapters when the investigator finally interviewed the Captain himself.
I think the author was trying to setup a narrative arc where the Captain was supposed to be put in a nearly impossible position (view spoiler)[and then making a decision that brought him up for court-martial. (hide spoiler)]
I like that the flashbacks were supposed to lead the reader to a position of understanding why the Captain made that tough decision, but the setup didn't payoff if for the fact that the decision made by the Captain didn't seem to be all that controversial. I feel nearly any reader when presented with the decision and the even minor context provided through the First Mate's interview, would have sided with the Captain. The story's antagonist was plainly vilified and laid plain from the outset of the story that when the final reveal was made near the end of the book, there was no surprise.
That being said the book is worth the read if you like a solid sci-fi story. The storytelling structure is interesting with the flashbacks and does accomplish the goal of telling the reader who Captain Aames is.
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Our Friday group completed our second session of playing Cairn and we had an opportunity to finally get into some dungeon delving and some combat.
Observations and Changes to the Morgransfort Module
- Since Morgansfort was designed for the Basic Fantasy RPG, I had to make a few changes on the fly to the gold and treasure settings. In general I reduced the amount of gold found by a factor of ten and also completely disregarded silver and copper pieces. So for example, if the module stated that the characters found 126 GP, I reduced that down to 12. I quickly observed in just the first few rooms of the dungeon that the amount of gold being dished out was a lot and I wanted a part of this campaign to reflect that gold and treasure really do matter a lot.
- Word of note regarding scale in the map. The dungeon map on page 31 of the module does not make it clear that the grid is a 10' scale, so the first few rooms I ran assuming 5' squares. This would've changed the encounter with the first floor trap in the west hallway, so something to keep in mind.
- A fascinating observation was pointed out to me from my play group while dealing with combat when it was our party vs.1 enemy, which was outlined in a couple of instances in the dungeon in smaller rooms thus far. Since Cairn's "Multiple Attacker's rule has all of the PC's roll and just the single highest dice being taken, my PC's observed they were able to "game" the system a bit if they had at least one PC fail the initiative, since they would be able to act/attack separately after the enemy, giving the PC's essentially "two opportunities to hit" in a single round instead of just one if they all succeeded or failed. Not a huge deal, but just an interesting observation that they immediately latched onto. Perhaps this isn't the intent of the combat system.
- Overall combat though went really smoothly and fast and I really liked how it didn't grind the rest of the game to a halt as D&D 5e does. We encountered combat, accomplished it for a few minutes and then were immediately able to move on. Most of the combat in this session was done via theatre of the mind, which is not my group's favorite way to play, but it worked out well for these quick encounters in various dungeon rooms.
- I also really enjoy the formatting of the monster stat blocks in the Morgransfort module. The stat blocks are very tightly organized with the monsters in place and with small check boxes to track their HP. Converting on the fly was painless and tracking the combat encounters with the initiative system was also extremely fast and effortless. Screenshot example below.
- My players had some fun playing with character names a bit. Since the surname table in the handbook is so small we had a few duplicate names. Wenlan Candlewick, whom I outlined in the previous post, shares a surname with our PC Ysln Candlewick. We are playing out the situation where Wenlan is eyeing Ysln, thinking he knows her from somewhere, but he is not quite sure from where.
- We also had a hireling roll up with the name of Canhoreal, which is the same as one of the players. That turned into Can2, and then finally resulted in the party calling the hireling Twocan.
- Finally, and this is my favorite, the young acolyte who joined the group at the end of Session 1 was given a name by the group. Cybil kept calling him "Cannon Fodder", which someone put into an english to french translator on Google which resulted in his name becoming Chair à Canon.
- For the module I am trying to run the exploration in 10 minute dungeon movements and I have assigned each of my players different roles to track such as overland travel, dungeon cartographer, dungeon turn tracker, banker/quartermaster, etc. It is working out OK so far and my players are getting used to having to track this information themselves, but it is really nice to get off my plate. I think it is something I'll try to incorporate into other RPG systems. I've adapted a few of the sheets from OSE and made some of my own to handout to my players, so I'll try and share those in another blogpost.
Our group had our session 1 this past Friday, or I should say perhaps session 0.5 since it appears that half of my table didn't fully fill out their character sheets or somehow forgot a stat or two. So after about 45 minutes of doing that again we finally got started in Morgansfort.
Here are the names of the players we rolled up.
- Ysln Candlewick (Female)
- Cwingeld (Male)
- Arjune (Male)
- Cybil Burle (Female)
- Beatrice (Female)
- Canhoreal Studerman (Male)
For those that might be interested in running the module, it essentially is a fort placed on the edge of the “Western Lands” which are part of the former Urd Empire. The fort is placed right near the edge of civilization which allows for plenty of opportunity to engage in the wilderness. It features three dungeons to explore along with general wilderness areas. The module has a nice bit of information (2-3 pages) that provides enough background information for GMs to give their players a sense of place, but not so much that one can’t easily modify or adapt it to their own setting or needs. A nice summary is provided right on page 1 of the three dungeons and the fort.
There is also a really detailed bit of information of the world’s religions and the fort itself, including details on all of the buildings and numerous NPC’s within the fort.
Our group had two characters randomly roll up clerics as backgrounds so they took an interest in the religion information in the Morgansfort module. I won't write it all out here, but here is a brief summary.
The Hundred Gods: Basically the old world religion. Hundreds of gods from the existing inhabitants of this region. I positioned this that most of the denizens outside of the fort, and under its protection followed this religion.
The Church of Tah (aka the Bethite Church): The official religion of the empire. Known for its corruption and opulence.
The Church of Tah Reformed: The opposite with members sworn to celibacy and poverty.
Arjune from our play group took to the Church of Tah reformed and had in their background “Discredited”. They played to that nicely, indicating that they had to escape to the wilderness to avoid that discredit to their name.
Arrival at Morgransfort
When our players arrived at the fort, I directed them to “The Toothless Dragon Tavern” and to the “Iron Helm Inn” for their rumors. Per the module direction they immediately began a conversation with “Bat” who I made as a toothless old koot of a farmer, who gave them the initial rumor for the first dungeon, which was an abandoned ancient fort.
Cybil was the one who took some initiative to try and find out about other rumors or to find a hireling to go with the party. I used the random character generator on the Cairn website and came up with a ridiculously good character who had stats well above our players and a background to boot named Wenlan. Stats below:
Wenlan Candlewick, formerly a ranger. You have a lanky physique, weathered skin, oily hair, and a rat-like face. You speak in a gravelly manner and wear rancid clothing. You are rude yet serene, and are generally regarded as an entertainer.
You have had the misfortune of being defrauded. You are 35 years old.
Armor: Brigandine (1 Armor, bulky), a Helmet (+1 Armor)
Weapon: Crossbow (bulky)
Gear, tools & trinkets: Nails (stacks), Cart (+4 slots, bulky), and Bottle
Bonus item: Longbow (bulky)
Starting supplies: 8 gold, a Torch, and three days' Rations
After a lot of advice and solicitation both on the Cairn Discord and on the OSR subreddit, I settled on running Morgansfort (https://basicfantasy.org/downloads.html), which is a free adventure module from the Basic Fantasy RPG game system. It looks to have a nice balance of dungeon crawling, overland adventure, etc wrapped into a single package.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It is hard not to re-iterate what others have already said about this book, but when it comes down to it, this is exactly what everyone has been talking about. It is an incredibly cozy and quaint story about a retired adventurer and the people and trials she comes into contact with while trying to start a new life.
The book just simply exudes a level of warmth and charm that you get almost no where else. I can best describe it as a children's book for adults. Everything written here just comes across as incredibly satisfying from the way baked pastries are described to the general atmosphere of the coffee shop, all wrapped up into a warm fantasy-core setting. If you wanted to take the best parts of the Shire, Hogsmeade, and Ankh-Morpork and wrap them into their most wholesome and delectable little packages, then that is what you get here.
The characters are really what make this story shine though and everyone from Thimble, to Cal and Tandri all make this story what it is.
Worth the read all around.
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As someone who is trying to dip my toe into OSR gaming right now, I have been having quite a few conversations online about the style of play and the general community that surrounds that style of play.
While doing my research and prep I have observed what I think is a disconnect between what many think OSR is (or should be) vs a modern 5e system. So what does OSR mean? OSR is Old School Revival (or Renaissance) which bases the D&D game on the early D&D editions. I have spent quite a bit of time over on r/OSR and on Discord to facilitate my discussions on how to structure a game. I came into this process thinking that OSR = Rules Lite = narrative forward design. Many of the OSR systems I have seen tend to pull back a lot of the rules and complexity that modern 5e has. I think the assumption that OSR is narrative focused is incorrect based upon the feedback I hear from the community. Ironically, it almost seems like the OSR community wants more tactical, more grit, more number crunching for battle with out-of-encounter RP to get out of the way. That seems counterintuitive to me when you are pulling away the more complex math and skills you might find in PF2e for example.
I wanted to take a break from 5e with my group because I feel like I am getting burned out on the load of prep that is expected of the DM. Im spending hours each week to prepare maps, NPC's, encounters, etc and my players just roll up to the table. Now my group is pretty evenly split on the role-play vs tactical battle divide of how they play 5e.
Following up on my blog post from a couple of weeks ago, I have been doing some research into various RPG systems that I would like to play. Some of those purchases and inquiries are starting to come to fruition and there has been one system that has really caught my eye.
Cairn is a New School Revival system, which if I am being honest, I don't know exactly what that means. The term is used online often in conjunction with the Old School Revival (OSR) terminology, which references the D&D methods and designs from the early eighties. I'll talk about that more in another post, but I wanted to highlight a bit of what has caught my eye with Cairn. I'll be summarizing a bit on my interpretation, so this may not entirely be the designer's intent with the system design.
"Cairn is an adventure game about exploring a dark & mysterious wood filled with strange folk, hidden treasure, and unspeakable monstrosities. Character generation is quick and random, classless, and relies on fictional advancement rather than level mechanics.
It is based on Knave by Ben Milton and Into The Odd by Chris McDowall. The game was written by Yochai Gal."
The entire rules set is about 24 pages and can be downloaded over at cairnrpg.com. There is some very nice design aesthetic as well around the character sheet and pamphlet.
One of the key things I would like to try and do with Cairn is to explore some of the tropes and mechanics that D&D 5e either falls short on or that our play group has not explored. For the purposes of my planning, I have solidified around three main concepts that I would like to explore with Cairn.
- Make wilderness survival matter. When characters venture out into the wilderness the management of their resources and the risk/reward to exploring should be tied into the system. The further they explore, the greater the treasure reward could be, but also the higher the risk. Getting back to a safe haven after your adventure should be considered in their resource management
- Make money matter. D&D 5e hands out a lot of money and after a few levels, characters have more than they can possibly spend. Additionally, living expenses become a chore and a waste of time when they have hundreds of gold burning in their pockets. Cairn's limited inventory system may not only help the player spend their money, but also manage all of the items they have and make considerations as to what is most useful for the adventure they are entering into.
- Explore character advancement outside of the traditional “leveling up” system. There is a concept known as “Foreground Growth” where the characters can grow and advance through in the world and their adventures, not from resting overnight. I love the idea of exploring the concept your direct encounters and experiences lead to specific growth. Perhaps you had a close encounter with a Hag in the wilderness and as a result you learned about their critical weakness.
This would be my first time running a system like this, so I am hoping to build the campaign around an adaptation of "The Lost Citadel" by Green Ronin Publishing. I am hoping that the concept of a single, last human city will help to facilitate this campaign style since the adventurers will have to head out into the wilderness and try to make their way back. Adventuring further from the city can result in increased risk and increased reward.
Cairn has a lot of nice hacks built by the community to further some of the dungeon and hex crawl mechanics. I think that would be really fun to dig into an explore as a core component of the campaign.
If you are not in the tabletop gaming world, you may not have heard about the controversy surrounding Dungeons & Dragons for the past couple of weeks. In short, Hasbro, who owns Wizards of the Coast (WOTC), who make D&D had leaked an update to their gaming license that would've imposted some severe restrictions upon content creators, 3rd party publishers and pretty much anyone who did anything creative within the D&D world. What is/was known as the Open Gaming License 1.0a (OGL) has been around for around 20 years. This licenses allows content creators to create content in and around D&D without imposing upon WOTC's copyright or trademark. For example, you wouldn't be able to call your book a D&D book, but you could say something along the lines of "it is 5e compatible and has these new monsters I created".
This all got into a big mess when WOTC had their new OGL leaked. There were many problems with it, but most notably it appeared to revoke the previous license, implied that WOTC could claim the rights to creator's work and required creators making more than $750,000 annually to pay ~25% royalty. It was a shit show to put it mildly.
Gizmodo broke the story and it put the fandom into a maelstrom as WOTC failed to repond. When they finally did, nearly two weeks later, the community was not pleased.
As result, multiple companies in the TTRPG industry have now struck out on their own to avoid any potential issues like this in the future. The backlash to WOTC has been so strong and so swift that they have essentially now created more competition in the market against themselves. Kobold Press has announced that they are making their own RPG system, code named Project Black Flag, which will likely be a 5e compatible system (aka 5.5). MCDM productions announced their new system and Paizo has announced they are leading and effort with multiple other publishers to create a truly open gaming license to be called ORC that can be applied to any gaming license.
On top of that the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Cory Doctrow have chimed in with numerous other sites detailing how the original OGL was not even needed and how it even restricted some rights which might be inherent.
In the end it has been quite a disaster.
At this point I don't intend to stop playing D&D, but I think this might be an opportune time for our group to take a look at some other RPG systems and try those out for 2023. Paizo has put many of their books one sale this week to encourage some different play.