Quick update, reviews

I wanted to post a quick update to announce a new page (tab up at the top) that will have all of my collective reviews. Also, I have recently reviewed a couple of products; Psionic Bestiary by Dreamscarred Press, and Retribution: Collector’s Edition by Raging Swan Press. Please refer to my review page for those reviews. Or if you like, I could just tell you… both products get 5 stars. I need to start being tougher on my reviews… maybe.

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One Review and a Few Blog Shoutouts

So I’ve moved on to a funky format, but I think that it’s working for me. I hope that you know that you can count on my Tuesday updates, but that I will likely be doing updates throughout the week. At times it may be a single review, or a stray thought that I feel needs to be examined in text, but I am striving to bring you more than just a weekly update. You deserve it.

For today, I have a review of Path of Shadows, a most excellent shadow-centric sourcebook that delivers on multiple fronts!

[begin review]

Review of Path of Shadows-

Continuing in a series of reviews, I have been offered a review copy of Path of Shadows, and found it to be most excellent! Right off the bat, we have good writing and exposition in the opening pages.

Immediately diving into the Nightblade class, I noticed that on paper (as I have not playtested the material) everything appears balanced and well rounded, but distinct enough to set the class apart from traditional classes. Initially, the class appears to be a “Rogue-esque Magus”, but both versatile and defined in a way that you could have a Nightblade and a Rogue (or even a Magus for that matter) in the same party without much overlap or conflict.

What especially intrigues me about the class is the implementation of their “surge” ability, which creates an interesting action economy that seeks to balance powers used per encounter without making Nightblades susceptible to diminishing resources over numerous encounters.

So many options exist for this class, especially with the built in paths and extra archetypes in a later chapter that I could even see a party of two or more Nigthblades being a viable and interesting campaign option. Furthermore, the intentions to allow other classes to receive a taste of the Nightblade’s abilities is a fascinating developmental experiment, and one that I would deem a success.

Reading through feats and archetypes was especially fun, being the showcase of the book. Many of the ideas within Path of Shadows are rendered within the context of familiar classes, making it far more digestible than a dense (but fun) 20 level base class. Moreover, it stokes the curiosity of the reader so as to implore them to read the book in its entirety; such a thing is a rare accomplishment for such an ambitious supplement.

Feats in particular were yet another ingenious way to customize characters towards a focus on shadow. They appear to do a great job of helping players to realize shadow heavy concepts without the commitment of an archetype or class levels. Many of these feats are interesting and balanced enough to be put into an official Pathfinder product, and I was very pleased with them, perhaps so much that I may very soon find use for them in a current game.

I could also tell that a lot of special care was given into the Spell section. Here I began to notice a heavy focus on actual lighting effects as a game mechanic, which is interesting given the recent blog post by Mark Seifter (FOUND HERE). The entire conceptual framework of these spells as they apply to lighting rules falls under a tricky area with me (rules that make it necessary to consider an often ignored aspect of the game, such as encumbrance). However, here it seems organic and plausible, opening up an arena for sneaking and shadow-crafting that is relatively simple and interesting, while being no more rules heavy than current rules for illusions or summoning.

Spells that play with summoning shadow as a semi-tangible thing (such as Shadow Terrain and Shadow Structure) are fantastic, and well within the wheelhouse for shadow-mages of all sorts. Some of these spells seem especially potent (such as Shadow Field) and could potentially be re-examined for balance, but such cases were rare. If I had one other quibble, it would be with the Shadow Necromancy line of spells, which while thematically interesting, is realistically just another way for Sorcerers and Wizards to bypass intentional limitations to their classes.

On the other hand, the Summon Horror line of spells was amazing, and something that the game very much needed. Shadow themes aside, I am more than happy to implement villains that choose to summon aberrations, as it goes a long way towards  creating a memorable encounter that stands out from the typical summoning faire.

As a side note, the artwork for Umbral Defender is amazing.

Finally, the magic item chapter was solid, though perhaps a bit less impressive than the rest of the book, and by necessity. The armor abilities are creative and good, especially as they would apply to a shadow-themed character. The weapons  and weapon abilities are equally intriguing and elicited a second glance. The miscellaneous items were quite nice as well, thematically sound and filling in the niche left by the new spells. While relatively small, this section did a fantastic job of supplementing the rest of the material, and offering a good toolbox for characters that desire shadow themed magic items.

Some final thoughts on the book overall: A printer friendly file would be nice, but I have been spoiled by other companies that provide this. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, and the quality of this pdf is excellent. I’d also like to extend kudos for crediting artists so thoroughly. I love that kind of gratitude and moreover, it helps me recognize favored artists in the future.

I summation, I give this book a 5/5, as it has exceeded all of my expectations, even after reading many other similarly positive reviews!

[end review]

Also, I’d like to give a big shout out to a number of blogs that have either inspired me, or have worked more directly with me to help promote what I do.

5 Minute Workday is a great site for continual 5th edition content and a webcomic that is both relevant and accessible. One of the few blogs that I’ve seen to do such a great job covering 5th edition.

Speaking out on Life is a blog after my own heart, though much more diverse on the topics of life and fatherhood (something with which I can surely relate).

WriterNextDoor has been a tremendous inspiration, both in terms of content and core message. I wouldn’t be writing with as much passion about anything if it were not for the advice and ideas presented therein.

A Sword for Hire has been another clear and present inspiration since the start of the 2015 RPG Superstar contest. There are few role playing blogs that offer freelance and general RPG writing advice with such mastery.

I will be posting something more thought-dense tomorrow, so please come back to read my thoughts.

And because I don’t have any relevantly pithy pictures, here is something to make up for it. Here is a d20 that is almost 2000 years old. Mull it over for a moment.*

d20

*Yes this story is almost 3 years old, so sue me.

Review Plus: Discussing Dragon Plus, and the recent Arcana Unearthed Article

It seems as though the game plan for Wizards of the Coast on moving forward with Dungeons and Dragons has been a series of little surprises released to a relative lack of fanfare. This isn’t a terrible plan*, and I suppose that relying on the starving throngs of fans left aching for more content is perhaps a viral marketing method unto itself.

And being one among the throngs, I suppose that it is my duty to report their news for them, which I happily do now. The magazine is currently available for iPhone and iPad through their newsstand app, and there are promises that it will eventually expand to android, PC, and Mac. Though my old iPhone 4 is a little clunky when viewing the magazine, it isn’t unwieldy otherwise. A fancy little bonus feature is a handy (if not humorously proud) news section which aggregates all official D&D facebook and tumblr posts.

While I didn’t enjoy the idea of Fantasy Grounds and their ultra expensive a la carte licensed product, it is nearly (but not entirely) counteracted by the return of Dragon Magazine in the form of a free digital magazine. It isn’t core rule pdfs, which I think are sorely needed, but it is a turn in the right direction.

That having been said, the content is impressive, given that the whole thing is free. I haven’t really been able to look at the 4th edition digital magazine, nor how expansive it was, so I don’t know how it compares. The old print magazine had at least twice as much content, though it is hard to tell given the fact that the magazine is formatted for a mobile phone. Articles are great, with little in the way of actual rules. This is not entirely a bad thing, though I hope that perhaps a future Dungeon Plus will deliver on some more rules heavy articles.

The first issue is heavy on featuring the Elemental Evil product push, but does a good job in presenting it in a digestible way. I also enjoy the embedded pictures, though it is annoying that they have a great map of the Sword Coast region with no way so far of extracting said map. I have not yet had a chance to see the embedded video, nor the Scott Kurtz strip, though I am excited about the latter being something of a replacement for more venerable Dragon comics (though I still miss Phil and Dixie).

PhilnDixie
“What’s new” indeed.

The remainder of the magazine is, of course, advertising, though it goes a step beyond simply displaying full page ads that link you to products. They include whole articles devoted to selling you their product. Though this isn’t unexpected or even wrong, it seems somehow unconnected. We love your product, we jumped through hoops to find and download your magazine, we know how to buy your books and games. But I suppose there is something to be said for this groundswell saturation*.

Curiously enough, as I fiddle with the options, you can apparently send articles to people (as I had done to myself) through the iPhone messenger or e-mail. The articles are rendered through a strange resolution on a PC, and cannot be readily printed, but are legible. It appears that the app itself has a print option, but it does not appear functional.

For now, I am satisfied but cautious about upcoming issues. Despite it being free, the magazine could stand to be put out monthly rather than every other month, especially given the relatively scant amount of content. I also hope that the magazine grows to be meatier and explore new territory, and not simply include articles that link to products from month to month; I would foresee that getting old. What can I pay for more content that isn’t advertising?

download (1)
I’ll tell you how much I’d be willing to spend.

But on to Unearthed Arcana!

First of all, I have never been an open fan of any sea based campaigns, despite the fact that I once ran a heavily sea-themed campaign myself. I think that I enjoy the adventurous aspect of it more than I do the pirate/swashbuckler veneer that most people seem to embrace wholeheartedly. And yet…

I love minotaurs! Especially ones from Krynn. If this water-based Unearthed Arcana is an excuse to give people Minotaur PC’s, then you can write a whole pirate book for all I care! And yet, I also find myself enjoying the other player options, as they are flavored for the sea, but can be utilized for non-sea based adventures as well. I am thoroughly impressed by the way that they have been giving us even this scant bit of content to not only expand player options, but to show us the simplicity in creating it.

adnd05
Seriously though, 3rd edition made me wait 3 years to have a (nearly) playable minotaur. It’s kind of a big deal to me.

I have yet to use very much of 5th edition content, so I expect that a review of this nature will change once I get to look at the mechanics of everything first hand With that caveat aside, I thoroughly enjoy what they are doing so far, quibbles about pdfs aside.

Now for the real complaint; as we see more content being released through disparate digital channels, I find myself wishing that there was a better archive of these articles and rules. As it stands, the D&D website is abysmally poor at allowing access to old articles, especially when viewed through mobile devices. I was far more in favor of their old web design that simply listed articles that you could then peruse more easily. Everything now looks like a facebook page with all of the inherent navigation problems therein, and the search function is similarly afflicted.

But alas, I suppose that just as it is upon our shoulders to spread news, so it is to enact creative solutions to such consternating problems.

download (2)
Consider the gauntlet dropped, WotC web developer!

* I could suggest a better marketing method, but I’m not expert, so bully for them.

Further Thoughts on Digital vs Paper

I’ve been meaning to address this very issue, but it is stated so well by fellow blogger “Triangularroom” that I thought I’d share. Also, it appears that his blog is moving soon, so here is the updated link as well.

http://triangularroom.com/2015/04/29/further-thoughts-on-digital-vs-paper/

The Triangular Room

I’ve written about this topic before, but with every new hardcover the Paizo produces, it’s something I have to think about: do I buy the considerably cheaper PDF, or wait and buy the expensive physical version? Now that I have bought a couple of hardcovers in PDF format, I have a much better idea of what works for me.

Ultimate Equipment. Although it is nice to simply type in the piece of equipment you want into the search bar, this means that you need to know what the item is called. I’ve found for use at the table, the physical version of this book works better. It allows both the game master and the players to browse through a specific section and find a suitable item, rather than having to guess its name.

Bestiaries. Although these are nice to page through while preparing a session, I almost never use these…

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