All posts by Shaun

Shaun Welch has been playing RPGs for two decades. He listens to a disproportionately large amount of music from Iceland, and currently lives in Maryland, where he works as a professional unicorn wrangler.

Review: Midgard Bestiary (Pathfinder Edition)

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The cover of the Midgard BestiaryAs you may know from my review of Kobold Quarterly #21, I am out of the loop when it comes to Open Design. I’ve been asked to review the Pathfinder edition of the Midgard Bestiary, developed by Adam Daigle, which counts as my first exposure to the setting. That puts a great deal of responsibility on the book.

Gazing Into the Abyss

What do you do when you find yourself confronted with a book of monsters? I imagine, like me, your first reaction is to flip through it and see if anything catches your eye. If art is important in any RPG book, it is most important in a bestiary.

Immediately the alseid grabs my attention. It is like a centaur, but instead of human and horse, the combination is elf and stag. Springing up out of his long hair are a pair of antlers. Baba Yaga’s horsemen are the first “monsters” in color I encounter. Most of the bestiary is sepia pages and black-and-white artwork. The splashes of full-color artwork are nice.

I dislike the blood hag and broodiken. Their appearance does not inspire me and I know I will give them a pass. Fortunately there are many other monsters whose appearance delights me: Bone collector, cavelight moss, dire weasel, salt golem. The list goes on. The Bestiary passes the first trial.

One thing I wish were present in the book, and all monster books in general, is an artist credit for each entry written along the side margin or some other unobtrusive place. This makes it easier to look up a particular artist’s other work when you like what you see. The pieces aren’t always signed, initialed, or otherwise marked.

Continue reading Review: Midgard Bestiary (Pathfinder Edition)

Review: Kobold Quarterly #21

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Kobold Quarterly #21 I’m a bit late to the game, but I had a chance to read my very first issue of Kobold Quarterly, which provides content for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Pathfinder by Paizo, and Green Ronin’s AGE System.

The magazine is reminiscent of Dragon back when you could still get it in print. Much of the material has a similar bent: new classes, in-depth monster articles, scads of new magical items, and it looks like Skip Williams is still answering your rules questions! There is also a letters section, which I have always enjoyed in my magazines.

Let’s touch on some of the articles, shall we?

The Shaman by Mark Radle, art by Rick Hershey

Any class that lets you examine the entrails of animals for a bonus to saving throws is pretty decent in my book! Overall I enjoy this Pathfinder take on a shaman character, though I feel it steps too heavily on the druid in a lot of ways. Is it necessary for every nature-based class to have Wild Empathy, Woodland Stride, Wild Shape, and an animal companion? I do see it a lot. The shaman seeks to spice it up a bit, at least, by making the companion a spirit rather than a normal woodland creature. Also, the class’s use of spontaneous casting seems odd given its otherwise ritualistic nature (with many of its abilities taking rounds or minutes to complete).

I enjoy playing druids, though, and would happily play this in lieu of one. The abilities that do distinguish it from the druid (Blood Divination, Commune with Spirits, Whispers of the Spirits, etc.) are superb. I would just like to see more of them!

Daughters of Lilith by Sersa Victory, art by Claudio Pozas

Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into this article on the ecology of the succubus. Sometimes, when something mysterious is laid bare (no pun intended), it loses its allure. Sersa’s article is an earnest effort at a detached, scholarly interpretation of the life and times of a sex demon in all its unpleasant detail. I’d say it succeeds, yet for that very reason it fails to grab me.

One truly cool thing, though: the Infernal Conspiracy gambit. Once per tier, your character can basically say, hey, that person over there is a succubus who is friendly to my cause. That’s really damn neat. Are gambits a thing? If so, I’ve completely missed them.

It’s a Mystery by Zeb Cook, art by Emile Denis and Jeremy Mohler

These are the kinds of articles I live for, and it is without a doubt my favorite in the whole magazine. I’ve been working on a few off-kilter religions in my own campaign world(s), trying to distinguish them from being "just another pantheon," and this piece is full of invaluable advice. Secret religious and philosophical societies are awesome. Zeb discusses what some underlying motivations for these cults might be, how to join, and the implications of being in one.

I’ll be putting most of the advice in this article to use very soon, I imagine!

Of course, there are several other articles in the issue, including a look at why monotheism isn’t prevalent in fantasy games, and spellcasting backgrounds for the AGE system. Despite a few personal quibbles here and there (nothing is perfect, after all), I  enjoyed this issue and would recommend it to anyone playing one of the three games covered. I look forward to seeing more AGE material within the pages of Kobold Quarterly, and might even break out my Dragon Age box set once more!

Note from the Editor: You can buy this issue of Kobold Quarterly directly from the KQ store for $5.99 (PDF only) or $8.99 (Print+PDF).

Doubly Eliminating Expectations

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I have played Magic: The Gathering almost as long as I have been playing RPGs. There have been a few long pauses as time, money, or interest have flagged, but it is always something I come back to. I’ve had some good experiences lately that got me thinking about gaming in general, and I want to share some thoughts about that.

I play at tournaments on occasion, although I rarely rank highly. Most of the time I am content to play casually, chatting with friends over a few hands. Yet tournament rules often influence our play. My friends and I often play Standard, which is the most common tournament type in Magic. In a nutshell, Standard includes the sets from the past two years, so it stays pretty fresh.

Another way tournaments influence our playstyle is that we typically play 2-out-of-3 to determine who “really” won. Like in tournaments, this setup allows us to use our sideboards–a set of 15 extra cards that a player can swap out between matches in order to more finely tune his or her deck against an opponent’s strategies.

Recently a friend and I began attending what is best described as a “casual tournament”; there is no entry fee, the prizes are minimal, and most people are there simply to have fun. If you win the entire tournament, you get a pack of cards.

Thing is, they don’t play 2-out-of-3 there. And they don’t play Swiss rounds, where you keep playing even if you lose and the overall winners are decided by their win-loss ratio. They play one game, and it’s a double-elimination bracket. Lose once,  you get bumped down to the loser’s bracket. Lose again, and you’re done for the night.

Oh, and we can’t use our sideboards. There’s only one match per round, so you can’t fiddle around with your cards to try and better your chances next time. You can’t go fetch the answer you typically leave out of your main deck. You’ve got one chance!

It’s changed the way I build my decks. It reminds me of when I first started playing and didn’t have the greatest grasp on deck-building (though I still don’t). I’ve got this card that works really well against hordes of creatures, but isn’t so good if my opponent is playing a more focused, brutal onslaught… should I put it in? I won’t have a shot at sliding it in later to plug up my defenses against swarm decks. That card I have that totally hoses red players but does next-to-nothing against any other color… is it worth it?

We all get into routines. Now and then we get entrenched in our particular playstyles. Sometimes it’s good to have an experience that shakes you up and shows you that what is typical is not always what is best. If you have the opportunity, try something different. Whether it’s a different system, a new genre, or a crazy shift in paradigm (like if I were to play a comedic game instead of the serious ones I usually do), there are tons of ways to gain a new perspective. A few months back I played Yahtzee for the first time in what felt like a million years, and while I rarely play any type of “family” game anymore, there were half a dozen things I discovered I greatly enjoyed.

Get outside of your particular sphere when it comes to gaming, and who knows? You just might learn a thing or two!