Long Silence!

It is a long time since I have posted anything here or even commented for that matter. I have not abandoned Stargazer’s World, I have just been exceptionally busy.

Several weeks ago I was given a selection of books by Columbia Games Inc from their Hârn setting. Previously I had heard of Hârn but had never looked at the books. Most of my gaming had been done in either Middle Earth (MERP and Rolemaster),  Shadow World , Forgotten Realms (Rolemaster) or in Sci Fi settings.

When Hârn landed on my desk I was really interested in it from a developers point of view. I like writing and sharing adventures but you cannot publish material for Shadow World as Iron Crown are fairly hostile to indie developers and WotC are not really interested in letting you use their setting for different games.

Hârn on the other hand is a stand alone setting. I have never looked at HârnMaster but I am not in the market for different set of rules (actually that is not true but HârnMaster is not what I am looking for).

I have reviewed the core Hârn booklet over on my own blog but here I wanted to look at HârnManor.

One of the things l like about the HârnWorld materials is that they are fairly ‘bitesize’. Most that I have looked at have been in the 60 to 70 pages. That is manageable and I can read them in an evening.

HârnManor is 88 pages but the second half of the book is five manors fully detailed and ready to use. The first half of the book is all about manor life and how to generate a detailed manor.

Manors are where 90% of the HârnWorld population live and work and is most likely where your players are likely to start their life. The rules presented in HârnManor allow you to create a detailed manor to use as a backdrop for your setting right now to random events. The medieval manor glossary was genuinely interesting and educational!

HârnManor costs $29.99. So would I buy it? I am not entirely sure I would. When I am GMing I may well just tell you that there are fields of crops and there are peasants working the fields. I don’t need to know what the crops are and the exact yield per acre. I just don’t need to know that level of detail. For lots of GMs they love that level of detail. If you are of of those GMs then you will love this book.

If you are into HârnWorld then I suspect you will already have this. It feels like one of the core works and it was published back in 2009. As a standalone setting it is a useful addition I think to most GMs libraries.

D&D Beyond

Let’s face it: Wizard of the Coast’s track record when it comes to their digital offerings is – let’s say –  spotty at best. So it was probably a good idea that they let Curse handle D&D Beyond. Over the last few days I’ve extensively used the website and app to look up rules and to play around with the character creation tools. And I have to admit I am impressed.

But let’s get some things out of the way first: D&D Beyond is in my opinion a bit too expensive. If you want to have access to the full rules and perhaps some of the sourcebooks or modules you have to basically buy them a second time – assuming you already owned them in print. I get that WotC doesn’t want to give the materials away for free, but $90 for the digital access to the PHB, DMG, and MM is a bit steep for my tastes. On the other hand, D&D Beyond allows you to share access with your gaming group, so the offer gets quickly more affordable if you split the costs with your players.

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So what does D&D Beyond offer? Even if you don’t want to pay a dime, you get a complete rules compendium including everything the Basic Rules have to offer. This compendium is fully searchable and the display was optimized for the web (or smartphone and tablet via the app). If you buy additional material, you get access to it as well. People who have subscribed to the Master Tier are allowed to share their library with up to 12 people per campaign (up to three). This sets you back about $6/month. There’s also a cheaper Hero Tier which is meant for players (it doesn’t include the sharing feature) which is only $3/month. Free users have limited character slots and can’t use other people’s homebrew material with the character creation tool.

There are also tools for creating characters, magic items, and monsters. From what I’ve read they plan to add more features in the future, but even now, it’s a pretty nice thing to have. You can also share your homebrew materials with other players but I haven’t really looked into this part of the offer.

The app (which is available for both iOS and Android) currently only gives you access to the rules compendium functionality, but this might change at a later date. What I really like is that it allows you to download your purchased content (including the free Basic Rules) to your device, so you don’t need internet access to look stuff up. If you want to read the D&D 5th Edition rules on your commute, then the D&D Beyond app is the way to go!

Aside from the fact that I consider it a tad expensive, D&D Beyond is – to my surprise – pretty impressive and I haven’t even tried every feature. The ability to look up rules, stats, etc. and a device-optimized display alone is worth it. And even if you don’t want to put down any money, the D&D Beyond app with the Basic Rules is a must-have for any serious D&D player!

The Long Way To Tal’Dorei

Repeatedly I have praised D&D 5th Edition as my favorite edition of the venerable fantasy RPG, but I’ve actually not played it that often nor would I consider myself part of the D&D 5E community. Over the last few years I was much more focused on other games. I knew that people were recording their games and then uploaded the videos on YouTube, and I’ve watched a couple of actual play videos to get a look at how other people played certain games, but it took me a while to look into the phenomenon which is Critical Role.

TalDoreiWhen I first heard about Matt Mercer and Critical Role I was pretty skeptical. Why should these D&D actual play videos be any better than all the others out there? Heck, it’s probably just another WotC PR stunt, I thought. But when I actually checked the show out and did my research I realized that it was actually a home game which turned into a show on Twitch, and it was definitely a real game and not some scripted bullshit. And yes, Matt and his friends are really, really good!

Matt is a pretty good GM. His NPCs and descriptions are awesome. It’s obvious that his skills as voice actor are helping, but he’s also well-prepared and dedicated to his game. The players are also voice actors and they love to roleplay. That’s probably the only thing which can be considered a problem with the show. While it’s fun listening to their banter, the story moves at a very slow pace. With over 100 episodes with a playtime of about 3 to 4 hours each, it’s impossible to keep up or even catch up if you have a full-day job and other hobbies than watching Critical Role.

But even if you watch just part of an episode you can watch how much fun a D&D game can be. Watching Critical Role made me want to run my own D&D game – as I’ve mentioned before – and as a first step I bought the Tal’Dorei campaign guide as published by Green Ronin. It looked nice, but I wasn’t overly impressed. The campaign world is actually pretty generic D&D fare. After leafing though it a couple of times, it went back onto the shelf while I was considering coming up with my own homebrew setting.

Unfortunately creating a homebrew setting is not just fun but also hard work. And my game design attention deficit disorder reared its ugly head again. I couldn’t make up my mind what elements I wanted to include in the setting. Every new idea was just too awesome to be left out, but it didn’t fit with the rest of it. It was a mess. After mulling the issue over for a couple of days I looked into alternatives. Nentir Vale, the implied setting of D&D 4th Edition sounded awesome on paper, but WoTC never released a proper setting book. Information about the world was spread about a couple of 4E adventures, sourcebooks, etc. and I wasn’t really willing to buy more 4E books. So I discarded the plan to use the Nentir Vale and looked for another setting to use.

In the end I came back to Tal’Dorei. At a second glance it’s weakness is it’s greatest strength. It’s not very original, which means that everything works as you expect it from D&D (and that’s a good thing – especially with newbie players). What has been published is also not very detailed, but there’s enough information for me to build one, but not enough to be overwhelming. The book is also schlock full of adventure hooks and Matt also shares his sources of inspiration for each area. This should make running games in Tal’Dorei a breeze. Luckily none of my players is a Critical Role fan, so they wouldn’t even notice any discrepancies between Matt’s portayal of the world and mine.

At the moment I am busy reading the Tal’Dorei setting book a second time, while planning an introductory adventure. After being on a GM hiatus for almost a year now it feels great planning a new campaign!

A Roleplaying Games blog

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