Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thoughts on Newclassical Geek Revival

Although not a consistent player thanks to my busy school schedule, I've had a great time playing in Zzarchov's Neoclassical Geek Revival G+ game over the last few months. Neoclassical Geek Revival (NGR) is Zzarchov's take on classic D&D house rules to the extent that none of the original mechanics survive.

When playing the game quite a few things stand out to me as brilliant:

Luck Points. Luck points are similar to hit points, but can be used to soak up any type of damage. Whether its physical combat damage, suspicion (stealth damage), influence (social "combat" damage), or something completely different (stun damage, for example). Since they all use the same basic pool, there are some interesting choices to be made. Do you use some luck points to avoid taking influence or wait and see if I might need them for a big combat later on? Should I let the guard find me now so I have enough luck points to fight him one-on-one?

Awesome Points. Awesome points are, well, pretty awesome. Basically, you accumulate awesome points over the course of the game by either having a manly beard, cape, 80s hair, or doing thing that involve extra risk purely for the sake of style (drinking the substance in the bubbling cauldron to see what is does instead of taking it to the local alchemist). This rewards players for taking big risks for the sake of fun and making the game more enjoyable for everyone involved. For more information, see THIS post.

Experience Point Rewards. While I'm not so keen on the game's lack of XP for gold, there I do enjoy the rest of the experience point rewards and believe they are a noteworthy edition to any D&D-esque game: Traveling great and dangerous distances, exploring places of legend (anything from El Dorado to a noble's mausoleum), defeating minions, slaying monsters, vanquishing villains (more points if captured alive), as well as puzzles, traps, and riddles. There's too much for me to say in this blog post, but I'll elaborate more if anyone is interested.

Rolling the 2d6. At the end of the game, players that accomplished impressive actions relate to their class(es), such as defeating scary monsters for fighters or winning a social combat for bards, get to roll 2 dice in order to see if their character's personal items improve. Fighters have a chance to gain trademark weaponry (or hat in my character's case) which gives them a +1 or better in combat. Bards may gain henchmen (think Star Trek redshirts). Wizards can improve their talisman for discovering new spells. Rogues get a chance for Lucky Items for completely stealth missions. Cleric have a chance of their some mundane item becoming a relic for completely tasks important to their faith (converting an faith enemy, for example). All this gives characters a good reason to get out there and adventure - it's just something a little more tangible than experience points.

Schrodinger's Character. Finally, I'd like to say something about character creation. In NGR, characters are NOT fully created at the beginning of play. Attribute scores are determined and a few statistics are worked out, but skills and the like are chosen during play as needed. This helps to both speed up character creation and ensures that characters don't pick things that won't be useful within the context of the adventure. Furthermore it help avoid the "my character was a druid and refuses to go in the city - we all need to stay in the wilderness all the time or I'll just sit here and wont have any fun" sort of thing.

All this being said, I wouldn't use NGR as a standalone game. Mana points and feet-like powers aren't really my thing, but if those don't bother you (and even if they do), I highly recommend taking to look at Zzarchov's game or stopping in some Monday on G+ to give the Neoclassical Geek Revival a shot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thoughts on Isle of the Unknown

I went ahead and purchased a PDF copy of Geoffrey McKinney's Isle of the Unknown from LotFP, and, honestly, I'm very impressed. As I've mentioned to a few of you, I think this work is even better than Carcosa - and I'm a big fan of McKinney's previous work. For reference, The Isle of the Unknown is basically a crazy, wacky hex map filled with unique magic-users, statues, monsters, clerics, and magical locations. There are also a few towns thrown in for good measure, but those are mostly glossed over. Anyway, I'd like to get into some of the nitty gritty things, so onward with the review.

The Good
As stated in the introduction, Isle of the Unknown makes no attempt to deal with the more mundane aspects of the island. There are no wandering monster tables and any sort of common place locations/animals/whatever are either only briefly mentioned or completely ignored. Thus the Isle of the Unknown can be adapted to a number of thematic settings to suit your own campaign - although the defalt seems to float in the Mediterranean sea off the coast of France.

One of my favorite things that I didn't see  advertised is plethora of the real world references scattered throughout the text. For example, this is a lost dialogue of Plato's hidden away in a small monastery in Hex 1109. Likewise, a few of the NPCs are specifically mentioned to be Arabic or America. Most overtly, the majority of clerics in the isle are dressed in red tunics with a white cross, indicating a reference to the Knights Hospitaller of France. I feel this really give the Isle a sense of place and context within the wider world. That being said, I can see many of these references being edited out be most potential referees.

I also greatly enjoyed the lists of legends that accompany the hex descriptions. There are 30 legends (basically TSR style rumors) in all. 19 are clues to unlocking the secrets of some of the many statues and standing pools throughout the isle or give insights pertaining to the island's inhabitants. The final 11 are left up referee to determine the legitimacy of the legend; most of these deal with the island previous history and contents within the larger world.

I must say, however, that my favorite thing is how modular the Isle is. There isn't too much detail weighing down each of the hexes, to the point where of 10 different referee deiced to run the game for the exact same group of players, their campaigns would be completely different with only small slices of similarity. While some may see this as a fault of the product not be detailed enough, I see it as Isle of the Unknown's greatest virtue.

The Bad
While I greatly enjoyed Isle of the Unknown there are still a number of elements off-putting to me. One is that the unique monsters are not really unique monsters. Most are a smattering of different aspects from real world monsters are jamming them together into a slithering ferret or the like. While I got used to them after a while, the whole idea took some getting used to.

The other thing is that the statues just get a bit old after a while. To many of them for my taste either attack the party in some way as they approach or grant the gift of magical healing. I'm not really sure how this is would to work in actual play - maybe it works great - but the statues, at least from my reading, and a bit too repetitive.

Finally, I'd like to say that I was disappointed that a new list of PC spells did not make it into the game. I had previously heard that Geoffrey was going to include an entirely new set of magic-user spells to accompany the game so that the players did not feel left out compared to the treatment of NPCs and monsters within the setting. It's not a big deals, but the idea had enough potential that now I have to go out and do all that work myself...

The Reckoning
Overall, great product that I fully intent to use as the basis for an upcoming campaign. If that doesn't speak to myt love of Isle of the Unknown, I don't know what does.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

2 ConstantCon Reports: Vats of Mazarin + Neoclassical Geek Revival

I finally got a chance to play both play in and run a ConstantCon game last night. First up was Zzarchov's Neoclassical Geek Revival game, where we explored a ancient pre-egyptian ruin somewhere in Ireland. I was a bit out of the loop as to what was going on, not having participated in the game since September, but has an enjoyable time none the less.

Highlight included Darith (my 4th level fighter) jumping into a zombie horde and having said horde almost immediately dispelled by the party's cleric, another cleric first converting to the worship of Spartacus only have be later possessed by a demonic fox spirit, said possessed cleric slipping from a rope and falling atop Darith while battling another horde or zombies, Darith and the a biritsh swashbuckler diving into a small tunnel filling with some sort of novocaine-like substance, swashbuckler slowly turning into a troll after being revived from his stupor by a mysterious potion, and burning down a demonic tree spirit with lantern oil. All in all, a fun game despite having no idea what was going on for most of it.

For Vats of Mazarin, I only had three players show up last night: Taures the chaotic clown, Abaddor the magic-user, and a newly minted cleric of a first time ConstantCon player. Rather than continuing to explore the second level, the group instead took to the abandoned temples below the barbarian in-dungeon-stronghold (previously though to contain a labyrinth of catacombs). I could tell my DMing skill were a bit rusty last night, using the word tarnish incorrectly three time during the night and cause much confusion amongst the players, not diminished by two of their deaths. This to be expected, however, and hopefully I'll be back on my game next week.

Accomplishments of the party include hiring an explosives expert, piecing together a sphinx-shaped prison of a albino worm demon, mutating a rust monsters so that it webbed itself to a dungeon wall (promptly to be burned by flaming oil), finding some sort of post-apololyptic service tunnel deep in the earth inhabited by a tribe of neanderthalish apes, the cleric being shocked by electrical wires and thus falling from a rope to his death, Abaddor once again dying (this time to the alpha-male ape lord), and the discovery of a giant glowing gem the size of a human head. The gem has yet to be recovered, instead having been left its metal base within the ape caves.

After the adventure, Abaddor was raised from the dead with adventure netting a total of 35 gold coins (after paying the High Priest of Kenith his due). On a more positive note, Taures has now reached fourth level.