Hello gamers! Well, after last column’s love fest to Wizards of the Coast’s new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I felt it was necessary to balance the scales a little bit and talk about one of the best adventures I’ve seen in a long time, Paizo’s THE EMERALD SPIRE SUPERDUNGEON for PATHFINDER. (If you’re curious on my take on the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK, you’ll have to wait a little while longer as I haven’t had a chance to digest it all yet.)
The Emerald Spire is a throwback to massive mega-adventures like QUEEN OF THE SPIDERS and TEMPLE OF ELEMENTAL EVIL, only witHh just enough twists to keep it interesting. Also, like old school adventures, it’s a cast iron pain in the ass and pulls no punches. If you want to beat this adventure, you’re going to have to play smart and stay a step ahead of the tactics of the denizens of the Spire and the machinations of the nearby town, because you’re not even safe when you return to the city. This book has an all-star cast of writers: Keith Baker (Eberron), Richard Baker (Red Hand of Doom, D&D Starter Set), Wolfgang Baur (Kobold Quarterly, Tyranny of Dragons), Jason Bulmahn (designer of PATHFINDER), Ed Greenwood (Forgotten Realms), Tim Hitchcock (long-time PATHFINDER designer), James Jacobs (Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk), Nicolas Logue (Crown of the Kobold King), Frank Mentzer (Temple of Elemental Evil, B/X and BECMI editions of Basic D&D), Erik Mona (DRAGON MAGAZINE and PATHFINDER editor), Chris Pramas (Dragon Age RPG, Green Ronin Publishing), Sean K. Reynolds (3rd Edition Forgotten Realms campaign book, Ghostwalk), F. Wesley Schneider (PATHFINDER Editor-in-Chief), Michael A. Stackpole (dozens of STAR WARS and BATTLETECH novels), Lisa Stevens (CEO of Paizo), and James L. Sutter (long-time PATHFINDER designer).
The book starts out strong with Fort Inevitable. Unlike the normal, boring “place the players go to sell their loot and buy more stuff” town most adventures like this have, Fort Inevitable is different. The entire town is under the control of the Lawful Evil Hellknights and their company leader, Lady Drovust. Guards are everywhere and they are not to be fucked with. The town functions well even under the totalitarian rule, though, but the PCs should really obey the law (at least until they have a good half dozen levels under them at the very least). The town itself is very well detailed with a great map and layout. Every major building is detailed with many interesting NPCs that still give you enough room to add your own flavor. And of course, there’s a resistance against the totalitarian rule called The Seven Foxes (though there’s more than seven of them). Your first quest, in fact, is to pick a side in the struggle for Fort Inevitable’s fate.
The Emerald Spire is an adventurer’s dream. The spire itself is a giant crystal tower stabbed into the earth itself two miles deep. It acts like a mystical elevator through the sixteen (known) dungeons it’s speared itself through. The origins of the Spire is part of the mystery the players have to uncover, so I’m sure as hell not spoiling it here. But it’s really, really good. The elevator aspect actually works both in-world and out-of-game. In order to use it, you have to have a magic item allowing you to use it. Then you must touch the Spire and utter a runic word, but the runes are only found on the level they’re on. So it allows the group to jump levels easily once they’ve cleared them without breaking the verisimilitude of the world.
Each level has its own theme and each was written by a different designer. However, lead designers Richard Baker and Logan Bonner did an amazing job tying the different levels together into a unified theme even as different as each one is. I’ve warned you once already you’ll have to play smart to survive the Emerald Spire, but let me give you some details to tell you how sneaky this thing is. The first level is the surface level (written by Lisa Stevens). It’s a broken keep made from the material of the Spire itself. And like most first level adventures, you’re fighting goblins. But there’s a trick (if I had the space to go over each level, I’d be using that phrase a lot). See, the magic of the keep itself absorbs light, even magical light, so that it only sheds in a five foot radius from you. So if you don’t have low light vision (letting you see a whole twenty feet around a light source) or darkvision (which the goblins, of course, have), you’re fucking BLIND. That means 50% miss chance if you don’t have some way around it and, at this level, you’re not going to have it.
This module is smart, well laid out, and well designed. It’s complete, but there’s still plenty of white space for a GM to add their own spin. The dungeons in relation to the Spire are laid out so it’s easy to insert your own level if you want to, and the NPCs in Fort Inevitable are detailed enough you can run them easily without being so fleshed out you can’t put your own spin on them. The motivations of all the Big Bads completely make sense and, if the players take the time to learn them all, there’s lots of ways to play one against the other. There’s no one-note MWAH-HA-HA EVIL!! villains here.
The only downside to this module is still one of its strengths. While the adventure is designed for 1st through 14th-ish level, this isn’t something you’d want to throw at new or inexperienced players without giving them a level or two in advance of what the book expects or they’ll be slaughtered. Especially if they’re used to video games where you just charge in and attack. Doing that here is a quick way to end up with a trashcan full of sheets for dead characters. If you want something akin to the old school massive adventures, but still want modern game design theory in play, this is definitely right up your alley. And if you’re not a PATHFINDER player, I still wholeheartedly recommend this adventure. You might spend a few hours converting the monsters and traps for your preferred edition of the game, but the ideas and presentation are top notch and it’s well worth the effort.
Things are very quiet right now in terms of actual news. We’ve had both BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS STARTER SET for a month now, and it’s gotten a lot of attention from even mainstream sources. The New York Times and The Guardian both wrote pieces on the history of the game, the 40th anniversary, and the new edition and surprisingly didn’t make too many research mistakes in doing so.
If you’re worried about the lack of monsters in the BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS PDF, those are coming any day now (the team is currently working to make the file properly indexed for easy navigation). To tide you over, the HOARD OF THE DRAGON QUEEN has an online supplement now with over 60 monsters and 20 new spells to add to your game.
And if you’re worried about not enough monsters in the MONSTER MANUAL, that’s something that won’t be a problem. After completing the writing, they discovered they had more monsters than would fit in the original 320 pages allotted for the book. Instead of cutting material, Mike Mearls announced they will instead expand the book to 352 pages. So that’s 32 more pages of monsters at the exact same cover price.
And finally, if you’re worried about having difficulty navigating the spell list in the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK, designer and author Ari Marmell has you covered with a spreadsheet of all the spells from BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK. While it does not have full spell descriptions, it does have columns for spell names, level, school of magic, what class spell list it’s on, whether it’s a ritual spell, and whether it requires Concentration. This combined with the alphabetical organization of the PLAYER’S HANDBOOK make this spreadsheet a GODSEND for players and DMs alike.
Codename: Morningstar, the digital toolset for the new edition of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, has posted a sign-up page for the web-based and Android tablet versions of their beta. There’s been no announced release date for the beta, the software, or versions for other platforms (smartphones and iOS are conspicuously absent), but it’s good to see that they’re moving forward with development.
But for something that won’t be moving forward in development anytime soon, the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS film rights lawsuit is going to trial. The two parties were unable to negotiate a settlement and lawyers for Hasbro and Sweetpea will be going before a judge on September 16. As I speculated previously, this trial is going to be watched closely by many in Hollywood as the key question is whether a direct-to-DVD or direct-to-cable release for a film counts as a “wide release” in terms of a licensing agreement renewal. This is the clause in the licenses that will get us a Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four movie every three or four years (no matter how shitty) so the studios can hold onto those rights. If they’re able to extend the rights with non-theatrical releases, this will be a major game changer, especially in an age with Netflix, Amazon, and Yahoo all creating original internet-only content.
CAMEL UP won the 2014 Spiel des Jahres (the highest award in board games), a camel racing game where you bet on the winner based on die rolls and the behavior of the camels. At least that’s what the Board Game Geek description of the game is because the game isn’t released in the United States, doesn’t have an English version, and there’s no announcement of either. You can get a possibly questionable and overpriced import version on Amazon if you’re really anxious, though.
However, winner of Kennerspiel des Jahres (an award for more gamer-focused games), ISTANBUL, is available from AEG now. In this game, you’re merchants in Istanbul’s market competing with one another to earn the most victory points through money, materials, and more. The Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children’s game of the year) went to GEISTER GEISER SCHATZSUCHMEISTER, a game from Mattel that also does not have an American or even English release. Because of the attention these awards give board games, I would expect to see them before the year’s out.
Lots of cool little things in the world of MUNCHKIN. The biggest is the MUNCHKIN Messenger Bag. While not big enough for most laptops, it should be enough to hold your MUNCHKIN cards, a tablet, and a few other things. It also comes with a custom six-sided die for use in MUNCHKIN and four new cards.
On the horizon are more expansions for MUNCHKIN. A reprint set MUNCHKIN GAME CHANGERS reprints the previous expansions Fairy Dust, Munchkinomicon, Monster Enhancers, and Reloaded. It also comes with level counters and dice. There’s also a new holiday set coming this November, themed for Christmas with new and reprinted cards. And don’t forget, MUNCHKIN ADVENTURE TIME is just around the corner too, but there hasn’t been a firm release date outside “Summer 2014” yet.
The PATHFINDER ADVENTURE CARD GAME: SKULL & SHACKLE BASE SET is just around the corner, releasing September 9. This base set is a stand-alone game using the same rules as the original PATHFINDER ADVENTURE CARD GAME (which was based on the RISE OF THE RUNELORDS Adventure Path), but there’s been no announcement as to any intercompatibility.
What they have announced though are Class Decks for the game. See, RISE OF THE RUNELORDS and SKULL & SHACKLES have different classes in them. So why should you miss out on having a Sorcerer or Bard in your RUNELORDS game? They’re launching with Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard on August 14 with a retail price of $19.99.
Indie game design phenomenon Evil Hat and its owner Fred Hicks (creators of FATE) have embarked on an interesting challenge, the creation of a comprehensive history of tabletop roleplaying games, DESIGNERS & DRAGONS. Author Shannon Appelcline has written a FOUR VOLUME history of the hobby starting with its inception in the 1970s all the way to the newest edition. But they’re not just focusing on TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. Chaosium, Games Workshop, Palladium, West End Games, White Wolf, FASA, Steve Jackson Games, Green Ronin, Cubicle 7, Paizo, Evil Hat, and dozens more. You can get the PDFs and other ebook formats for a $15 pledge. $25 gets you a single physical book, $45 for two, $65 for three, and $80 for all four (any physical purchase also includes digital copies). This Kickstarter is fully funded and all four stretch goals have already been met and runs until September 9.
Fans of the classic independent comic series ELFQUEST will be glad to hear of the ELFQUEST ADVENTURE GAME from Cheeky Dingo Games. A cooperative game for one to four players (though you always play with four characters), you play through various scenarios representing different plot threads through the saga. You can get a copy for a $30 pledge which gets you three exclusive Kickstarter-only character cards (international shipping is a $55 pledge). This Kickstarter is funded almost to its second stretch goal and runs until August 12.
Some of you may recognize Sean K. Reynolds from his work on DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (or from my review up at the top of the page). Going solo, Reynolds has launched a Kickstarter for GOODY WHITE’S BOOK OF FOLK MAGIC. This in-character book is based on the PATHFINDER rules set and talks about the sort of folk magic rarely talked about outside settings like RAVENLOFT. The curses, old wives’ tales, and more that add flavor to your games are all here. You can get a digital copy for $7 or a print copy for $20. This Kickstarter is working through stretch goals until August 13.
What happens when you gather a group of rival adventurers in the same tavern at the same time? Why a TAVERN BRAWL of course! This fast-playing board game has each of 2 to 4 players taking on the roles of five different classes as they battle to knock out the other team first. The game looks like a ton of fun and you can get a copy of the Classic Edition for a $25 pledge or the Deluxe Edition for $35 (both including Print and Play options). This Kickstarter is fully-funded and runs until August 19.
That’s it for this week. I’m gearing up for Gen Con here in Indianapolis, IN, from August 14-17 and expect a lot of coverage from all the events going on! You can also find me at the Gamer’s Tavern where we’ve recently done episodes on live action role playing (guests Eddy Webb, William Thrasher, and Tammy Keyes) and gaming art (guests Jake Burgess and Jeff Preston). We’ve also got our new Actual Play podcast of DC Adventures (the Mutants & Masterminds-based game set in the DC Animated Universe) and will soon have out an actual play of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS STARTER SET using the BASIC D&D rules! As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Abstruse for even more gaming news, and you can email me your tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.