Thursday, April 9, 2015

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD getting spinoff

Entertainment Weekly is reporting an exclusive story - Marvel's Agents of SHIELD is getting a spinoff show next year (which pretty much means a third season is a given). That, and there's a 60% chance that the excellent Peggy Carter will also be getting another at-bat, probably during AoS's mid-season hiatus (but that's a topic for another post).

Naturally, there's already a lot of speculation about what that spinoff show will feature, but the EW article has this to say:
We don’t know is which characters from the current series will be moving over to the proposed spinoff – so let the speculation being on that. There won’t be an implanted pilot episode this season directly setting up the spinoff, either (like how CW launched The Flash out of Arrow). However, story elements that are still to come on SHIELD this year will be used to lay the groundwork for the potential new series. So by the end of the season – assuming the details for this project haven’t already leaked, which is rather unlikely – the spinoff concept should be clear.
Now that's interesting: "story elements that are still to come on SHIELD this year." We know there are going to be 22 episodes of Season 2, and we know that 4 of those episodes are going to be broadcast (and therefore, presumably, take place) after Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. And it's been confirmed that there will be some direct tie-ins between the television show and the movie, not as drastic as the changes that Captain America: The Winter Soldier wrought, but they will be there.

So given those two elements, I think it's safe to assume that the spinoff series is going to have something to do with the impact of Avengers 2 on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The question is, what could that be?

We've seen all sorts of rumors about some major (female) character who will be introduced. And there were photos of Tony Stark, Captain America, and Thor conversing while a bunch of SHIELD recruits were training in the background (running on a track). So my theory, and it's just a theory and based on a whoooole lotta guesswork, is that by the end of the movie we're either going to see SHIELD reconstituted as a single entity, no longer on the run from the authorities, but no longer the omniscient and omnipotent organization it was under Nick Fury (there is precedent; Tony Stark was the director of SHIELD for a while in the comics, and doing that would nicely set up next year's Captain America 3: Civil War), or some sort of successor organization would be set up along similar lines (SWORD, for example), or both.

Now, in the comic books, SWORD is sort of like SHIELD, but deals more specifically with alien incursions and the like. That would fit in well with the idea that there is now a recognized "alien problem" (first the Chitauri, then the Kree-DNA-enhanced Inhumans, and then the Chitauri-technology-enhanced Ultron*), and would provide a nice symmetry with the parent show in terms of names.

"Marvel's Soldiers of SWORD." has a nice ring to it, and would also lead well into Phase 3 of the MCU's master plan, which looks to be more outer-space focused, with six out of the nine planned films having something to do with the galactic side of the MCU. Plus, it would give Marvel a chance to bring in a lot more of their huge universe of galactic races and characters (the Skrulls are unfortunately out, but there are tons of others, like the Badoon or the Dire Wraiths) including the possibility of giving some deep Kree backstory for films like Captain Marvel or Inhumans, which could then be spared the necessity of lots of exposition.

* Not a spoiler, just a wild guess based on what I've seen in the trailers.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Apparently this is some sort of holiday...

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. --Matthew 27:51-53

Friday, March 20, 2015

Let's Read: Greyhawk Adventures (Part 7)

Boy, has it been a long time since I've done one of these. But we're not through the book yet, and there's plenty more to cover. This time: the Hall of Heroes.

The Hall of Heroes is a selection of fourteen NPCs with stats and in-depth descriptions and histories. Seven of them are in the City of Greyhawk itself (remember this was published at a time before the Greyhawk Wars, so it's still theoretically set in CY 576), and the rest are from further afield in the Flanaess.

The trouble is, most of these NPCs are not ones that the PCs are ever likely to encounter, at least on a regular basis. Thus, their inclusion in the book is something of a mystery. We have:

  • Nerof Gasgol, Lord Mayor of Greyhawk
  • Derider Fanshen, constable in Greyhawk (also a 12th level cleric of Pelor)
  • Sental Nurev, Captain-General of the Watch in Greyhawk
  • Org Nenshen, Master of the Thieves Guild in Greyhawk
  • Turin Deathstalker, Master of the Assassins Guild in Greyhawk
  • Ren o' the Star, Master of the Traders Union in Greyhawk
  • Jaran Krimeeah, lord of the Valley of the Mage
  • Tysiln San, First Protector of the Valley of the Mage
  • Korenth Zan, Father of Obedience of the Scarlet Brotherhood
  • Alesh Marin, member of the Scarlet Brotherhood (in Stoink)
  • Karll of Urnst, Duke of Urnst
  • Tang the Horrific, Prince of the Clan (from the Dry Steppes, but now a wandering mercenary barbarian)
  • Timitrios Spartakos, magic-user originally from the Great Kingdom, now in Greyhawk, and with a backstory tied to Jaran Krimeeah
  • Guiliana Mortidus, cleric and member of the Horned Society
Of these, the DM isn't likely to really need the likes of the Lord Mayor and heads of the guilds of the city of Greyhawk (especially when they are covered in the City of Greyhawk boxed set, which appeared the year after this book was published), or the Duke of Urnst. Figures like the Mage of the Valley and the head of the Scarlet Brotherhood are deliberately supposed to be obscure, and detailing them here destroys their mystique. 

The only ones that look to be particularly useful in a day-to-day sense are Derider Fanshen, Alesh Marin, Tang the Horrific, Timitrios Spartakos, and Guiliana Mortidus. Tang could be a terrific recurring character, one full of bluster and flash who storms onto the scene, steals it, and then bounds away. Guiliana could be a good long-term protagonist for a mid-level party (she's an 8th level cleric, and works as an agent for the Horned Society who's been sent on missions before, and has a band of underlings). Timitrios could be a good magic-user-for-hire; he's got some interesting quirks and a great backstory, with some built-in enemies that could spell trouble for anyone he's associated with (like the PCs).

On the whole, this is one of the least useful sections of the book. Five out of fourteen NPCs are useful in a day-to-day sense, which is a pretty bad percentage. Much of the art is recycled as well, which is doubly disappointing, but there are a few fun new pieces that do the job.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Elemental Evil Player's Companion

A few days ago, Wizards of the Coast released their Elemental Evil Player's Companion, a 5th edition D&D supplement intended to expand player capabilities and possibilities for the upcoming Elemental Evil -  Princes of the Apocalypse story arc. It is a free download, and is available either from the WotC website or through DriveThruRPG.

The whole thing is 25 pages long, and consists essentially of two sections; races and spells.

The races include aarakocra (bird-men who first appeared in the 1E Fiend Folio), Deep Gnomes (aka Svirfneblin, underdark-dwelling gnomes who first appeared in the 1E adventure D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa), Genasi (descendants of trysts between mortals and genies, with attendant magical powers, first found in the 2E Planewalker's Handbook), and goliaths (stone-like beings related to giants, who first appeared in the 3.5 Races of Stone).

The aarakocra are now native to the elemental plane of air, and aside from the powers you'd expect based on their physical form (they're able to fly, and can use their talons in combat), they don't seem to be particularly over-powered.

Deep gnomes were originally quite over-powered, but in this version they seem to be quite well aligned with other player races (there is an optional feat that allows a deep gnome character some innate magical power, but even then it's nothing compared to the 1E ability to summon earth elementals).

Genasi come in four types (air, earth, fire, water) and each has some magical powers and damage resistance appropriate to their respective genie heritage. I'd be hard pressed to see why a player might choose not to play one, given that some of them are quite handy.

Finally, goliaths are physical powerhouses, getting bonuses of 2 to STR and 1 to CON, and some other size and toughness induced skills as well. While perhaps not quite so overpowering as a half-giant from Dark Sun or a half-ogre from Greyhawk, I can see some players making this their default race when creating a "tank".

The second part of the Companion gives details on some 45 or so new spells, of varying levels and types (with the glaring exception of cleric spells), but all with some sort of elemental theme. Most are new, but I did notice Melf's Minute Meteors (originally from the 1E Unearthed Arcana) makes an appearance, and all seem well enough balanced on a first reading (I haven't had time to play with any of these new spells, obviously, so that assessment might change after some chances to break the game with the new spells).

While I like the fact that the 5E team is obviously self-consciously plucking material from across the history of D&D, and it's nice to see more free material, I found myself disappointed that there was nothing class-based herein. No backgrounds, no new clerical domains (indeed, nothing new for clerics at all!), no new arcane traditions, no new druid circles, no new sorcerous origins, and no new warlock patrons. The only new feat is associated with the deep gnome race. It's entirely possible that the Companion will be updated to include this sort of material, and I do feel somewhat guilty complaining that a free supplement doesn't have more stuff in it, but it does seem that something billed as a Player's Companion would have some more of those basic building-blocks of character construction.

As for my own purposes, I will certainly be able to use some of the new spells in my Temple of Elemental Evil project. The deep gnome race will naturally come in handy if I ever do anything underdark-related. But I don't really see allowing the other character races as PC choices, except perhaps for a very specific short-term game. Still, it's worth getting, as the price is right and any DM running a 5E game will certainly find the spells at least useful.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Working on...

Hi all.

Sorry that I've been relatively silent this past month or so. I've been distracted by a number of things, almost all non-game-related, including setting up an Asatru group here in northern NJ, (real-world) work stuff, and family in general. But I've not been completely idle on the gaming front. What time I've been able to devote to things gaming have been split between my online Celestial Imperium campaign (testing out a bunch of Oriental Adventures-type stuff for Adventures Dark and Deep) and this little thing...

I'm aiming for a summer release, but nothing's official.

I promise I'll try to start posting more regularly here. Just wanted to let folks know I'm still alive, and just distracted, but not completely so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Temple of Elemental Evil boardgame coming

This just in from our friends in Renton...
Other products tied into the Elemental Evil storyline include the Temple of Elemental Evil Adventure System Board Game and pre-painted collectible miniatures, both from WizKids Games. WizKids has also partnered with Perfect World Entertainment to bundle in-game items for Neverwinter with the Temple of Elemental Evil Adventure System Board Game and miniatures boosters. 
This is something of a change, since up until now all I've heard of (in the tabletop realm, anyway) was connected to the Princes of the Apocalypse storyline set in the Forgotten Realms.

A Temple of Elemental Evil board game? Count me in!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Making Temple of Elemental Evil bigger

Some of the criticism of T1-4 over the years has been around the idea that it's just too big. There's too much detail in there, too many things going on for the DM to get a grasp of. I beg to differ. As I've gone through my (literal) deconstruction of the module, I've come to the conclusion that it's not big enough.

Indeed, The Temple of Elemental Evil shouldn't even be on the players' radar initially. I envision a campaign set in the eastern Kron Hills and western Gnarley Forest. The players, being the agents of Celene, Verbobonc, Furyondy, and/or Veluna, are investigating a rise in banditry and humanoid raiding in the region. Nobody suspects the Temple; it was overthrown years ago, and all that remains of it are ruins. And besides, Y'dey and Otis would surely know if anything was going on on that front.

There would need to be a whole set of fleshed-out villages in the forest, complete with deep-cover agents of the now-resurgent Temple. Why would there just be a moathouse thirty miles southwest of the Temple? Surely that would have been only one of a whole system of outworks. There could be a watchtower to the south, originally to keep an eye on Celene and give the humanoids coming up from the Pomarj a place to aim for. And a fort on Imredys Run, now used by river pirates. And an opening in a mine in the central Kron Hills, leading to the Underoerth, whence come those drow that have been seen around the region. All of the former Temple fortifications don't have to have a direct tie-in, but some of them can.

And while Hommlet was described in detail, Nulb was left for the DM to flesh out, after a few detailed locales were given. And Sobanwych remains nothing more than a name. But Verbobonc itself is a hive of Temple operatives, keeping an eye on the forces of Good to the north. I'd like to see a treatment of the whole city, or at least the features that the module says the DM should make sure are described. Could there be evil gnomes in Namburil in the Temple's employ? And what about Corustraith? In later years it's the center of activity for the Rangers of the Gnarley, but in CY 576 it could be a lot more open. They all want full treatments, describing both the agents of the Temple slowly recruiting bandits and humanoids, and the agents of the surrounding Good powers working to keep an eye out.

And maybe Narwell on the Wild Coast also has an interest, but isn't as dedicated to seeing the Temple's resurrection thwarted. And Dyvers? Their interest is in keeping the trade routes open, and maybe knocking Verbobonc down a peg to get a better slice of tariffs on the river trade.

Maybe they're both playing both sides against one another, and hoping to make out with the best deal. That shifty-looking guy in the tavern? Yes, he's not what he seems, but he's not working for the Temple, he's working for Narwell. Lots of factions, lots of intrigue, lots of chances for role-playing and false leads to follow up. Lovely.

The campaign would unfold in typical Gygaxian fashion. The PCs would be sent to take out a particular bandit group, which would lead to another, and another, with the layers of the onion leading to the Temple agents in various villages and locales, leaving the PCs to figure out that there are powers behind the bandits, and then powers behind those powers, leading to the Temple. They spiral in on the Temple over time, rather than that being the obvious goal from the outset.

So rather than the "you arrive at a seemingly peaceful village near the evil Temple", it becomes "you're rooting out some ordinary-seeming bandits, and learn that there's a shadowy figure behind them, and then there's some sort of weird cult behind him, and now it looks like that cult is tied to the Temple, but they also have their tentacles into the government of Verbobonc who hired you in the first place, so just who can you trust?"

I find that a lot more satisfying. Turn the whole thing from two villages and two dungeons into a whole wilderness campaign with multi-layered political intrigues, bandit fighting, clearing out former(?) Temple locales, eventually culminating in the assault on the Temple itself.

And of course once you get there, you realize that the Temple itself is riven with factions, and there's a whole shrine to the Elder Elemental God that nobody, not even the evil priests in the Temple, expects to be there, and loosing Zuggtmoy could strengthen or even loose the EEG inadvertently (and won't Lolth be pleased if THAT happens*)...

Just a snapshot into what my little "fix the ToEE" project is morphing into. It's huge, and sprawling, and wonderfully complex. No idea what will ever become of it.


* Something just occurred to me. Falrinth, the high-level magic-user on level 3 of the dungeon, is obviously an agent of Lolth in the Temple (he's got a small shrine to her in his quarters). He also has the Golden Orb of Death, which could be used to free Zuggtmoy, but seems to be sitting on it for some reason. What if he had instructions from Lolth not to use it or remove it from the premises, not only because she's happy to see Zuggtmoy helpless, but also because she intuits that doing so might lead to the Elder Elemental God (with whom she has a great rivalry and history) being freed from his prison on a distant star? Ohhh, I like that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Table rules vs. between-game rules

Back when I was playing AD&D 1st edition on a nearly continual basis, there seemed to be two kinds of rules.

The first set of rules were the ones that got used all the time at the table during play. Combat, spellcasting, movement, climbing walls; that sort of thing. That was the sort of stuff that we either had memorized, could flip to the proper table in the DMG, PH, or UA by reflex, or just hand-waved.

However, there was a whole other set of rules that by their nature didn't really come up during the actual game, but had to do with things that happened during down-time. This is when we poured over our character sheets making sure we had enough sacks for our coins, and our backpacks could hold all the iron spikes we carried. When we calculated how many pages our spellbooks had to be to hold all our spells (and whether we needed a traveling spellbook or a regular one). When we figured out height and weight and all that stuff. When we calculated the cost of building manors and fortifications, and hired mercenaries (were hobilars the most efficient use of our money?). Hired criers to advertise for henchmen.

All that down-time activity was incredibly fiddly, and really did require us to stop and read through rules that we didn't use all the time, and carefully work out costs and such in the days before Excel. But it didn't matter, because that was the sort of thing we did on our own, in between games, and if there weren't miniatures that needed painting the time might as well be profitably spent figuring out the total carrying capacity of our hirelings (thanks to the carrying capacity rules that for some reason were only found in the instructions on the Permanent Character Record.

And when we were done, the DM didn't even bother to check the work, because we all trusted each other, and we got on with the game. But those fiddly in-between bits were like a solo game unto themselves, and there are times I miss having the free time to while away the hours figuring out those minutiae.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Greyhawk Gold Box now available in pdf

The "gold box" set of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting (for AD&D 1st edition), considered by many fans to be the definitive treatment of the setting, is now available in an official pdf version from

You get three pdfs in the package; one for the Guide, one for the Glossography, and one for the maps. The books themselves are text that has been OCR'd, not just a scan of the pages, and are quite nice and legible.

The maps are at once nice and frustrating. They're given at full size, which is great, but as they seem to have been photographed rather than scanned, the creases on the maps are very visible and give a slightly bowed effect (and a lot of glare) in the places where they're not completely flat. But the most frustrating thing about the maps is the fact that they're presented on two separate pages in the pdf, rather than put together as a single image. Given what they are, it's doubtful that anyone is going to find having to flip from one map to another particularly useful, and it robs them of their grand effect as a gorgeous unified whole.

Still, on the whole that's a minor quibble, as anyone with a decent pdf editor will be able to put the maps together the way the Gods and Gygax intended. The fact that the boxed set is now available is a huge plus, and at $9.95 it's a steal even if you already have the hardcopy like I do.

Monday, December 22, 2014

For all those serving this Christmas

As a veteran myself, I would like to extend my thanks and everlasting appreciation for the millions of men and women who do, and have, spent their Christmas away from family, whether on a safe and secure Air Force base like I did, or in the face of hostile guns, as many still do today. They embody the true spirit of giving.

In their honor, I present the original Merry Christmas, My Friend by LCpl James M. Schmidt, written in 1986. Although written about a Marine, the wonderful sentiment crosses all service boundaries.

Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, 
In a one bedroom house made of plaster & stone. 

I had come down the chimney, with presents to give 
and to see just who in this home did live 

As I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, 
no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree. 
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand. 
On the wall hung pictures of a far distant land. 

With medals and badges, awards of all kind, 
a sobering thought soon came to my mind. 
For this house was different, unlike any I'd seen. 
This was the home of a U.S. Marine. 

I'd heard stories about them, I had to see more, 
so I walked down the hall and pushed open the door. 
And there he lay sleeping, silent, alone, 
Curled up on the floor in his one-bedroom home. 

He seemed so gentle, his face so serene, 
Not how I pictured a U.S. Marine. 
Was this the hero, of whom I’d just read? 
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed? 

His head was clean-shaven, his weathered face tan. 
I soon understood, this was more than a man. 
For I realized the families that I saw that night, 
owed their lives to these men, who were willing to fight. 

Soon around the Nation, the children would play, 
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day. 
They all enjoyed freedom, each month and all year, 
because of Marines like this one lying here. 

I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone, 
on a cold Christmas Eve, in a land far from home. 
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye. 
I dropped to my knees and I started to cry. 

He must have awoken, for I heard a rough voice, 
"Santa, don't cry, this life is my choice 
I fight for freedom, I don't ask for more. 
My life is my God, my country, my Corps." 

With that he rolled over, drifted off into sleep, 
I couldn't control it, I continued to weep. 

I watched him for hours, so silent and still. 
I noticed he shivered from the cold night's chill. 
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red, 
and covered this Marine from his toes to his head. 
Then I put on his T-shirt of scarlet and gold, 
with an eagle, globe and anchor emblazoned so bold. 
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride, 
and for one shining moment, I was Marine Corps deep inside. 

I didn't want to leave him so quiet in the night, 
this guardian of honor so willing to fight. 
But half asleep he rolled over, and in a voice clean and pure, 
said "Carry on, Santa, it's Christmas Day, all secure." 
One look at my watch and I knew he was right, 
Merry Christmas my friend, Semper Fi and goodnight.