Mole Rats in Space



Game Bandit

Game Bandit - Scouring the net to find the cheapest discount boardgames and best free boardgame prizesHumble Book Bundle is offering a large lot of Horus Heresy books, plus some audio dramas, art books, graphic novels, and apps, from GW’s Black Library. The deal starts at $1 but at just $15 includes everything.

To recognize the availability of Purple Duck Games’ products through Rogue Genius Games via the Paizo online storefront, all 184 of the company’s Pathfinder items are bundled up and being sold for $40 (more than 90% off regular retail price).

Bundles of early issues of Pyramid and Roleplayer magazines are available from Steve Jackson Games’ Warehouse 23.

Another roleplaying bundle, for 196 PDFs from Ennead Games is just $20 at the Open Gaming Store.

At the usual place for RPG bundles, Bundle of Holding, the latest deal is for Dream Pod 9’s Heavy Gear.

Or there’s the Castles & Crusades Megabundle at DriveThruRPG—$150 of rulebooks, supplements, and adventures for $30.

For Dog Might Games’ Spring Sale, the company is discounting everything 25%.

Fling Pig Games ordered too many copies of Yah! magazine issue number 4, so the company is discounting it 25%.

Reaper Mini’s 25th anniversary bonus figure for April is Hecklemeyer and Styx, a pair of skeletons in jester costumes. Get a free figure for every $40 in orders.

For Osprey Publishing’s April Sale, books in the Aircraft of Aces, Combat AIrcraft, X-Planes, and Aviation Elite Units series are 20% off.

Delvecast is giving away a premium copy of Mothership from Peter Sanderson.

Madhouse Family Reviews is giving away Wordsearch from Drumond Park (UK).

EverythingBoardGames is giving away Dastardly Dirigibles from Fireside Games and Not My President from Just Joke Games.

The News Wheel is giving away Indycar Unplugged from Good Ole Games.

Chilling With Lucas is giving away a University Games game of the winner’s choice (UK).

For those who missed out on Gloomhaven the first time around, it’s now back on Kickstarter and already funded.

$99 will get you a copy of the game once the campaign ends.

This second edition features new health and experience trackers and a revised rule book and scenario book.

Second Look—Tales from the Yawning Portal

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Tales from the Yawning Portal. I’m not sure what to make of this product, but let’s start.

The book is a collection of classic Dungeons & Dragons adventures updated for Fifth Edition, arranged so one could just go through each in order with a group of characters, campaign-like. None of the adventures link to any other. This is a book of nostalgia, bringing adventure modules from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons to “D&D Next” up to speed with current rules.

Aside from the nostalgia factor, I’m not certain why this book exists the way it does. Fifth Edition’s adventure offerings sold in stores have mainly been campaign-driven, from Tyranny of Dragons through Storm King’s Thunder. One-off adventures have been limited to the organized play program run at game stores. To me, it makes more sense to use a collection of those adventures to show 5e Dungeon Masters how to structure a 5e adventure.

Take Tomb of Horrors, a classic adventure module. The design for this 1970s module doesn’t look like what design in the 2010s should be: the adventure is mainly linear and has a more adversarial DM versus player mindset than games in the past few decades have been. Despite this edition’s claim that Tomb of Horrors was supposed to be a “thinking person’s adventure”, TSR’s Lawrence Shick said the traps in the adventure were intended “not to challenge the intruders but to kill them dead.” (Wizards of the Coast from a few years back even wrote, “Gygax’s main purpose in creating Tomb of Horrors was to take his players down a peg.”)

The version I played, back when D&D was Advanced, involved several instances where you had to make saving throws or your character would die. Fifth Edition really goes out of its way to keep player characters from dying from a bad die roll or two, but in this update there are still plenty of insta-death: “…which is fatal, and all the characters in the … area are dead, with no saving throw, while any in the [nearby area] are slain unless they succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw.” “Roll initiative. On initiative count 10, anyone still in [the area] is crushed against the roof and slain.”

But people love Tomb of Horrors. They want to play it. They’ve heard the stories. Can I survive the gauntlet, they wonder. Perhaps we all just make three or four level 18 heroes and see if we can get to the end. It’s part of D&D history, like Eric and the Gazebo or The Head of Vecna.

I feel that the form factor of the book hampers the re-envisioning of these classic adventures. The original version of Tomb of Horrors came with a twenty-page booklet of images for players to reference. When looking at a portal, for example, players could describe exactly what element they’re manipulating, or perhaps the illustration of an intricately detailed lock will give players a clue to solve the puzzle. Back when AD&D was around, there weren’t any skill checks — almost all of the solutions had to come from the players, not the characters.

These adventures (the older ones) also were originally published with a detached cover. The paper booklet would have the printed adventure, the cover (which could be used as a DM screen) had the maps for the adventure easy to access. As a hardcover book, the maps are printed in the pages of the book, leaving us with Dead in Thay’s massive Doomvault taking up all of page 111 with crazy tiny type and grid. (This map must have been printed as a poster-sized thing as we’re looking at a grid with about 25 divisions per inch.) However, I do like how they solve the solution for that adventure: closeups of the map appear in the adventure near relevant area descriptions. It’s a good way to keep access to the map near the important information.

Other adventures do this, like the Forge of Fury, but most are “here’s a map you’ll have to keep flipping back to” like the sprawling fortress level of The Sunless Citadel.

And while we’re at The Sunless Citadel, we’re going to loop back to 5e adventure design. This adventure was the first offering for D&D Third Edition. I’m not certain if people have the same nostalgic feeling for this (or Forge of Fury, the second in the line and in the book) as they did for Ravenloft, which begat Curse of Strahd, or this book’s Tomb of Horrors. But regardless, it seems to be a strange thing to include in this collection.

Take the first real area the adventurers access, the crumbled courtyard of the fortress. The floor of the courtyard is roughly twenty-five feet across to the entrance, but the floor is positively choked with rubble that slows movement. Why does it slow movement? No external threat exists: no time constraint to counter, no enemy able to spot the heroes the longer they stay out in the open. Just a series of DC 10 Acrobatics checks that stops movement if failed, or, if failed by five or more, prompts a 10% chance of a giant rat attack. “This encounter is why skill challenges were created,” writes a friend of mine. If you don’t fail any rolls badly enough, no rats to fight.

But that’s not all this area features. There’s a trap door that’s ten feet wide by ten feet long that drops people into a pit ten feet deep, which was triggered yesterday. Presumably, when the pit trap was triggered yesterday and the floor hinged downward, dumping the luckless goblin whose corpse is now below, all the rocks and debris and rubble also were dumped here. So when the heroes encounter this area, wouldn’t they see right in the center of this field of rubble a clear 10’x10′ square? Or are all the rocks magically glued to the pit trap cover, which is triggered by weight?

And the trap is only ten feet deep with the door hinged on one side, so all one really has to do is hop up when the door resets itself a minute later to climb out, assuming the door isn’t jammed into place with all of the rock that fell in, too.

Puzzled by the logic of this encounter — the first actual place in this adventure where things happen — I flipped ahead to a random room description in The Sunless Citadel, coming across a reference to make a DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check. And then I glanced at the other area descriptions on the spread. They all call for Wisdom (Perception) checks. Flip to the previous page. “With a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check…” Flip forward. “With a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check…” “A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check made while searching…” Flip. “…separate DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) checks uncover…”

This is odd adventure design.

While there are some Strength checks, some Intelligence (Investigation) checks, and some Dexterity checks (and some Dexterity skill checks) in the adventure, it looks like the majority of things a character in Fifth Edition will do that’s not fighting is… perceiving. Just thumbing through the numbered encounter areas for the fortress level, there are twenty-one Wisdom (Perception) checks with the next most-numerous check to be made are either the seven basic Dexterity checks to unlock things with lockpicks or, if we’re looking at the skill list, the four Intelligence (Investigation) checks which are mostly made immediately after succeeding on a Perception check.

Again. Strange adventure design.

But there are elements baked into The Sunless Citadel for role-playing scenes, which is cool. It’s not all fights and Perception checks.

Forge of Fury is a better adventure (actually ranked #12 of D&D adventures of all time by gaming industry professionals in Dungeon magazine’s November 2004 issue). Christopher Perkins wrote, “To survive this adventure, the heroes must function as a team. The foes are smart and use their lairs creatively, and the black dragon at the end shows you don’t need a 20-foot wingspan to send adventurers screaming for their lives.”

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is a mostly-linear trek through a Mayan/Aztec-flavored dungeon with a bit of an Indiana Jones-like trap-filled tomb feel. Like Tomb of Horrors, this originally came with a booklet of player handouts.

White Plume Mountain comes next (which I’ve always confused with Expedition to the Barrier Peaks), which is more of a less-lethal version of Tomb of Horrors. It’s a small dungeon with rooms that are crazy fun. Clark Peterson in that Dungeon magazine article says, “A battle against a giant crab in a dome at the floor of a volcanic lake? Check. Reverse gravity water tubes with kayaking bad guys? Check. A completely frictionless surface, studded with pit traps? Check.”

But then we get to Dead in Thay, which should be the closest thing to adventure design for Fifth Edition. This adventure was created for D&D Next, the playtest verison of what would eventually become the current edition of the game. It’s a gigantic adventure that’s a massive dungeon crawl, with the dungeon split up into different zones, presumably one zone for each week of the D&D Encounters organized play program. But like Tomb of Horrors, this was “a tribute to killer dungeons from the game’s history”.

So of the seven adventures published here, four are in the mold of the killer dungeon: Tomb of Horrors, Dead in Thay, The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and White Plume Mountain.

The last we haven’t mentioned yet is Against the Giants, the bit of nostalgia that lies in wait to entrap me.

Speaking of nostalgia, I did this comic strip back in 2003!

I remember running this back in the days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and loved it. It had direct ties into the drow series (Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Shrine of the Kuo-Toa, Vault of the Drow) and the Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Previously adapted for Fourth Edition, the maps have reverted back to approximations of the originals. (Fourth Edition needed large areas for combats due to the design of that system. Even the hallways and rooms of Hill, Frost, and Fire Giants weren’t nearly ludicrously large enough to handle combats in that edition!)

Rather than just have the adventure be the first of the three giants adventures, WotC counts all three of these as one large Against the Giants adventure. (The three adventures were repackaged as one huge module in the AD&D era.) The adventure’s start is nebulous here — I can’t recall if the originals had things happen before the heroes attack the steading of the hill giant chief or not — your heroes are “given the charge to punish the miscreant giants” being told that they can keep all the loot they find. Now, let’s ignore that the map of the timber fortress of the hill giants appears to be structurally unsound, or that the icy and rocky caves of the frost and fire giants just happen to end in a rectangular shape that fills a letter-sized piece of paper. I’m looking at this with fond memories. But in the back of my mind, I’m wondering about Storm King’s Thunder.

As we’ve covered last year, Storm King’s Thunder is more of a Fifth Edition riff on Against the Giants. While Storm King’s Thunder and this have interesting locales for the antagonists and interesting ways to deal with them, Against the Giants‘ setting seems more of a dungeon crawl; Storm King’s Thunder feels more like elements that would naturally occur in the fantasy setting of Dungeons & Dragons.

When I look back at Tales from the Yawning Portal, I realize I’m interested in Against the Giants because of that nostalgia feeling. I want to play this again. That’s exactly what this book is about. It’s not a good book for someone new to D&D, someone that has only experienced 5e. They would look at these adventures and walk away, confused. It’s not for them.

It’s a book for the older players.

It’s a book for the ones that came in during Third Edition with The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury. The ones from the days of Advanced D&D with Against the Giants and Tomb of Horrors. The ones from the early days of D&D with White Plume Mountain and The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.

It’s not a good book for someone looking to run 5e games. But it is a good book for seeing how the games you played in your early days of roleplaying would work with the contemporary ruleset.

So what is this book?

The book is a collection of classic Dungeons & Dragons adventures updated for Fifth Edition, arranged so one could relive adventures from one’s gaming youth; a book of nostalgia, bringing adventure modules from earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons into the current ruleset. And that’s good enough for me.

Addendum: I just received a copy of Curse of Strahd, which has a map of the area (and several locations) bundled in the back like a fold-out poster. I don’t see why they didn’t do something similar here, with perhaps the player’s map of the Doomvault on one side and the other side, in each folded section, maps for the DM for the different adventures. It would make referencing the adventure locations so much easier. For that matter, why not a pdf map packet for download at Wizards.com?

 

Tales from the Yawning Portal is available today at major book retailers for $49.95. You can also find online gaming versions of Tales from the Yawning Portal at Fantasy GroundsSteam, and Roll20.

A copy of Tales from the Yawning Portal was provided by Wizards of the Coast free for review.


In the comments! What classic D&D adventures would you have chosen for an update to Fifth Edition?

Game Blotter

Game Blotter - A roundup of crimes, legal cases, and when "the law" gets involved with gamesThere’s been a rash of Magic: The Gathering card thefts in the Canadian province of Alberta. Most have involved the use of stolen credit cards to purchase Magic cards at local game shops. Police suspect that the same person is responsible for the various incidents.

Someone broke in to a youth Chess center in Albuquerque and stole four laptop computers, a tablet, and cash.

A dispute has developed over the contract to translate Dungeons & Dragons for the Brazilian market. Four companies had supposedly formed a joint venture for the project but only one came away with the contract. That one says there was never a formal agreement and in regards to whatever arrangement was made, it withdrew before signing the contract with Gale Force Nine (which holds the global license for localizations). The remaining four say there definitely was an agreement, that they had started incurring expenses, and that the one company had even started paying a share.

The question of whether Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has resigned as president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) remains open. The organization’s board says he did; he says he didn’t. Pending a special board meeting scheduled for April 10th, Ilyumzhinov held a press conference where he received the public support of Andrey Filatov, president of the Russian Chess Federation. Ilyumzhinov also claims that he is the only one who can call for that special board meeting but his deputy points out that Ilyumzhinov had previously abdicated his administrative authority in favor of the deputy.

In the meantime, FIDE is also dealing with a recalcitrant Iran Chess Federation, which though it hosted the recent Women’s World Chess Championship has not yet paid out promised prizes. FIDE will pay the winners their prizes and has promised to suspend the Iran Chess Federation if it does not reimburse the world body.

Borislav Ivanov, the Bulgarian Chess player suspected (but never proven) of cheating, has been arrested for counterfeiting documents. An investigative television show caught him impersonating an official and selling fake drivers licenses. Police who arrested him added charges of counterfeiting university diplomas.

Chess grandmaster, and the last challenger for the World Chess Championship, Sergey Karjakin has joined the Civil Chamber of the Russian Federation at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. The Civil Chamber is an advisory body to Russia’s parliament.

Both the Japan Shogi Association and Nihon Ki-in (the national organization for Go) have banned electronic devices during matches as a measure to prevent cheating. The former will be taking electronic devices away from players during games. The latter will still allow them to hold on to their devices.

A federal court judge has invalidated five patents for controlling toys with sound, clearing Hasbro’s Furby toy of infringement. The judge applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice ruling to find the patents invalid because they covered only an abstract idea.

The Ethisphere Institute has for the sixth year in a row declared Hasbro one of the world’s most ethical companies.

A U.S. federal court has decided that Irish businessman J.P. McManus can’t have his money back from the IRS. The money, $5.2 million, was withheld from $17.4 million McManus won in a Backgammon game against billionaire Alec Gores. McManus had claimed that he’s exempt from U.S. taxes under a treaty between the United States and Ireland. However, the U.S. government asserted that he’s not actually a resident of Ireland but of Switzerland.

A New Zealand man vacationing in Bali was kidnapped and forced by his abductors to wager increasingly larger stakes on a card game. He was set free after losing $2,000.

Lost in the story about an Iranian teenager banned by Iran Chess Federation for playing an Israeli during a recent tournament was the fact that arbiters at international events normally rig the pairings process to prevent such results.

In Moscow, International Women’s Day was recognized with a blondes vs. brunettes Chess match.

A dice game in a Jackson, Mississippi park turned deadly when an argument broke out and one of the teenage players started shooting. One of the people he shot was declared dead at the scene; the other was taken to the hospital. The shooter also shot himself in the foot.

Two men robbing a regular afternoon dice game in a Milwaukee alley didn’t hesitate to shoot (one with an assault rifle). Three victims were seriously injured.

Yu-Gi-Oh! April Releases

Yu-Gi-Oh! gets two new Structure Deck releases this month, both of which look really exciting.

The Machine Reactor Structure Deck uses the Gadget series of monsters, most recently seen in Movie Pack Gold Edition. There’s also new cards like Ancient Gear Hunting Hound and Ancient Gear Howitzer from. This Structure Deck takes combines the Gadget and Gear themes with Ancient Gear Reactor Dragon, a 3000 ATK boss monster that powers up with help from Gadgets and Ancient Gears.  Search cards are included in the deck to help fuel getting this beast onto the field.

Next up is dinosaurs. The Dinosmasher’s Fury Structure Deck contains powerful new Dinosaur-Types that devour their own for powerful effects. Souleating Oviraptor can search a player’s Deck when it hits the table, and helps Duelists make quick Special Summons. Feeder support monsters like Petiteranodon make even more Special Summons, or keep Dinos sated with Jurraegg Token and other cards, using the new Lost World Field Spell. Then there’s Ultimate Conductor Tyranno can attack every opposing monster, shifting battle positions and burning an opponent for damage when it wipes the field. This deck also lends itself to summoning multiple monsters to the field at the game time. A perfect fit for Xyz Summoning.

Both decks will be available on April 14th for $9.99, and will contain 41 cards, a Token card, beginner’s guide, and a playmat. Rarity breakdown for each deck is as follows:

Machine Reactor Structure Deck:
36 Common cards
3 Super Rare cards
2 Ultra Rare cards
1 Ancient Gear Token

Dinosmasher’s Fury Structure Deck:
36 Common cards
3 Super Rare cards
1 Jurraegg Token

Second Look—Dog Might Dragon Sheaths

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.According to the website, Dog Might makes Kick Ass Gaming Gear, and that’s pretty much accurate. They make wood things: dice trays and towers, carrying cases for miniatures and dice, deck boxes, and more. Almost everything comes with options for sculpted wood decoration with other products having options for brass or aluminum symbols attached to the wood.

The Dragon Sheath is a wooden box about 8 1/2″ long by 2 1/4″ wide and 2″ tall. These cases are small enough for a personal collection of dice, a miniature or two, stacks for coins, and/or a pen, pencil, or marker, depending on the interior layout. Fourteen interior options are available: this one has a honeycombed interior for a standard set of seven polyhedral dice and a foam-protected miniature holder. Options include sets with a storage area large enough for two dozen dice, a set with two miniatures and one set of polyhedral dice, and a set with dedicated space for seven dice and a pen.

There are over sixty exterior sculpt options, along with “none” for a flat side. Ours had the Hammers sculpt on one side and the Ancient sculpt on the other. The exterior is coated in a double or triple layer of varnish for protection.

While the Dragon Sheath is light, it feels durable. The varnished hardwood resists basic nicks and scratches. When placed on the Hammers side down, the sheath sits flat; when sitting on the Ancient side, it wobbles a bit. That particular design has curved raised elements which causes the slight wobble. These are all custom-made and some sculpts seem to have flatter or more uniform elements such as the Police Box, Arcane Circle, and Flail, which can be used as a more solid base. If there is just one design you really want for the top, the bottom can always be ordered as a blank solid piece. The two halves of the sheath have rare earth neodymium magnets in the corners, holding the sheath rather firmly closed.

Ours was a Premium Dragon Sheath, meaning two types of wood were used, cherry with bubinga. Solid white ash wood sheaths are $69.95, with four stain options. Solid flame birch sheaths with colorful stains (seven options) are $84.95. Premium wood options with a complimentary band (walnut, cherry, leopardwood, benge, are among the eight combinations) are $99.95. The Mythic line features three hardwood combinations made of rarer woods (chechen/wenge, wenge/African mahogany, and Bolivian rosewood/wenge) for $139.95. If you like the colored wood stains, I’d look at the $84.95 range. If you love the look of natural wood, the chechen/wenge combination from the Mythic line would be my top pick.

A Premium Dragon Sheath was provided free for review by Dog Might.

7th Sea Explorer’s Society

John Wick Presents has joined the ranks of publishers offering a hosted licensing community content program with DriveThruRPG. The 7th Sea Explorer’s Society allows interested third parties to produce and sell material for the 7th Sea roleplaying game without having to negotiate individual licensing arrangements. Participants can incorporate material from the game books published by John Wick Presents itself, or from any of the products uploaded by other participants as well.

Several adventures and rules options have already been posted to the Explorer’s Society. Piquing my interest, even though I’ve never played the game, is a set of Expanded Ship Rules with guidelines for sailing ship construction, customization, maintenance, and use in trade.

The estate of Allan Calhamer, inventor of the Diplomacy board game, is being liquidated. One of the items being sold is his own copy of Diplomacy, first edition. The game is currently up to $1,550 on eBay with the auction closing Sunday evening.

Being auctioned by Sotheby’s April 5th in Hong Kong is a Huanghuali Double-Sixes game board from the late Ming Dynasty. The estimated sale price for this incomplete but vintage board game is $23,000-36,000. On April 26th in New York, the auction house is offering a French gilt-bronze and kingwood game table from about 1900 (estimated $7,000-10,000).

Bonham’s has for sale April 27th in Edinburgh two volumes on the game of Draughts from the early 1800s, authored by John Drummond: The Game of Draughts (1832) and The Scottish Draught Player; or, The Theory and Practice of that Scientific Game (1838).

Hobgoblin 3D Printables

Hobgoblin 3D offers a variety of 3D printable terrain elements (STL models) for fantasy miniature setups. There are floor tiles, a pile of treasure, a barrel, and a few other such mundane items but the company’s real specialty seems to be Gothic-style furniture and architectural elements, like this sarcophagus.

CelebriD&D Show Coming to Alpha

With the tremendous success of Critical Role, Geek & Sundry and Nerdist are launching another roleplaying show on the Alpha streaming service. CelebriD&D will feature a regular crew of Marisha Ray, Taliesin Jaffe, Jessica Chobot, Dan Casey, and Matthew Mercer (as Dungeon Master, of course), supplemented each show by an additional guest player—Joe Manganiello in the first episode.

This series looks to be more condensed than Critical Role, and edited—perhaps along the lines of Harmon Quest (on the SeeSo service) but less comedic.

To see the first episode, you will need an Alpha account. However, there is a free 30-day trial available, and a short 7-minute teaser below.

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