Thursday, 10 June 2021

Review: Van Richten's Guide To Ravenloft

 Today I'll be taking an objective look at the newest official D&D supplement; Van Richten's Guide To Ravenloft.


I'm going to preface this review by calling out a few things about my personal thoughts and feelings before I get into the review proper.  As the newest version of an old-school edgy campaign setting from the TSR days Van Richten's Guide has been extremely polarizing in it's reception by the RPG community.  I really enjoyed the original I6 as well as the campaign setting, supplements, and adventures for Ravenloft in 2nd edition.  I thought the black and white art style really suited the mood and feel of the setting, and although it's reliance on pre-existing tropes has often been a criticism of older Ravenloft material, I genuinely enjoyed the feeling that any Hammer or Universal horror film could be directly ported into my D&D game.  So what I'm saying is that as a 49 year old gamer who's been playing D&D since 1983 I really enjoyed Ravenloft's initial run through TSR and wasn't necessarily looking for a shift in tone or feel.  But, none of us longtime fans should look at a setting and assume because the tone or feel has shifted from what we initially enjoyed that that makes the new version inherently bad, or 'less-than' the old version.

So having said all of that in the name of clarity and full-disclosure, as I said before; I'll be taking an objective look at Van Richten's Guide To Ravenloft.

The first thing that I think needs to be recognized about this newest book is that it really doesn't fit into any familiar categories of books that Wizards Of The Coast have published before.  I opened the book expecting a detailed campaign setting and instead what I got was a campaign toolkit.  This will no doubt disappoint many pre-existing fans who were hoping for a 5e update of much of their beloved earlier material, as well as potentially seeming a bit complicated and vague to new players hoping to crack the book open and get right to it.  My initial impression was that this was disappointing and a bit of a failing but upon further reflection it actually seems genius to me.  By laying bare the structure of how to build domains and Darklords and what Ravenloft more or less 'is' the book allows the DM to easily create their own unique content, or for us old-time fans to port over several thousand pages of content in a way that a 256 page single volume was never going to be able to do.  If you're a new DM and you want a campaign ready to go as written, this might not be the right choice for you, but if you want something that feels entirely unconstrained by it's page count this book is terrific.

To the subject of the domains themselves as laid out in the book there is some tremendous content and ideas but my main criticism is none of them get quite the attention they deserve.  My favourite features of the Domains Of Ravenloft section is that there are two entirely new domains that draw on entirely new and distinct cultures for inspiration, as well as a few of the existing domains being given complete make-overs (I LOVE what the new book has done with Souragne!). 

The section of the book that has thus far seemed to be the biggest target for criticism online has been the section on Horror Adventures themselves.  This section in addition to addressing setting mood and creating atmosphere also brings up the subject of running horror games in a safe and comfortable (real world) setting.  This is the part of the book that players of my generation in particular seem to have huge issues with.  The simple fact of the matter is that we are living in the 21st century and there should be no issue with writing horror content with 21st century sensibilities in mind.  If I personally have a criticism of how this content was included it would simply be that it feels like it belongs more in the core Dungeon Master's Guide than in this book, but given that it wasn't included in the DMG this is the logical place for it.


Separate from the individual sections of the book themselves there are two other elements of the book I would like to call out; one positive, one negative.

On the positive side in spite of my fondness for the original Ravenloft art style, I have to say I really enjoyed the art in this new book.  One of the subtle things the art does is that in many of the isolated character images it simply looks like regular 5e artwork that could be in any core book, without anything sinister or horrific about it.  But in some of the action images (where admittedly the heroes are still looking very heroic) the sense of 'wrongness' is extremely well executed.  This image of a Tiefling is one of the best pieces of horror art I've seen for any D&D product.


My last remaining criticism (I'm really going to try not to rant here) is; how lazy some of the writing feels.  I know saying how lazy it 'feels' may seem a bit unfair but there are a few things with the updated domains that just felt like minimal effort was applied.  The two that stick out like sore thumbs to me are the updates to the Darklords of Falkovnia and Lamordia.  In the case of both domains the previous male Darklords were replaced with female Darklords, this is NOT my problem at all.  My problem is these two new Darklords names could only have been lazier if they took the male characters names and just added 'ette' onto the end of them.  Vladeslav is now Vladeska, and Viktor is now Viktra.  I think the reason it annoys me so much is I'm more than happy to get onboard with new characters, so why would you you use their names to constantly remind me that these new characters are effectively sequels?  The other place I found the writing felt lazy was in lieu of stat blocks for named NPCs simply giving them equivalents from the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master's Guide.  I realize this probably radically increased the amount of content that could be included by eliminating bulky stat blocks but it leaves many of these heroes and villains feeling truly underwhelming.


Overall I would highly recommend Van Richten's Guide To Ravenloft to anyone looking to run a 5e D&D horror game or to anyone who wants the tools to update their existing Ravenloft game to 5e!

And as always please support your friendly local game store and purchase this product from those who support our hobby community, many of whom kept their lights on through a truly horror-themed year.



-Jay


Saturday, 5 June 2021

Review: Questionable Confectionaries Niter's Ye Olde Candy Shoppe

  Today's review is something that feels new and unique in the RPG space, the first volume in the Questionable Confectionaries series (more to come shortly!) Niter's Ye Olde Candy Shoppe.



Although the DMsGuild has no shortage of collections of new and wonderous magical items for players to add to their games Niter's is the first collection I've come across with such a clear, coherent and well executed theme.  As is no doubt obvious from the title the theme is candy!

First up the layout and presentation of this volume is terrific.  Each candy receives a full description, clearly laid out game effects, flavour text in the form of an anecdote from Niter, as well as an image for every entry.  This layout both makes the collection easy and engaging to read as well as giving a certain sense of immersion.

Two of the features I'd also like to call out are a brief section on accessibility at the beginning on the book reframing some of D&Ds conditions and separating them from disabilities of the same names.  In addition when purchasing a copy of Niter's you will receive both the standard copy of the document, as well as a dyslexia-friendly version which is a rare and valuable accessibility option. 

From a game mechanics point of view the impact that the individual candies would have on a game is quite wide-ranging and seems well defined by and connected to the rarity level of each individual confection.  What I personally found really appealing about the game effects were that they were well anchored and described in the context and sensibilities of D&D 5e, but had very much the gonzo old-school feeling of something that a player might have found in an old fun-house style adventure like Tegal Manor or Castle Amber.

The only real downside I can see in Niter's Ye Old Candy Shoppe is that for groups who like their adventuring style more 'grimdark' the general fun and whimsical tone might not align with their view of what they want in their game.

Overall I think adding bits and pieces from Niter's Ye Olde Candy Shoppe to existing adventures or using some of the options as seeds for adventures on their own can add a lot of fun and wonder to a D&D campaign and I'm personally looking forward to adding some traveling sales reps from Niter's to my own games in the coming months.

Overall I highly recommend Niter's Ye Olde Candy Shoppe to anyone running a 5e game.  It's currently available from DMsGuild at  https://www.dmsguild.com/product/290988/Questionable-Confectionaries-Vol1-Niters-Ye-Old-Candy-Shoppe?term=niter%27s and is a bargain at only $3.99.

-Jay

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Red October Subs & Sandwiches

One of the things I decided I needed to add to my gaming collection is modern/post-apocalyptic buildings with interiors.  These are largely what all the scatter terrain I've been painting over the past couple of weeks will be populating.

About two or three years ago I bought a set from TT Combat that was 3 single floor store fronts with second floor apartments.  Unfortunately I assembled two of the buildings before I became aware of a problem (it's one of those 'now that I've seen it, I can't unsee it' things), there is no way to get from the first floor to the second floor.  For my third building I will be cutting out a hole in the ceiling/floor to accommodate a staircase but for the two I've already built I just decided to leave the second floor off.



I should also point out to anyone new to MDF scenery that it largely comes in two flavours; super basic having no interior detail but being amazingly inexpensive, and fully detailed but far more expensive.  All of the TT Combat buildings I got fall into the first category.  That may seem basic but the price was amazing and they can be dressed up with scatter terrain.

I actually tried something a little different this time and undercoated the building dark brown and then painted over top of that.  I was hoping to get more of a dirty worn look and that seems to have worked out fairly well.  I also decided to add a splash of colour and detail by wallpapering the interior walls, which I think makes the building look more like a real place and less like a model kit.

I took these pictures while I was waiting for the Mod-Podge on the paper to dry so I will probably still go back and dirty it up a bit.  I also kept the doors I cut off the building as I may use those as rubble or in another terrain project.

What are your thoughts?  For about $10 worth of kit and material an less than 2 hours work I'm really happy with this and using it as a template I should be able to get a reasonable collection of buildings done fairly quickly.

-Jay

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Are those mattresses....sanitary?

I mentioned in my last post that after acquiring my 'fantasy' beds I had found some beds more appropriate to post-apocalyptic gaming.

A few years ago when I placed my first order for TT Combat buildings I grabbed a couple of their resin accessory packs which included these...gently-used mattresses.



These are perfect as they look like the exact bedding you find scattered around the capitol wasteland in Fallout 3.

My collection of scatter terrain is filling in nicely but hopefully on Tuesday I'll have time to finally complete a more sizable piece.

-Jay

Friday, 22 May 2020

Now I lay me down to sleep

Although I'm finally getting around to getting an assortment of scatter terrain done a fair bit of it is stuff I've collected over the past few years.  Quite awhile back when I started playing This Is Not A Test I bought these Reaper Bones beds, they're intended for fantasy games, but I thought their ramshackle appearance would fit in with the look of post apocalyptic games.


As it turns out I found something else that will work better for This Is Not A Test and Fallout that you'll hopefully be seeing in a few days.  But having said that it's still nice to have these and they should work as set dressing in a variety of games.

I got these Reaper beds as well as many of my other miniatures and games from my Friendly Local Game Store.

-Jay

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Some odds and ends

Yesterday was one of those days I picked away at a few small projects and almost finished projects while trying to get some coherent writing done.  Nothing earth shattering here but one more figure I actually needed with a lot of urgency (played using him as my PC last night), and two more sci-fi scatter terrain bits.

First up; Flint.

Flint Stone is my character for Advanced Fighting Fantasy.  He is a member of the Hanna-tribe which of course makes him a Hanna-Barbarian (I'm a dad, I'm allowed to tell dad jokes!).  Anyway Flint is made out of the Northstar Frostgrave Barbarian box set with a Bolt Action backpack thrown on to complete the wandering adventurer look.



Flint did mostly pretty well in his first game until a short run of bad luck (literally, I couldn't make a single 'luck' roll) and I'm looking forward to playing more Fighting Fantasy in the near future.  I also appear to have begun collecting a small tribe of barbarians since last year. 

There's definitely one more Barbarian in my near future and then it will definitely be time to move on.

The other thing I realized late yesterday afternoon while prepping some more Broken Contract figures is that I had the two bases of oil drums I'd gotten with my two female Gen-Mods just sitting around and I could get them done quickly.


I actually tried something slightly different this time and I think it worked out pretty well, but it may have been just a bit too subtle to show up in my pictures.  For the oil drums I started off by dry-brushing them metallic (Lead Belcher in this case), then painted them with a watered-down yellow (Averland Sunset), and then I hit them with a super light dry-brush of the same metallic again.  This gives the effect of painted drums where the paint is wearing off but no necessarily super-rough or dirty.

So that's it.  I have a few more lingering almost finished figures I'd like to wrap up this weekend and then it's back to the wasteland.

-Jay

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Review - Harper's Tale

Today I want to take a look at a 10 chapter, 170 page adventure path for D&D characters of levels 1-10; Harper's Tale.

Harper's Tale is named for lead developer Matt Corley's daughter (and co-lead developer) Harper.  The adventures mix the inspiration and youthful-fun outlook of a child with the sensibilities of an experienced game author to contribute something truly new and unique to the current RPG scene.

The creative team behind Harper's Tale reads like an all-star team of freelance writers and artists currently working in the RPG industry, and it's not just a list of names on the credits page of a book, the quality and experience this team brings really shines through.  Harper's Tale is gorgeously illustrated throughout but I want to call special attention to the fantastic character illustrations by Gwendy Bee, these illustrations are bright and appealing while still conveying a sense of mystery and the fantastic.  In addition to the amazing art I found all of the cartography to be easy to read and use and clearly laid out where I needed it.

The ten adventures themselves are all written by separate writers or writing teams and one of their nicest features is they are structured so that in addition  to making up one ten adventure long campaign they are also all framed so they can be run as individual one-shots.  The central story mixes investigation and adventure as the characters start off by investigating a mysterious illness and follow various leads and clues looking for both the source and a cure.  The adventure path is set in the wilderness but uses many different settings for individual adventures (forests, small villages, dungeons, multi-room buildings) to give the ten adventures a great deal of variety.

In addition to a number of different settings the adventure path is full to the brim with interesting NPCs that not only work well within the narrative but could also be used to seed other adventures, for my part I GUARANTEE my players will meet Professor Piewright at some point prior to actually playing Harper's Tale.

And I couldn't resist the urge to convert and paint my own Sir Cheddar!

Overall I highly recommend Harper's Tale.  There is an absolutely amazing amount of the highest quality content here and the mix of art and writing style really evokes the sense of fantastic mystery, fun, and discovery that I think the best fantasy RPG adventures are capable of.

Harper's Tale is currently available from DrivethruRPG at https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/311843/Harpers-Tale-A-Forest-Adventure-Path-for-5e?term=Harper

-Jay