Archive for June, 2007

Diana Jones Award shortlist announced

Friday, June 29th, 2007

This year’s nominees for the Diana Jones Award are public info, and as usual, they’re interesting picks:

  • The Great Pendragon Campaign by Greg Stafford (White Wolf)
  • Pieces of Eight by Jeff Tidball (Atlas Games)
  • Stefan Pokorny, creator, sculptor and painter of Dwarven Forge’s Master Maze terrain

As always, the committee will announce the winner the evening before Gen Con Indy begins. See the press release below for more details.

Audio Report: when two wizzes go to war

Friday, June 29th, 2007

… it ain’t a Tom Jolly game, baby. Get our squad’s analysis of the WizKids/WotC patent suit, plus a complete rundown on KublaCon in this episode, and of course get stocked up on backstock over here.


Friday, June 29th, 2007

OgreCave review: Critical Hit Deck

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Ever since our technical glitch, we’ve been working on streamlining OgreCave’s reviews section. So far, its not quite cooperating, but in the meantime, reviews shall proceed! To that end, I’ve put up my review of the Critical Hit Deck by Paizo Publishing, which my weekly group helped me put through its paces. We’ll have the review section more properly wrangled soon, we promise.

Audio Report: we still do that

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

So here we go. Sorry for the delay. You can still subscribe and access old shows over here. We have one more in the can, going out later in the week.

‘Tis Free RPG Day

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

That’s right, today’s the first ever Free RPG Day! Your mission: get out to your local participating store, get your freebies, and check it out. Then, let us know how it went and where you are in our comments. Good luck!

Role-Playing Games

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

GameMastery Critical Hit Deck

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

by Allan Sugarbaker

Critical Hit Deck boxGameMastery: Critical Hit Deck
Published by Paizo Publishing
Designed by Jason Bulmahn
52 full-color playing cards, & 1 rule card

The GameMastery line from Paizo Publishing started down the path to success by providing high-quality map tiles, which at times have accompanied a short d20 adventure. Other handy products filled in the product line, such as Item Cards that gave physical representation to the gear and goodies characters haul around. And even though Paizo’s turn at the helms of Dragon and Dungeon magazines is coming to a close, the company has managed to produce some worthwhile compilations and spin-off products from the near-boundless resource of past issues.

With the GameMastery: Critical Hit Deck, Paizo ventures into variant rules territory (something they’ve proven quite good at in the pages of Dragon), and not just any rules, either. With this deck, the designers propose to replace/extend the D&D rules for critical hits, one of the favorite combat events for any gamer. Does the deck succeed at this task, or fall flat with the most important critical hit critics, the players? Some playtesting showed me what I needed to know.

In the Cards
The GameMastery: Critical Hit Deck is a 52 card full-color deck, with a severed orc head printed on the back as if to warn players what they’re in for. Each card reveals four different combat results, one each for Bludgeoning, Slashing, Piercing, or Magical damage respectively. On a confirmed critical, the player scoring the critical would draw a card and apply the effect appropriate to his damage type instead of just doing straight damage to the target. Weapons that normally have higher damage multipliers (x3 or x4) allow the player to draw two or three cards on a critical and select the effect they want to apply.

Normally, a critical hit’s only effect is extra damage (x2, x3, or x4, depending on the weapon), and higher damage clears the way for the next opponent that much quicker. When special character abilities are factored in – feats, skill tricks, prestige classes, etc – there may be an extra effect or two from a particular character’s criticals. But under the regular rules, the random luck of battle isn’t represented by the combat results. Yes, good or bad rolls randomly determine the battle’s outcome, but especially as character levels increase, players come to know roughly what each hit roll’s result will be. An average roll will usually hit this sort of foe, doing at least x damage, and a critical will do twice that – in situations like these, the combats risk becoming routine.

Life or death struggles should never be routine. If combats are predictable for the players, the gamemaster should just hand out experience and say “You fought some guys and won” rather than waste valuable gaming time.

Sample Crit cardWith the Critical Hit Deck a wide range of painful blows are possible each time a critical attack happens, without making sweeping changes to the combat rules. Some have interesting game effects – temporary blindness, a broken leg, armor damage, a knockout, the all-time favorite decapitation – some of which give the target a chance to avoid them with a save roll. Others bestow ongoing damage upon the unfortunate victim, usually described as Bleed, which the Deck’s rule card says can only be stopped by a DC 15 Heal check. A few card effects won’t change the combat situation much (how often do you need to deprive a creature of its Swallow Whole attack?), but most are easily factored into the battle with a minimum of creative thinking.

There are a few particularly nasty blows that can show up when using the full deck: “Severed Spine” causes double damage and 3d6 DEX damage; another result causes Bleed equal to the original blow’s damage each round; and a handful inflict significant CON Bleed, a deadly situation even for high level combatants. These major injury results may scare away some gamemasters who want more control over the mortality rate in their campaigns. In my case, these nasty wound effects make me think back to the critical hits system I used back in 2nd Edition.

I used to keep my copy of Best of Dragon: Volume 5 on hand during every game I ran, just for the article “Critical Hits & Bad Misses”. Players were psyched every time the article came out, already envisioning the gruesome outcome. Once in a while, the result rolled on the tables didn’t make sense for the situation, or was over-the-top lethal in my judgement – in those cases, I’d reroll, thereby reminding my players of the artificial nature of random criticals. The Critical Hit Deck has an advantage of medium over a magazine article: simply put, cards with unwanted results can be removed from the deck – with or without the players’ knowledge, per GM discretion. The cards could be replaced later for the full, deadly experience, or weaker effects swapped out for additional deadly cards from a duplicate deck. The ability to customize the danger level of an encounter is a handy one for gamemasters to have.

Like the other damage types, magical criticals run the gamut, and are largely generic enough to apply to any damage-dealing spell. A few could drastically change the combat, and might best be omitted; a time vortex or planar rift, both potential card results for magical attacks, would suddenly be the focus of attention rather than a compliment to the action. As gamemaster, I’d rather be the one introducing major plot events. I won’t have a random card pull dumping a character into an outer plane.

Taking the hits
For a true playtest, I dropped the cards directly into my ongoing weekly campaign. Critical results came up several times (lucky rolls were plentiful), and my players had mixed reactions to the cards. Like me, a couple of them really liked the unpredictable nature of using the cards, and the way the cards added to the story experience of the combat rather than pure number crunching. At the same time, the players that had built damage-dealing tank characters were a bit annoyed at getting surprising results and situational modifiers instead of the expected big damage payoff. Mind you, big damage is still possible with the cards – and brutal at times – but even after pointing this out, the tank players slightly preferred a predictable damage multiplier. So for my group, we’ve adopted the cards for continued use in the campaign, but I’m allowing players to choose between a card draw and dealing their straight damage.

As to the remaining gameplay concern, are the cards a slower way to deal with critical hits in D&D? Yes, but only slightly. The (admittedly oversimplified) critical rules in the core game are certainly faster, but at the cost of variety. In our games, the cards slowed combat down a fraction until everyone got used to them, but it only took a few skirmishes should bring everyone up to speed again.

When you change the way you handle critical hits in combat, you are fiddling with a fundamental reward of the game. Aside from the overall enjoyment of roleplaying with friends, the Big Three rewards are experience points/gaining levels, loot, and bragging rights. For many players, criticals are a big part of bragging rights, and will be the highlights of stories they tell about the session. For this reason alone – not game balance concerns, not speed-of-play concerns – gamemasters should give the Critical Hit Deck a couple of trial runs with their players before officially adding the cards to their game sessions.

If your players can accept the change of emphasis from big damage numbers to exciting, often tactic-changing effects, consider rewarding them with the entertaining combat results this deck can provide. For groups that want to bring back the wild, unpredictable nature of bloody combat, I highly recommend giving the GameMastery: Critical Hit Deck a try.

Paizo’s Stonehenge begins world takeover

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Stonehenge: An Anthology Board Game, one of the boardgames I still have to look at, is expanding the number of games the pieces can be used to play. Already sporting five games by popular designers, Paizo Publishing‘s Stonehenge set will support play of three new game designs with the release of Stonehenge: Nocturne this fall. For a mere $19.99, gamers will have new Stonehenge goodness from Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala (Shadows Over Camelot), Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (Carcassonne), and Andrew Looney (Fluxx and all things Looney Labs). The expansion will also provide game pieces for a sixth and seventh player, usable in all Stonehenge games.

Not content with the expansion announcement, Paizo has launched the Stonehenge Library to encourage fans to submit their own rulesets for Stonehenge. Known game designers will also contribute rules to the fledgling community, which will be available for a fee. Seems a worthwhile approach for Paizo to keep their game vital and add replay value. OgreCave approves.

WizKids releases Star Wars PocketModel TCG

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

WizKids has let slip the dogs of Star Wars with their release of the Star Wars PocketModel Trading Card Game. The company is definitely pushing the multigenerational angle, as the press release (below) quotes WizKids president Lax Chandra (which was a character in Episode 1, wasn’t it?) as saying it’s “easy enough for children but with layers of strategy for adults”. So, rule the tabletop as father and son, yeah? Got it. A coupon for free samples is available through the WizKids site,, or, so now you have no excuse not to get your force on.

True Dungeon gets yet more competition: get your Aliens on at Origins

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

And now here’s TerrorWerks, “a fully immersive event” set in “the immersive enviroment of a massive space station.” Also, it’s immersive. But I kid! I am psyched to see more attempts at this. I don’t think I ever posted properly about this other thing at Gen Con, either: “Guardian 6 is an immersive live-action event in which you take on the mantle of an agent working for a secret agency. As a secret agent you will be sent on missions that will take you to different locations where you will interact with mysterious individuals.” Different locations, eh? It’ll be cool to see if distributing the event makes it more immersive or less… and my ARG experience tells me to bet on more.

Hail Gleemax! WotC creates marketing initiative that actually makes some sense

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Here’s the news version, and here is the somewhat less comprehensible thing itself. The announcement talks pretty big talk about a new social hub for gamers, and frankly, WotC’s assessment of the problem they face is dead on. “We’re slowing down in terms of recruiting that next generation of hobby gamers. Today’s 15-year-olds have such a different experience than a 15-year-old did five years ago or 10 years ago, or when I was a 15-year-old,” says WotC VP of Digital Randy Buehler; “So today’s 15-year-old is online and doesn’t necessarily have any reason to leave his computer because there’s so much to do there.” And this new endeavor, full of online games as it will eventually (they say) be, is meant to loop back around to supporting retailers… which it could certainly do if the execution’s right.

And there’s the rub. Because first impressions matter, and while I am certainly down for an online strategy-gaming hub seasoned with cryptic commands from an evil brain in a jar, my first impression is that is a fairly dumb play-by-post RPG that thinks it’s an alternate reality game. That’s fine as far as it goes, and there’s allegedly some more authentically ARG-y things happening somewhere, but they’ll have to make a clean break from this version eventually – ideally around the time they launch Uncivilized. They’re making noise about bringing online versions of some of the Avalon Hill hits to Gleemax eventually as well. Early versions of the social-networky parts of the site should hit at Gen Con… I guess that’s not such good news for the UnCiv ship date. Ah well.

On the whole, I’m glad to see this announcement. With regard to the social stuff, there’s certainly as much potential upside as there is potential for biffing it, and maybe more. And I want my hands on those digital games, as I’m sure I’ve made abundantly clear. Bring it, evil brain dude!

Attention motorists: Perplex City is closed

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Yeah, I saw the news and didn’t post because it just made me unhappy. (Especially when people started asking, right there on the goodbye posts from the story team, if this was all a setup to the start of season 2. For some reason the jackassery of which the Internet is capable keeps surprising me.) Mind Candy has put the second season of the Perplex City ARG on indefinite hiatus, and everyone on the story team has left the company. Stony silence about the issue on Mind Candy’s corporate site, which is always a wwwwwwonderful sign, but there are various messages and discussions out there, and the PXC-focused sites do all have some in-story bits about the end.

So what’d we learn, kids? That tying your product to a $200K prize is a good way to have to keep doing it over and over, even if the product improves? (Wave 2 of the Season 2 puzzle cards will still be released, BTW.) That even a sucky story is a better purchase motivator than a delayed (and suckier) story?

(Postscript: Mind Candy is allegedly looking into doing an online-hybrid product in the vein of Webkinz and, yes, Bella Sara. I WARNED YOU)

A brief technical note

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

We have changed our blogging engine to something halfway decent. Please let us know about any bugs or problems you might come across. Thanks!