Tuesday, April 15, 2008

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

GURPS 4th Ed. Basic Set Characters

Title: GURPS Basic Set: Characters, Fourth Edition
Product Line: GURPS
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games

What it is

This is the "players handbook" for GURPS 4th edition.

It has everything a player needs to build and grow a character for most settings. They pulled a number of advantages from the most popular settings in 3rd edition and packed them all in the players book. It gives no information on how to run a campaign (look for that in the GM's book).

The book starts out with the inevitable sections: why should they publish and you buy a 4th edition and the ever popular "What is Role Playing." The mini glossary is useful if you are not already familiar with GURPS. Next is a good "Quick Start" section that introduces most of the general concepts of the system including conventions (like only using d6 and how they round by default). They also have some fudge factor metric conversions that should make the game playable to those outside the US without needing a calculator. They give the imperial measurement, the game metric and the real metric conversions. The game metric conversions are what make the system playable. They convert 1 yard to 1 meter. Since many of the measurements are given in yards, this is a quick and dirty way of doing the conversions. Note that the game has a lot of real calculation in it (like just how fast a person can walk and run) that are thrown off a bit by these conversions but since the conversions are done consistently, it won't have a big impact on your campaign.

Chapter 1 begins the meat of the book with: Creating a Character. They talk about character points (new to DnD players but familiar to Champions players), character concepts, character types and a synopsis of the character creation steps.
Under Basic Attributes, they talk about the 4 character attributes: Strength (ST, Dexterity (DX), Intelligence (IQ), and Health (HT). They also give the normal human range for these attributes. All attributes start at 10 for humans and are bought up or down with character points. One thing to note here is that unlike the previous versions where the cost for an attribute increased as the attribute got higher, the costs in 4th Ed. are fixed (ST & HT cost 10 points and DX & IQ are 20 points per point).
Secondary Characteristics are based on your attributes but can be bought up or down. the main thing to note here for players of previous versions is that Hit Points (HP) are now based on ST and Fatigue Points (FP) are now based on HT (they were swapped from previous versions). I suppose they wanted to avoid mages bought as strong as Conan just so they could power their spells. They also give tables for Damage, Lift and Encumbrance.
Build is where you figure the characters height and weight. You can modify your character away from the standard ranges with disadvantages. Note that throughout this section, there are advantages and disadvantages sprinkled through the rules. Don't worry, they are listed in the advantage and disadvantage sections too.
Age and Beauty is next. They give tips on how to create a character that is younger or older than the average 20-40 range that most campaigns use. It also gives advantages and limitations for altering the characters appearance away from average (from horrific to transcendent).
Social Background sets the character's Technology Level (TL), culture and language. TL is an important concept in GURPS since GURPS is a generic system. It allows you to create a character from tech levels of cavemen to Star Trek and beyond. The TL is only important if your campaign spans time lines, worlds or cultures where different people would be at different tech levels. They give the language rules here.
Wealth and Influence deals with the character's starting wealth. If you have higher than average income, it's an advantage. If you have a lower than average income, it's a disadvantage. Starting income affects how much equipment you have at the beginning of play (and may affect social status in some cultures). Reputation deals with how recognizable you are and how people react to you. Importance is similar to reputation but deals more with your status and rank.
Friends and Foes deals with contacts and allies.
Identities deal with hidden, multiple or secret identities.

Chapter 2, Advantages discuss the types and origins of the character's advantages. Next are 76 pages of advantages ranging from mundane stuff to magical, psionic, martial arts and super powered advantages. There are advantages gleaned from many different 3rd Ed books. Next are limitations that can be applied to advantages and other traits. Finally they talk about how to create new advantages or modify listed advantages.

Chapter 3, Disadvantages begins with restrictions on character disadvantages. Some disadvantages are best suited for villains. It goes over the types of disadvantages (which are similar to the advantage types). They discuss the self control roll that is needed for some psychological disadvantages and how to buy off disadvantages. Next are 40 pages of disadvantages. Then it discusses Quirks and new disadvantages.

Chapter 4, covering Skills is next. This section deals with how skills work, how your tech level affects some skills and introduces the rules for familiarity. The skill rules are similar to previous versions. They drop the half point skills and the cost per level is 4 character points. It discusses probabilities for various skill levels to help you decide how high to buy beginning skills and then how defaults work. Next is a 44 page skill list. Then they introduce Techniques which are specialties based on other skills.

Chapter 5 discusses Magic. Not all campaigns involve magic so they don't devote too much of the basic book to magic but they do give enough to run a campaign involving magic without buying another book. It talks about how to lean magic and how to cast spells in the default magic system and briefly discusses alternate systems. The 11 pages of spells isn't all inclusive but it does give a good, useful subset of spells.

Chapter 6 deals with Psionics. Again they don't devote a great deal of the book to psionics but they cover the rules for psionics (which are mostly covered in the advantages section) and covers the different psionic techniques.

Chapter 7 is about how to apply Templates to a character. You apply a template as you would an advantage or disadvantage but it typically includes a number of advantages, disadvantages, skills and attributes.

Chapter 8 is Equipment. It talks about money, the cost of living for different status levels and how to buy equipment. The first type of equipment, near and dear to gamers' hearts, is weapons where is discusses the types, use and attributes of weapons. Next is armor, shields, and other gear.

Chapter 9 talks about Character Development. Characters can improve through adventure, through study, through some event (injury, cybernetic modifications, etc.).

The appendices (though not identified as such) cover some miscellaneous information. The most valuable for players (park a bookmark here) are the Trait Lists (advantages, disadvantages, modifiers, skills, techniques and spells.

Next are some sample characters (the same ones used in most of the examples in the book).

Combat Lite is a good overview of the GURPS game system. It is not all inclusive and doesn't get into fine cases but it gives enough info for players know what's going on and generally what their characters can do.

The Indexes and a blank, copyable character sheet round out the book.

What works

I like the GURPS system for the campaign creation aspects. You can create just about any campaign type using GURPS. Though if you aren't into super realism (the turns are 1 second long) and want to speed things up to a more cinematic pace, you will have to fudge the rules during play. However, by fudging out some of the super realism features, you can have a fairly quickly played system.

I like the separation of the player's book from the GM's book. It means that for most groups, you only need one copy of the GM's book.

The chapters are color coded so you can quickly find the chapter you want once you are familiar with the book.

I repeat: bookmark the Traits Lists. This is a very useful section that you will be using almost exclusively once you have mastered the book (i.e. bought the GURPS skill to IQ).

What doesn't work

I don't like the fact that the GM's book's page numbering begins at the last page of the players book. they should have rounded up to the nearest 100 (in this case, 400). As it stands, you have to remember that any page reference over 336 is in the GM's book.

I can see why some advantages and disadvantages are spread throughout the book. The rules are presented in the chapter in which they are used. Fortunately the advantage and disadvantage sections do reference the page that the appropriate advantage or disadvantage is defined. I think that it would have been much better to keep all of the definitions in one place and referencing forward to the appropriate page in its proper section. I can see why they did it the way they did. It helps to prevent confusion for the first time player. My thought is that you are only reading this book as a first time player once. You are using it as a reference several times.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Complete Champion

Title: Complete Champion
Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This book is for those who which to run Divine Characters and those characters who are strongly tied to divine organizations. As such, it has a large number of affiliations (affiliations by the bushel, as Londo would say). The book starts of with a bit about what it means to be a True Believer in a world where deities roam or effect the world.

The first chapter talks about the organizations of all of the core deities. For each deity, it gives an affiliation. It describes what the affiliation is about, who its enemies and allies are, its scale, the criteria for rising in rank, what the ranks do for you, what feats are favored by members of the affiliation, their favored combat tactics, what types of adventures you're likely to be involved in and what their favored oaths are. Then it gives affiliations for each of the clerical domains. think that's enough affiliations?, bur wait, there's more....

The second chapter is about character options and making divine characters out of members of other classes. For each of the core classes, it gives one or more replacement levels. Next are the new feats. It introduces a new type of feat: the Domain Feat. This gives you some ability associated with the respective domain. It also includes more reserve feats (which I'm not too sure about). Then we get... ...wait for it... ...more affiliations. In this case they are organizations that closer to affiliations that we are use to seeing. Each organization also has one or more new prestige classes associated with it.

The third chapter has new spells. These are, not surprisingly, divine spells.

The fourth chapter has divine items. It starts out with new power components that enhance certain spells when used. Then it gets into special holy symbols that increase the caster level for certain spells or some other modification that seems to be about the power level of a feat. The next part has magic items that are useful for divine characters and introduces a new type of magic item: the domain staff. A divine caster can use a domain staff to convert memorized spells (or spell slots) to spontaneously cast spells in the staff. Each staff has the nine spells associated with its domain.

The fifth chapter has divine quests and locations.

What works

It gives some good background for divine organizations and provides plenty of hooks for your campaigns. The feats are, on the whole, balanced. None of the feats seem to be too unbalancing though I still have doubts about some of the reserve feats. The prestige classes are kept to a minimum and logically worth with the organizations that promote them. The spells and items are useful without being game breaking. The adventure ideas and scenarios in the back don't take up too much room (and are almost superfluous in the context of a whole book filled with adventure hooks). All in all this is a pretty balanced book.

What doesn't work

I still don't like the reserve feats. They can be must have feats for certain classes and I'm not much of a fan of that. Also, the Paladins have a must have feat: Battle Blessing. Frustrated by the question: cast or fight? Well, why choose when you don't have to. It turns Paladin spells with a casting time of one standard action into a swift spell (it also turns full round spells into standard action spells). Once a Paladin has spell casting capability, this seems like a must have feat. Also, the wording is a bit vague. A rules lawyer might be able to argue that the sentence can be parsed so that any caster can use it and that Paladin spells are only an example. As a DM, don't let them do that. As it stands as a Paladin only feat, it isn't unbalancing since Paladins have so few spells (though a Bless Weapon cast while charging an enemy is going to be a very common game occurrence).

They had so many adventure hooks and locations throughout the book that they didn't really need the fifth chapter. I suspect that WotC have some internal book format that writers must adhere to. It's nice that you generally know where to find things but they really don't need to add things they don't need just to fit a format.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Spell Compendium

Title: Spell Compendium

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This is a book that contains. It contains lots of spells. Then there are even more spells.

you get the idea.

It contains spells from most of the previously WotC published books except for the Player's Handbook (I guess they figure that you've got that already).

It starts out with a couple of pages describing how to use the book and what classes it applies to (Player's handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide PCs and NPCs). It then goes into hwo to fit the spells into other classes that have shown up in other books. It gives the inevitable notice that you need the PH, DMG and MM to play. then it gives the definitions for "Swift Actions" and "Immediate Actions" and talks about its sources.

The Spell Descriptions section (~90% of the book) starts a list of name changes for perviously published spells. Then Spells, spells, and more spells.

The next chapter is spell lists for all the core PC and NPC classes.

The Appendix contains more domains for Clerics.

What works

I wasn't able to identify any spells that came off as either useless or "must have." To me, that means that the spells are pretty well balanced. I don't know if all these spells should be dumped on a campaign but by introducing them slowly as the characters interact with different cultures or read ancient books works nicely. There are also enough spells here that if you have a theme in mind for your spellcaster, you have a much better chance of putting together a more interesting character.

I really like the list of new domains. They list the Limbo domain right next to the Mechanus domain. The first thing that ran through my head when I saw that: I've got a Cleric who has the Limbo and Mechanus domains, we cal him "Mr. Twitchy."

What doesn't work

Some, few, of the spells (I think I counted 5) have some pretty bad typos (like missing the line that gives the spell level) or having the text contradict the target or area information. It would help if they had an Errata for the product.

Also the spell lists just include the spells in this book. It would have been helpfull to have a combined spell list that contained the PHB spells as well. This would be especially nice for Clerics.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Monster Manual IV

Title: Monster Manual IV

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This is a different take on Monster Manuals from what we are use to seeing for DnD.

For one thing there are very few single listings for critters (not all the entries are actually monsters). There also aren't as many new new critters in this book as we are use to getting. While some critters are listed in the standard two page layout that we are use to, many more are listed with mini adventures attached. Also, the book revisits some common critters (like Drow, Orcs, Gnolls and Ogres) giving examples of common sents of character levels. As an example, the Gnoll Slave-Taker is a gnoll with 2 levels of Ranger.

There are also 4 sample encounters spread through the book.

What works

There are some interesting, new, critters peppered through the book.

The table of contents lists several catagories that could be usefull. There is a list of the critters that are: creatable by PCs, can be used as mounts or animal companions by PCs contain power components (shades of A,D&D), summonable creatures, and new weapons.

While I'm not a big fan of just sticking class levels onto an NPC race to create a new listing, they did a good job of it. If you are drawing a blank for adventure ideas, you can open the book at random and find enough info for at least three nights worth of gaming with just a bit of fleshing out needed. It also gives the old standbys a but of extra power so they aren't just speedbumps in the later levels.

What doesn't work

This book just really didn't do it for me. I've seen more new critters in Dragon Magazine issues and I already know how to add class levels and templates to NPC races, thank you very much. For all the fact that the encounters are really well done, I didn't go out to buy an encounter book, I was looking for critters. I can understand experimenting with the form but I hope this will be seen as a failed experiment.

With all that said, if you typically look at a critter listing and think: "Well, that's nice but what do I do with it? How does it fit in with my campaign?" This might just be the book for you and I hope I gave enough information to help you make a buying decision.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Player's Handbook II

Title: Player's Handbook II

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This book is full of ideas for building the background of your characters. It seems to focus on the character's background and the role the character plays in the party. It also introduces some new character classes.

The first chapter itroduces 4 new classes. The Beguiler is a new arcane spellcaster class. It has a fixed, focused, spell list and you can cast spells from that list spontaniously (similar to the War Mage). The Beguiler's spell list is built around enchantment and illusion. The Dragon Shaman is essentially a spellless cleric who gains dragon abilities (including the breathweapon) of one color of dragon in place of the spells. The Duskblade is a fighter sorcerer. You lose the bonus feats and some armor use (though they gain heavier armors as they gain levels) but gain limited sorcerer spell use. The Knight is a revamp of the 2nd edition Cavalier. If you want to play a legendary knight without the divine qualities of the Paladin, this is the class for you. You gain better proficiency with your armor and can lead troops in war. You can also call out the opponent's champion for single battle and you get to deal with the Knight's Code (no flanking bonus, never stike a flat footed opponent and no lethal damage to a downed opponent).

The second chapter has expansions for the current classes (including those presented in the Complete Arcane, Complete Divine, Complete Warrior, and Complete Adventurer). It starts with three starting packages for each class that sets them up to fulfill a a specific role in the party and it has a replacement level for each class that modified the character.

The third chapter has new general feats and new feats in these feat types: Ceremony feats, combat form feats, divine feats, heritage feats, metamagic feats, tactical feats.

Chapter four has new spells and modified rules for polymorph spells. No new Warlock invocations though.

Chapter five has a lot of info for buildingthe identity of your character. It starts with backgrounds, moves on into personality archetypes and concludes with some tips on how to be a good player at the gaming table. I don't see where that fits into this chapter but, I guess, they had to put it somewhere.

Chapter six does the same thing as chapter five but for parties. It begins with party backgrounds and moves into how to build a party and how to be a team player. then it gets into some added abilities that reward characters for working as a team. This last section actually allows you to game out the effects of some historical (as well as legendary) team or formation tactics like a shield wall.

Chapter seven describes affiliations, how they work and how to build them. It also includes several affiliations that are not campaign specific.

Chapter eight has rules for rebuilding your character. In general it gives rules for slowly replacing levels or class features as you go up in level.

The last section consists of several appendicies. These sections allow someone to quickly build a PC or NPC. For each character type, they offer suggestions for skill choices, feat choices and, where appropriate, spell choices.

What works

I think the Duskblade is a really interesting character. It is the best "fighter-mage" I've seen.

I like the starting package for characters. It gives a good starting point for customizing the beginning character to your concept. The replacement levels for the various classes are interesting and I might try them out with my next character. They aren't overpowering and they don't dilute the concept of the character if the replacement level moves the character toward your concept.

The spells are generally usefull but none of them really stand out.

The rebuilding rules are interesting. Especially with all these new books offering choices tht weren't available when you created your character.

The feat and spell suggestions are really usefull. I generally don't follow the lists completely but I tend to think about why I made different choices. This appendix section is worth the price of the book. If I use nothing else from this book, I know that I will be using this section over and over.

What doesn't work

The Beguiler kind of left me flat. I don't need another limited sorcerer. I suppose that if I was interested in the concept, I'd be more interested in the class.

I don't have any real interest in chapter 5 (building your identity). But I tend to have clear ideas for my character concepts. I have similar issues about chapter 6. I suppose that if you are new to the game or you just have trouble pulling together a functional party, this might be a good section. The exception are the teamwork benefits. I don't know if I like them simply because my group doesn't feel the need.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Complete Adventurer

Title: Complete Adventurer: A Guide to Skillful Characters of All Classes

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This is an expansion for rogues. In fact, it turns rogues into a catagory (like arcane casters, warriors and divine casters).

It starts with a mercifully short intro section and then gets into the meat of the book by introducing three new character classes: Ninja, Scout, and Spellthief. The Ninja comes pretty close to the legendary/movie versions that most people are familiar with. They get a weakened for of sneak attack (it lacks flanking) but gain a bunch of ninja type abilities like short duration invisibility and etherealness. The Scout takes away the Rangers more mystical abilities (like spells and animal companion) and adds Rogue like abilities. The Spellthief can use his sneak attack ability to steal spells and then cast them.

The second section has 27 new prestege classes. These might actually be usefull if you are running in a campaign that involves a lot of intrigue.

The third section gets into a really usefull set of expanded uses of skills that can be valuable to just about any character. I reccomend readign this section for every DnD player. The feats are, for the most part, usefull. The really good news is that the Goad feat lets me build my kender in 3.5!

In the forth section, the new weapons are OK but not compelling. Essentially they are exotic versions of common weapons with additional weapon features. The new equipment include a bunch of disposable alchemy items that give bonuses to skill checks. My general though about these types of items is that by the time you can afford to buy them, you don't need them but your milage may vary. They also have special one round duration versions of potions and more masterwork equipment for gaining masterwork bonuses for more skills. The magic items are very usefull for sneaky character. there are also a number for bards.

The fifth section has new spells. Always a good thing but no real standouts.

The sixth section has various organizations and the rules for creating organizations. and epic rules for the new character classes.

What works

The Ninja and Scout look like really usefull characters in the right setting and I really like the skill expansions. The magic items are usefull without being game breakers.

What doesn't work

Oh, whee, more prestege classes....

The disposable equipment is too expensive for what you get. Finally, stuff like rules for organizations (and similar rules from some of the other books) should be in a seperate book, not padded into character books.