My View – Heroes of the Fallen Lands (D&D Essentials)

 

Courtesy RPG Geek

Product: Heroes of the Fallen Lands: Create and Play Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and Wizards!

System: Dungeon & Dragons Essentials series. This is one of two handbooks used for character generation.

Appearance: Digest-size thick softcover. Contents over 368 pages. Most is single-column with occasional use of color and appropriate illustrations.

Content: Eight chapters along with Introduction, Glossary, Index, and Character Sheet.

  • Chapter 1: Game Overview – In effect a rules summary very much like the Rules Compendium
  • Chapter 2: Making Characters – 26 pages of introduction and background on chargen
  • Chapter 3: Understanding Powers – Rules on using powers
  • Chapter 4: Character Classes – The core of the book; chargen tables (few) and comments (lots of comments) on how to make characters of one of four classes with (very) few subtypes
  • Chapter 5: Character Races – Lots of background and few rules for five different races
  • Chapter 6: Skills – Rules for skills (was this not in the Rules Compendium?)
  • Chapter 7: Feats – Feats related to the classes presented
  • Chapter 8: Gear and Weapons – Ironmongery and Magic along with a few more rules

 

Comment: First off, let me explain my bias here. I am a long-time RPG player and GM (playing Traveller since 1979). I have played Star Wars: Saga Edition so I am somewhat familiar with near-4e game engines. I have not previously played D&D as I was myself never into the fantasy realm but with spawn running amok who like that genre am trying to find a way to get them involved in the RPG world. Along with Heroes of the Fallen Lands I also have the Rules Compendium and the Starter Set.

Verdict:  BLUF – I do not like this book.

First, there is too much repetition between the Rules Compendium and Fallen Heroes. Event the sample example of play is a duplicate. Secondly, for a book that is supposed to support character generation there is an awful lot of new rules here. They are also spread out and sometimes located in nonsensical areas. For instance, what is a feat? The Rules Compendium devotes a whole two paragraphs to what a feat is, while Fallen Heroes has an entire chapter. So you gain the Armor Proficiency Feat – what does it do for you? Don’t look in the Rule Compendium, or even in the Feats chapter of Heroes. Instead you have to look at Fallen Heroes Chapter 8, Gear & Weapons, Armor and Shields, Armor Types, paragraph 2 to find the penalty. But in a few places I think they didn’t duplicate enough! For instance, I do not understand how generating ability scores (a core component of character generation) uses only one method in Fallen Heroes but has three methods in the Rules Compendium. Seems like it should be the other way around to me.

For one of two books devoted to player characters and generating them, this book seems to have very few character paths. The way I see it, you have:

  • Cleric-Warpriest-Storm Domain
  • Cleric-Warpriest- Sun Domain
  • Fighter-Knight
  • Fighter-Slayer
  • Rogue-Thief
  • Wizard-Mage-Enchantment School
  • Wizard-Mage-Evocation School
  • Wizard-Mage-Illusion School

Next, the layout of the book is dense text with just an occasional table and illustration; makes the content and process difficult to follow. Even the order of contents is confusing, such as placing races AFTER classes and then discussing why different races are better for certain classes. More critically, the classes chapter

Courtesy RPG Geek

Lastly, I am not happy with the marketing scheme (scam?) I see in the D&D Essentials line. I have two books for a total of 688 pages of content yet I can only barely play this game (Granted, Star Wars Saga has nearly 2500 pages of rules, but I can play the game with the 288-page Core Rulebook). According to the D&D marketing propaganda, I still need the Dungeon Master’s Kit, the Monster Vault, and Heroes of the Forgotten Realms (I am ignoring the Dice Set and tiles).

As I wrote previously when I reviewed the Rules Compendium, I keep trying the Essentials line, and keep failing. Thank goodness that I used my Borders Going Out of Business 40% off to get this book and didn’t spend more!

A Spate of New Purchases

As one can see looking at the middle column under New Game Acquisitions, I have been on a bit of a spending spree recently. Thanks to Petries and their monthly 15% off I was able to pick up Quarriors after a recommendation by Cameron and Rebecca. I used the Borders close-out 40% off to get D&D Players Essentials: Heros of the Fallen Lands. I then browsed a used book rack at Gamer’s Haven and found the old West End Games Star Wars Miniatures Battles and Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising sourcebooks. Finally, I was in Barnes & Nobles and found Smallville in hardcover for a mere $2. Each will be the subject of a review/commentary in the near future.

Stars Without Number

Stars Without Number (Courtesy RPG Geek)

The Game: Stars Without Number (Sine Nomine, 2010)

The System: Old School Renaissance

The Appearance: Full-size (8.5”x11”) pdf with 210 pages. Cover is a color stock space image (NASA Space Telescope?). Interior layout is two-column text in a rather small font (not good for e-readers or maybe even tablets). Interior artwork is black-and-white, sparse in number, but generally appropriate to the setting. Tables are one- or two-column and use alternating shading to help distinguish rows.

The Setting: The year is 3200. Space travel created a new breed of humans that used psychic powers. In 2665 a psychic wave (“The Scream”) wiped out psychics and the universe broke down. The adventurers must survive and try to thrive in this hostile universe.

The Content: This is a complete rules and setting book. The 210 pages break down as follows:

  • “Introduction” which is a (very) short teaser of the setting
  • “Character Creation” introduces three classes; Expert, Warrior, and Psychic.
  • “Psionics” introduces relevant rules
  • “Equipment” is a standard ironmongery collection
  • “Systems” explains the mechanics of the game
  • “The History of Space” provides background
  • “Game Master’s Guide” gives hints to running adventures in the setting
  • “World Generation” provides rules for creating star sectors and planets
  • “Factions” includes rules for creating these special groups
  • “Adventure Creation” is a step-by-step assistant for creating an adventure seed
  • “Alien Creation” and “Xenobestiary” give you the bestiary for the setting
  • “Designer’s Notes” are Kevin Crawford’s thoughts on this game
  • “Hydra Sector” is a pre-generated sector with planets and factions defined
  • “Game Master Resources” includes a multilingual names generator and other quick generation guides
  • “Index” and “Record Sheets” complete the package

The Verdict: Stars Without Number is very unashamedly an Old School Renaissance game. Character generation uses a very standard class-based approach. One also has to be big into psionics since so much of the setting relies on these rules. The system mechanic is very old school; roll 2d6 plus attribute modifier and skill level against a difficulty rating. In combat you roll 1d20 and modify the roll based on a few factors such as armor class to see if you hit.

World generation is very similar to Classic Traveller but with a great twist. You also create world tags that further explain the world in ways like enemies, friends, complications, things and places unique to the world.

Factions allows creation of domains by defining it using hit points (resilience), a force rating (physical violence), cunning (espionage and cunning), wealth, experience, assets and goals. In effect, a faction is a super NPC that he players can either face off against, ally with, or even control.

As I already alluded to, the setting is heavily dependent upon psionics. That is not to say that you MUST use psionics, but the setting drives you to it. I have to say that I like certain aspects of the setting as it seems to draw heavily from the great sci-fi masters such as Asimov and Piper.

In the Designer’s Notes, the designer makes it clear that he is a “sandbox” gamer and because of this bias the game is designed with that approach to play in mind. Like many old-school games, the best adventure group is composed on at least one character from each class to ensure that necessary skills are available to at least one member of the adventure party. The designer also provides many tables and idea aids to help the GM create the adventure within the sandbox of play.

As I have gone on and described this game, it is possible that you have had to refer to the top to ensure you are reading about a new sci-fi RPG. That leads to my biggest complaint – in the end Stars Without Number feels like old Dungeons & Dragons in space. Now I personally was never an old-school D&D player but rather preferred Traveller.

Stars Without Number is a good game and setting. It is a worthy regeneration of the old-school gaming world. But is it not without its problems, the largest for me being that it feels a bit to much like D&D in Space and the heavy use of psionics.

Christmas Games 2010 – Rules Compendium (D&D Essentials RPG)

Courtedy RPGGeek

The Game: Rules Compendium: A Game Reference for All Players (Dungeons & Dragons Essentials)

The System: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (2010 Essentials)

The Appearance: Handbook-size (6”x9”) softcover with 320 pages. Cover has D&D Essentials logo across the top with a red dragon. Interior layout is easy to read.  Artwork is in same vein as cover and generally complementary of the surrounding text.  Some is too small (especially maps) to be useful.

The Content: As the back cover relates, the Rules Compendium contains the Core Rules in a portable, easyily referenced format. The 320 pages of content is divided as follows:

  • “Introduction” which introduces what D&D is and a history of the game
  • “Chapter 1: The Basics” introduces the core mechanic for checks and the background for the D&D setting
  • “Chapter 2: Adventurers and Monsters” covers how those creatures are described, how an adventurer is generated, and how levels are gained
  • “Chapter 3: Understanding Powers” describes what powers are and includes keywords used to describe such
  • “Chapter 4: Skills” explains skill check modifiers and how to use skills including the concept of Difficulty Classes; Skill Challenges are also explained
  • “Chapter 5: Exploration and the Environment” defines how creatures explore and generally relate to their surroundings; also covered are traps and hazards
  • “Chapter 6: Combat” is the single largest chapter (76 pages) and covers all the rules of combat
  • “Chapter 7: Equipment” covers the terms that define armor, weapons, and other items
  • “Appendix 1: Building a Combat Encounter” focuses on the role of monsters in an encounter
  • “Appendix 2: Rewards” defines how to gain rewards and expereince points as well as treasure
  • “Appendix 3: Terrain Features” describes different terrain
  • “Glossary” and “Index” cover key terms and an alphabetical listing for easy searching

The Verdict: First off, let me say that although I have played RPG’s since 1979 I have NEVER played D&D (heretic you say!). My personal interests travel more to sci-fi; Traveller has always been my favorite system. However, with young spawn in the castle that are more attuned to fantasy I am looking to give them a taste of RPGs. I have a complete set of Star Wars: Saga Edition and we all have played Star Wars Miniatures. At first glance, the Essentials line seems tailor-made for my needs; a lower cost entry to the setting.

(On a sidenote, I find the whole “Essentials” concept interesting because this book seemingly goes out of the way to NOT say D&D 4th Edition. The closest it comes is in the History of the Game where they refer to a third edition followed by this “latest.” Why are they afraid to say 4th Edition?)

I previously had bought the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set (this was the predecessor to the current “Red Box” Starter Set) so with that in hand I was looking to expand. For this purpose, the Rules Compendium is very useful. However, I wish I had studied just what the Essentials line really is. My greatest disappointment was finding (after purchase) that the concepts of Character Generation are covered in the Rules Compendium, but in order to generate a character you need to buy Heroes of the Fallen Lands or Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms player books. This in spite of the back cover claiming the Rules Compendium covers the complete rules of the game…as well as information on…character creation…. In hindsight, “information on” means “the process” and the not “the ability to.”

The Rules Compendium is certainly useful because it has all the rules of the game. However, you cannot play a game without at least one (and possibly both) players books and the Dungeon Master’s Kit and maybe Monster Vault because these books apparently have all the chargen and equipment and weapons and monsters and the like you need to use with the rules found in the Rules Compendium.

Of course, all this information is available on the D&D website, and if you are a D&D player you likely will know all this ahead of time. But if you are not a D&D follower (like me) this marketing approach can be very confusing. I find this distressing given that the Essentials line is aimed at potential players like myself. This seeming lack of forthrightness makes me feel “taken” by Wizards of the Coast and am not sure if I want to make the further investment necessary (at retail costs I will need to spend around $100 more for just the books mentioned above). Once again I am reminded that the old adage “buyer beware” is still alive today.