Monday, December 24, 2007

Brief Overview Series Ep. 3: Caylus Magna Carta

This is the third entry in my brief overview series in which I attempt to show you the basics of a board game to help you decide if it's worth a purchase. For people like me, images are worth a thousand words - hopefully this benefits you as well.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fate: Dark and Stormy report #12

It was our last day of work before Christ's Mass vacation, and it was a Friday (roleplaying day), so we filed into the conference room for one last session before the new year.

Last session, the party had finally defeated the monstrous spider after a long and tense battle. Today, they began by resting up. Leo and Elros had sustained some minor injuries, which Rwake was determined to heal. Pulling a bowl from his hide-sewn travel bag, Rwake began cooking some herbs in the dead spider's lair. Purple smoke filled the room and the other party members cringed as Rwake rolled up wads of spider web silk, coating them with his pungent herbal concoction. He then placed one makeshift web-bandage on Leo's wounded arm, and one on Elros' side. Rwake also took time to investigate the spider's dead body to see if he could locate a storage cavity for the spider's venom. Succeeding with +3 on his Anatomical Knowledge roll, he found the venom and soaked it up with more wads of spider silk. He then coated the poison balls with leaves from his bag and stashed them away.

Leo was eager to leave the room, so they agreed to go back to the central chamber where they rain was dripping through a hole in the ceiling. Here, they pulled out food and chomped while regaining their strength. Rwake pulled out a flattened banana-potato vegetable thing and offered some to the others, which they declined. Elros, weirded out by Rwake's food, shared some bread and dried meat with the tall jungle dweller. Rwake in turn handed Elros a handful of small nuts, which Elros accepted and found that he actually enjoyed. Elros listened in the quiet for signs of the storm dying, but thunder could still be heard above them.

After recuperating for a spell (and erasing all stress boxes - no one had any consequences), the party headed for the last unexplored corridor, just off the entry chamber. Rwake headed stealthily down the passage . . . then rolled a -3. Suddenly he managed to dislodge a large stone with one hand on the wall. The stone tumbled down, causing a loud thud and the hissing sound of many falling pebbles, kicking dust up all around them. Waiting quietly, they heard nothing in response. So Rwake, throwing caution to the wind, lit up a torch and proceeded into the room at the end of the hall. On the far wall of the room, they see an upright sarcophagus with a strange winged head.

The head of the sarcophagus began moving, in an instant revealing long tentacles and flying toward Rwake, swinging a tentacle at him. Below, the party enters the last room of Hightower Tor:

The creature was recognized by Leo (using his Academics roll of +2) to be a gronuluk. This was fun for me because the gronuluk was a creature I had created long ago, when drawing creatures for an RPG game I was creating for fun. So this was my first chance to actually use the gronuluk for something.

Rwake rolled a +3, dodging and rolling to avoid the gronuluk's suction-cup-covered tentacle. Rwake then loaded his blowgun (-1 to his action), firing a dart at the hovering creature, rolling a +4. The gronuluk rolled a +5 for flying and barely dodged the dart as it whisped by.

Elros, ready to deal some damage, drew his sword (-1 to his action, -1 for the spin earned on the gronuluk's defense) and cast some energy magic, hoping to squash the gronuluk to the floor. He rolled a +3, which the gronuluk defended against with a Flying roll of +4, resisting the force of Elros' spell. You can see Elros below, casting his energy magic, Leo at his side:

Meanwhile, Leo had pulled out a dirk, launching it at the gronuluk's open mouth. Leo rolled a +4 against the gronuluk's defense of +0. The gronuluk attempted to shrink itself, but was caught too quickly by Leo's dirk, dealing 4 stress. The gronuluk returned to its full size and shook the dirk from its mouth, swinging a tentacle now at Leo, attempting to grab him. It achieved a +1 on its roll, which Leo dodged with a +3. He had been ready for the gronuluk's retaliation and made his move flawlessly.

Rwake sprang back into action, blasting another dart at the floating creature, rolling a total of +4. The gronuluk, rolling a +5 on its Hide skill, shrunk quickly to the size of a small ball, tentacles wrapped around itself, still hovering. The dart flew past, doing no damage.

Elros, fed up with the size-shifting gronuluk leaped forward once more, slashing out with his sword. Both Elros and the gronuluk rolled a +1. Elros spent a fate point to gain +1, finally dealing 1 stress to the creature.

Leo followed Elros' attack by drawing and flinging two knives at the gronuluk's face. Again, both rolled +1s. The knives swept by the gronuluk as it dodged with its mad flying skillz.

At this point, the gameplay was beginning to feel stale. Long ago, they had defeated the "boss" of the dungeon - the dagwir zombie. Then, they faced an even tougher foe in the spider's lair. Now they were rolling poorly against this goofy little floating octopus creature. We were out of time, and weren't going to meet again until January. I had to think quick. Here is what followed:

Me: Suddenly, the gronuluk starts to shift and shrink again. It begins glowing, blue, then purple, lowering to the ground. It slowly floats down, still glowing, until it touches the ground, forming a new shape. When the glow dies down, you see a Lufan man standing before you. He coughs for a minute, then says, "Thank you! You have freed me! I was trapped in the body of that gronuluk by a magic spell and you freed me by attacking the gronuluk spell!"

[shock and laughter from the players]

"What year is it? I've been trapped here for, I don't know how long..."

J (as Leo): "How did you get like that?"

Me: "I remember I was exploring the tor for treasure. I came into this room and a wizard of some sort was there. He cast a spell on me and I've been a gronuluk ever since, mindlessly hiding out in the head of that sarcophagus. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Renk."

[more laughter and joking]

"Are you coming or leaving? Can I go with you? Are you able to heal me? I'm hurt."

[The party takes to treating his wounds from the short battle.]

AC (as Elros): "Yeah, we're leaving as soon as this storm let's up."

Me: As you are treating Renk's wounds and chatting, you hear the thunder stop. There is no more pounding of hail. Everything becomes quiet. The storm has moved on. J, tell us how you convince the others to join you as you head for our next adventure. (I had told J before hand what was coming up and that he would need to convince these guys to come with him.)

J (as Leo): "Well, I'm heading for the city of Gryborn to attend the Craftsmen's Convention. It only happens every few years. You're welcome to come with me."

[Elros and Rwake agree]

Me (as Renk): "Do you mind if I come with you? I need to get of here. I have no idea how long I've been trapped here."

[They accept his company. He gives them a ring from his hand and tells them it's a Translator's Ring. It allows the wearer to understand the languages of Mrug, Noggit, and Dagwir. They comment on how that would have been useful earlier. They exit through the main entrance to the tor and behold hail piled at the base of the hills. Leo's cart is slightly damaged and filled with hail as well.]

So that ended our little learning adventure. We all gained a better understanding of the new Fate 3 mechanics, as written in SotC. Next year, we will take a break from this campaign to play a SotC adventure using the recent released Spirit of the Season. AC will be GMing. When that is done, we plan to continue this campaign as the party heads northeast to the city of Gryborn for the Craftsmen's Convention.

For fun, here's a scan of my original sketch of a gronuluk:

And here are the special item cards I created. When the PCs found these treasures, I handed the players these cards. They are a combination of the original adventure's treasures with my own mods. The sketch art is my own. The drawings were scanned, then modded in Photoshop to create the cards.

There was much joking about this one, no one wanting to wear it for "style" reasons.

May you enjoy much good roleplaying and gaming of all other sorts during the Christmas season. Until January, it's going to be mostly board gaming posts, but keep your eyes out because I plan to write a little something about a recent RPG system discovery. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fate: Dark and Stormy report #11

We had taken last week off on account of my wife giving birth to a new baby. But this week, I arrived back at work, ready to dive back into Hightower Tor at the Friday lunch game table. This week, it was our muscled jungle master who started off the scene - still fighting the monstrous spider. As you may remember from last time, the spider has been ignited with flames all across its hard and hairy back.

Rwake began by attempting a stunning feat.

Llama: "I use my staff to polevault up onto the spider's back."

J: "Isn't the spider still on fire?"

Me: "Yeah. He's still on fire all over his back."

Llama: "Okay, I try to land on his head."

Me: "His head's on fire too."

J: "Is the spider still taking damage from the fire?"

Me: "Yeah. He did last session and he will again on his turn."

Llama: "All right. I spend a fate point to say that there's an open spot on the spider's back where the flames have gone out, near the head."

Me: "Okay, that sounds good. Roll. The difficulty is Fair (+2)."

Let me cut in here. For those of you who may be considering GMing with Fate, you might be wondering, "How'd you decide on the difficulty?" The answer is: I just picked something that seemed not to high and not too low. I figured something like this would be possible for Rwake, but harder than Average. So I said Fair. Setting difficulties can indeed be tough sometimes. For the sake of keeping the game flowing, I recommend just picking something just as I did - not too high, not too low. I find this process of elimination easier than pinpointing the perfect difficulty. The important thing is that the PCs have fun, so just pick something and let the players give it a whirl. Below, you can see Rwake, safely perched atop the spider.

Back to the scene. Rwake rolled a -2, added his +5 for Jungle Gym skill (flipping and jumping around the jungle) for a total of +3. His plan worked, and he successfully landed square on the bare spot he had aimed for. Crouching, he grabbed the nearest crevices in the spider's neck joint and hung on for dear life.

Elros, still near the spider, plunged his sword into the spider's leg for a +7 on his Swordsmanship. This gave him one shift above the spider's +6 Athletics roll. This inflicted one stress point which rolled up to the spider's 7th and final box on his stress track, leaving only consequence boxes. Below, Elros prepares for attack, while Rwake watches from atop the spider.

Getting in on the action, little Leo sprang forward, chopping at the spider's back left leg with his Shortsword of Shock. The spider was focused on Leo, so I figured the difficulty of this slash would be Mediocre (0). The spider wasn't doing anything to defend itself. It was simply outnumbered. Leo rolled an Average (+1), dealing one stress, which rolled up to a Mild consequence. I decided the spider now had the aspect "Overwhelmed". It was surrounded, and taking damage from every side, including its flame-broiling backside.

At this point, the spider offered a "concession". Since the spider wasn't a person, I just explained that the spider was clearly backing off with no intent of further conflict. In the Fate 3.0 rules we're using, the opponents can accept the concession, or they can refuse it and keep fighting. Each player explained why he didn't want to simply leave this battle behind. The primary reason they agreed on was that they didn't want to leave this spider to consume more victims exploring these ruins. So they refused the concession, earning the spider a fate point.

The spider recognized that its attackers were still hostile and lunged at Elros once again, achieving +7 on its Melee roll. At the same time, the spider made an attempt to throw Rwake from its back. I gave the spider a -1 to his roll because I couldn't remember the exact ruling of doing two actions simultaneously with one attempt. I rolled a +2 for this attempt. Rwake used his Death Grip stunt (+2 to rolls of strength when holding an opponent) to grip a crevice in the exoskeleton with hands of super jungle strength - a roll of +4 total, saving him from being thrown. Elros, for his part, moved to dodge the spider's attack, but with a +3 roll, he was crushed between the grotesque pincers of the spider's mouth for 4 stress, then tossed aside.

Then on Rwake's turn:

Llama: "I pull out my knife and find a weak spot to stab the spider."

Me: "Oooo, so as you feeling around you discover the spot Leo had been hammering with a chisel earlier?"

Llama: "Sure - do I need to spend a fate point for that?"

Me: "Nah. That's what Fate is about. This kind of stuff works out for you guys. So do you jab the knife into Leo's crack?"

[giggling from around the table]

Rwake: "I tag the Overwhelmed aspect to get +2 on my attack for a total of . . . +6."

Me: "The spider's exoskeleton is weakened, so that's going to be a difficulty of +3. You dealt 3 stress. Your blade sinks in and ooze starts to spill out."

Players: "Eeeewwww."

Me: "So now the spider is trying to madly shake Rwake off its back. It now has the Moderate consequence of 'Half-sensing'. Rwake struck something in the spider's neck joint to hinder its senses. The spider is visibly struggling now."

Elros, still aching from his spider bite, got up and charged the spider (supplemental action for -1) and rolled a +2 for his sword attack. That gave him the shift he needed against the spider's Average (+1) roll to move the damage up to a Severe consequence. Jumping into the air and slicing a two-handed slash, Elros' sword cleaved through the spiders eyes and mouth. The spider took a new temporary aspect of 'Weakened'.

Webbing now began too shoot wildly from the spider's abdomen, near Leo. The little Lufan quickly darted around to the front of the spider (supplemental action), using his Close at Hand stunt to freely pull out a long chisel and a short carving knife. Aiming at the wounded face of the beast, Leo flung both "weapons", rolling a +2 against the spider's +3 dodge. Leo now uses the free tag of the spider's new "Weakened" aspect to reroll his Thrown Weapons skill, achieving a +5 this time. those 3 shifts of stress took the spider into the Taken Out state. Leo's knife cut through part of the spider's face, while the chisel lodged deeply into one of the eyes. The spider wriggled for a few moments, screeching its last, and finally dropped lifeless to the dusty floor of its lair.

Before dismounting, Rwake wedged his knife into the spider's neck joint and methodically broke all connections, ensuring the spider's final death. Behold below - the monstrous spider fallen. Notice Leo's chisel embedded in the spider's eye.

A post-battle examination of the room turned up a Pearl of Power, which allows the owner to enhance the benefit of one stunt per day. Elros also found a leather pouch containing 15 silver among the corpses. He kindly split the silver between the three of them and headed back to the hallway.

So, after many weeks, they have finally bested the monstrous spider, Elros reasonably damaged from the experience.

Our next session won't be until the second half of January, once we're all back from Christmas break. It will probably take another 3 weeks or so to finish this adventure. After that, AC is going to take over GMing and we're going to play through the holiday-themed, Spirit of the Season. Some of us, especially J, have been wanting to try a real SotC adventure, pulp-theme and all. While I'm not into the pulp genre, I am willing to give it a try. So, AC stepped up to run this next adventure. Once we've finished that, we'll move on to the continuation of this campaign, following the story of Elros, Leo, and Rwake. The adventure will be one of my own creations. Thanks for those of you who read these reports. Comments are always appreciated.

Thursday, December 13, 2007 - make shopping easier

Many of you may have visited before, but, like me, you may not have known about a sweet little feature called Shopping List.

This feature was brought to my attention by Thomas, who runs So, big thanks to him for this tip.

If you plan to do large game orders, you will find the Shopping List very useful. Here's how it works:
  1. Look up a game on
  2. Click the button that says "Add to list".
  3. Repeat with every game you want to include on your game order.
  4. Click the link in the upper right corner which says " games in shopping cart".
  5. You will now see a list of every store that carries all of those games and their stock status.
The stores will be listed in order of price, low to high. There will also be a list of sites which carry only some of the games. The only work you will have to do is estimate the shipping costs. So, the next time you do a large game order, you might want to use the Shopping List feature to find the best online store to buy from!

NOTE: You may notice that Thought Hammer does not show up in your searches on This is because their website is not yet compatible with the way does its magic. Thomas assures me that he has requested Thought Hammer change this, but they have yet to make the change.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Boards and Bits: no more free shipping

Several weeks ago, I did a 2-part Buyer's Guide series on the cheapest places to buy board games online. My personal award for the ultimate online game store went to Boards and Bits.

Just this week, I happened to stop by Boards and Bits to look for something and noticed they had changed their shipping policy. You can read it on their front page, and you'll notice a different shipping logo at the top of the page. It used to say something to the effect of: "Free shipping on orders of $125 or more". For a while, Tom (who runs Boards and Bits) said that his recent free shipping policy (which matched that of Thought Hammer and Fair Play Games) was working well and not causing him to lose money. This has apparently changed. Here is the text from the front page of Boards and Bits:
Due to rising costs of freight (and everything else), we are changing our shipping discount policy.

Effective immediately, we are offering 1/2 price shipping on all orders of $100 or more, which means you will pay from $3 to $5.50.

And as always, we have low flat rate shipping prices for orders of any size -- from $6 to $11.

Shipping price is based on your zip code, and not on order size or weight.
So, in place of free shipping at $125, Tom now offers half shipping at $100. This means you reach the shipping discount more quickly, sure. But one more game is all it would take to reach $125, so the $25 decrease isn't a huge benefit. This also means you now pay shipping costs, regardless of order size. $3 to $5.50 really isn't bad at all. The issue here is more about all-or-nothing. Thought Hammer still has their free shipping policy. This makes me wonder, will Thought Hammer receive more business now from Boards and Bits fans? Is the change in shipping policy enough to make buyers think twice about which seller to buy from?

I really don't know. The change in policy is so minimal that I think there will be little change among the general game-buying population. On the other hand, people like me, who have their eye out for the best deal will certainly compare total prices before buying. Some buyers determine where to buy based on loyalty, even if it costs more. Others of us, as much as we like our buying experience with one seller, will still buy from the seller who has the best price.

It's a bummer that shipping costs have forced Tom into the position of having to revoke one of Boards and Bits' benefits. It's a small change, but a change nevertheless, and a negative one.

Still, Tom's prices are so good that he might still have the edge over other sellers. And, if you are doing group board game orders, that $5.50 will be easy to split up for minimal damage.

So, the change in Boards and Bits' shipping policy is not big, but it's not a good change for the buyer. While good for the seller, it may be just enough to make buyer's think twice about where to buy.