Saturday, January 24, 2015

D&D books for just reading

Dungeons & Dragons just released its 5th edition and I thought it would be a good time to post this one.

At high school and early college I got to play Dungeons & Dragons about a dozen of times and even DMed some of those. Not played since, but I still like listening to the RPPR podcast and reading over some of the printed material because these are fun and let me campaign in my head from time to time. Some of the books lend themselves to just that and I wanted to mention a few that I've come across.

(Star ratings refer not to their gaming worth but to the just reading fun factor)

Monstrous Manual 2nd

This one is the one that sparked my interest in the genre. The creatures are presented as if they really exist and has some good artwork here and there. Best part: The beholder kin and dragons.  Worst part: Still too few pages! Also that the latest editions have greatly reduced the descriptive sections, ramped up the horrid and privileged more the mechanics.

I tyrant 2nd

An even more detailed description of beholders and one of the monstrous Arcana modules. Best part: a beholder's typical day. Worst: the beholder anatomy layout smack in the middle of two pages. There are three quite good published adventures that complete this set and geared to lower to mid level characters. *Spoiler* The last one felt a bit rushed. More use of the material from I tyrant could've moved it close to legendary status.

Manual of the Planes 3rd

If you're going to get just one, make it this one. Description of the D&D cosmology including all the lower, upper, inner and transitive planes. Some do not like it, but to me it all fits pretty well together. Best part: The Lower planes and the inclusion of the Far Realm. Worst: a couple of planes could benefit from just a tad more description or adventure hooks.

Book of Vile Darkness 3rd

A distillation of the concept of evil bottled for high octane gaming consumption. A very interesting read as the content can serve as a working model to real world happenings. Best part: Descriptions of the bigger baddies from the d&d universe. Worst: Many of the spells, concepts and artwork are frankly appalling. Keep this away from children. Seriously.

Book of Exalted Deeds 3rd

The counterpart of the Book of Vile Darkness focusing of goodness. Best part: Probably only sainthood. Worst: Too mushy material. Stay clear of this one. I've not been able to resell my copy.

Libris Mortis 3rd

All the material one would ever need for an undead campaign. Best: Some of the ready-made adventures and maps. Worst: The atropal scion monster.

Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss 3rd

A closer look at the Abyss and its denizens including its history and descriptions of various layers. Best: The Black Cult of Ahm and the new layers. Worst: Somehow the Abyss turns up less hostile this time around than what was previously hinted at in other sources. Still bad, but not extreme by any stretch as I had hoped. (I'm rereading it now, and I'm liking it much better this time around)

Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells 3rd

More on devils and the Nine Hells. Best: The pact primeval and the economy of Hell. Worst: Ho-hum, expensive and actually below Hordes in entertainment value. The material from the the Manual of the Planes and the Book of Vile Darkness is just about right which makes this one only for completion's sake.

Complete Scoundrel 3rd

Tricksters and their kin. Not for reading, but for playing if you can get it. Actually, I believe that the material contained can better spice up your campaign than any of the other books here. You don't have to go to the deepest bowels of hell to have an epic remember-for-all-time campaign; just crossing the street and confronting or using scoundrels might clinch it better. Best: The prestige classes hands down. Worst: As said, not for reading, but for playing.

Complete Divine 3rd

Clerics and affiliated divine characters and stuff. Same general take as with the scoundrel version but only worse. I was hoping for a deeper take of the way religion works in the DnD universe, but doesn't really offer anything new (and that is already mechanistic and sparce). Best: Probably the Entropomancer and Evangelist classes which at high levels can either bend reality or convert your opponents. Worst: Dozens upon dozens of pages of rules, spells etc. that have no point of being read if one isn't going to play with them. The Book of Exalted Deeds is even better than this.

Fiend Folio 3rd

Just more and more monsters. Some few interesting for dilettante readers. Best: Some of the other planar groups such as the ethergaunts. Worst: Not much extended prose. Skip.

Heroes of Horror 3rd

Info geared to steering the PCs into horror territory from unsettling happenstances to full length campaigns. One of the best conceived of all the supplements I've seen.  Best: Might be of some use for creative writing on the real world. Pairs well with Libris Mortis. Worst: Relative rarity, meaning high price.

Heroes of Battle 3rd

Material to run large scale battles and wars. Best: Actually, the ways the authors found to translate dungeon crawling into field operations. Good job. Worst:  Mechanicswise looks fine, but not much to read.  Most uncanny:  Isn't that Andre the Giant on the cover?

Deities and Demigods 3rd

How to build pantheons and complete rolls of them to choose from. Best: The D&D pantheon. Worst: However for all gods the descriptions are even less than sparce. Current wiki pages are incomparably better.

Epic Level Handbook 3rd

Level 20 and beyond. Best: Monsters, the city of Union and length. Worst: Nothing really.

Dungeon Masters Guide 3.5

One of the three core rulebooks. Best: It gives a quick look at the planes. Worst: The rules-to-fun-text ratio is too much against casual reading.

Draconomicon Chromatic 4th

Evil dragons. As with others, an examination of their anatomy, psychology and more. Best part: The sample hoards. Worst: Somehow having them all defined and classified makes these dragons less enchanting. Also the 3rd edition supplement is better if you can afford it.

Open Grave 4th

Undead from another edition perspective. Best part: Stats for Vecna and his aspect and also the spirit/animus viewpoint. Worst: A step back from Libris Mortis.

Monster Manual 5th

The latest and not the greatest. Best: Good text-to-stats ratio. Worst: The entries are pretty bland and except for a few, short.

In closing a non-gameable one:

Of Dice and Men by Ewalt

This is an account of the genesis and history of Dungeons & Dragons as an idea, rpg game and business enterprise.  The author tries to reconstruct how D&D became great, collapsed and rose again drawing from newspaper articles, interviews and more. In spite of his efforts some blanks and unknowns still gap wide which he tries his best to bridge. Along the way he intertwines his own experiences and love for the game, and one of his ongoing campaigns. Fun in themselves, these intermissions also help the outsider get a feel of the action and mechanics and get to know more of the hobby and those who play it. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Madoka Magica review

What's like to live in a godless world? What's like to give your best and still fail?  What's like to give your best and have as much tries as you like at it and still face an unconquerable challenge that has to be bested? Does giving your all for the right reasons make any difference in this kind of world or does it make matters worse? These are part of the quandaries that face the heroines of Madoka Magica. Stemming from the magical girl theme the characters must make choices that affect themselves, their future and that of the world in more ways that they imagine. Technically a top notch production in visual art and music, it warrants watching for the first three episodes. However at episode 4 events take a screeching turn into unimagined territory that won't be fully explored until the final episodes. Enjoy the first three episodes and tell yourself, why, that was a good show. Stay for more and be prepared for a difficult harrowing drive that doesn't promise to be a good experience. Only the most jaded or blasé can fail to be moved by watching until the end. It's that bad. Five stars if you can stomach it. I couldn't.

5 stars