JP On Gaming

Saturday, October 19, 2019

[Kinda Book Report] Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

There are books you always wonder what they are about. This is one of these books.

To put this book into context, its author, Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD and is considered one of the "Five Good Emperors".

The book is a series of short thoughts, personal notes about the world and people. Very much organized as a modern days book of proverbs or maxims. They are not organized in any order, giving the impression of someone's personal note book being used and published.

However, it is a series of short reflexions that give us direct insight into stoic philosophy. Stoicism preaches a quiet living, and the ultimate futility of life, and the restraint of passions (in really short). I consider myself closer to epicurianism but found myself agreeing with many of his points.

One interesting point was the relation of the gods. The stoics were polytheistic but also understood and thought in a partially monotheistic way. That was an interesting side point.

So in the end... I would give this a 4/5. It was interesting but in the end, a little repetitive. It's a short one though.

Friday, October 11, 2019

[Ravenloft] The Vanishing Ziggurat released on DM's Guild

A few years back, I built a massive pyramid using girlscout cookie boxes that filled my garage. I did not have any specific idea what I wanted to do with it. I had an overall idea of what I wanted to do with it. Nothing overly fancy, a dungeon crawl with a few surprises.

Having play-tested it a few times each time adding new elements and making the dungeon more setting-neutral than the original version, I changed the target level band, some of the monsters and a few encounters completely to arrive at its final, current form.

This is an adventure nominally set in Ravenloft but really, it can be adapted to your setting quite easily. Because of the nature of the adventure you can literally set it anywhere...

This is the first pure dungeoncrawl adventure I ever written and I will say it was a refreshing and fun thing to write. Yet in spite of that, from the feedback, I managed to put in an interesting story line and an underlying plot. This adventure has new unique magic items and more than a few unique twists on known monsters.

Get it on the DM's Guild today!

[Kinda Book Review] The Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus

This is a book I had on my list for a very long time, and I listened to it as a free Audiobook from Librevox.org.

For those who do not know, Josephus was a Jew who chronicled the world during and around the Flavian Dynasty (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian). First captured by Vespasian, he was freed and served him during the campaign. So this book is a report by someone who party to the events described therein, not someone far removed from them.

Josephus began as a rebel general who fought against Vespasian in Galilee before being captured, enslaved, and then freed by him. So we deal with someone who was there, dealt with the situation and had first-hand knowledge. A few times in the narrative, he is sent to speak with the Jews to ask them to surrender to Titus.

There are seven books with the narrative beginning around 200BC, through the period of the rise of Christianity, to the naming of Vespasian as commander of the army to punish the rebels by Nero, to the Year of the Four Emperors, to Titus' destruction of Jerusalem, and the destruction of Massada which ended the war.

The First few books presents the wars of the Seleucid kings in Judea and the many regime changes in Judea: the one king, then the tetrachy, and the Roman intervention. A veritable who's who of the late Roman Republic pass through: Pompey, Caesar, Octavian, Antony, and Cleopatra all appear influencing the region. I was fascinated.

Like many, I knew of the region around that time was from the Christmas story: King Herrod and Salome. They appear here but in the context of the wider world. In fact, they seem to be mere local despots with limited power overall with the kingdom of the Jews broken into four pieces and each king named tetrach (ruler over a fourth (roughly): Galilee, Judea, Samaria, and coastal regions).

Josephus describes the area as a hotbed for rebellious activity: under the Greek/Seleucids, then under the Romans with only limited periods of peace in-between. Religious fanatics, corrupt and avaricious governors and family squabbles contributed to the destabilization of the area.

So the wars begin and the Jews enjoy a fair amount of early successes, ejecting the Romans from their lands and continuing the administration in place.

Nero assigns Vespasian command of an army to conquer the territory.

This is the part where we must be wary and apply some common sense. As Vespasian was Josephus' patron, the book from here on does a fair a amount of what I think is propaganda as the Roman commanders (particularly Vespasian and Titus) are always portrayed as fair and generous. Still the narrative is interesting and pretty clear.

I never visited Jerusalem or Israel but after reading this book, I can say I have a pretty good idea what the city looked like.

Josephus provides us with ample stories anecdotes - many of them absolutely horrible of the famine in the besieged city. The worse is that of the woman who cooked and ate her own son.

...

Yeah. That was hard.

This book demonizes many of the players in the who affair, such as the leaders of the Zealots. It is clear that he regrets the whole war and its conducts but at the same time he admires and commends the Jews for their courage and spirit.

Another fun thing... The narrative definitely reminded me of terms and expressions taken from the Bible, particularly the most historical books - such as the Book of Kings.

So this book came in perfectly as I received a new war game: SPQR which I cannot wait but try with ActionMan. It's an ancients skirmish game of which I'll post more later.

Rating? Really? You ask me for a rating of a book that held my attention for over twenty hours??

FIVE EAGLES (out of five).

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Eyriss: Mage Hunter Commander of Ios

Anyone playing Mercenaries in Warmachine knows of Eyriss, this mage hunter character. This mage-slayer has been a terror to both main and backup casters.

Way back when, I painted this model and it has been a staple of any armies since. Well... at least when I played.

This version of Eyriss is no longer a member of the Mercenary faction, but has returned to her home among the elves of Ios and of the Retribution.

I must admit to preferring the earlier model rather than this newer plastic one. The dynamism is gone.


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stuffed Full of Pathfinder and playing turkey ???

Okay so Pathfinder v2 is now out and the universe has not ended. Neither has it taken aflame. I have NOT bought the book and as of yet do not plan on doing it. That is until I get to play a game or two and can have a good idea of how the game plays.

With that in mind, I have been looking for events here in the Nashville area and was not able to find anything.

Edit: As I write this, there is the first event for PF2 setup. I cannot attend that event so that will not be it.

I was speaking to my good friend Florent who will be coming to see us for Thanksgiving this year. While they are here, he offered to run something for us. I guess I will play something with ActionMan at that time.

I must say that I find myself excited at the prospect. See whether the things I heard are true: both the good and the bad - as there seems to be three tiers of people: those who like, those who hate, and those who just don't care (typically because they are playing something else).

So stuff me full of turkey before putting dice in my hands! That is a positive game experience.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Ethereal Scarabs: bringers of nothingness

A few years ago, I came up with a series of creatures that really freaked me out. The basic idea came to me as I was thinking about how to tie the FOEniverse together.

In the time since I created these horrors, they appeared in more than one adventure since then. Typically accompanied with a "OH CRAP!"

The book, Gostor: Ethereal Horrors, is available for sale right now on DrivethruRpg for both 5th Edition or Pathfinder v1.

These miniatures are from one of the Reaper Bones set.

Feel free to share your story of these great little things.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman

Looking at my list of recommendations from Amazon, this book came up and as it was time for another audiobook to keep me company as I travel to and from work. I went for it.

Way back in the late 80s, I remember watching this movie called Gor (and its sequel "Outlaw of Gor"). It was a strange, a bad Conan the Barbarian redo. It was cheesy, with bad acting, bad decors, and minor nudity (which was always a nice bonus to my teenage mind). Come to think of it, I'm still in favor of nice nudity... Hmmm

The story has NOTHING to do with the movie. Just nothing.

Wait.

There are some scenes of nudity. Okay a lot. Female clothing does come off quite a lot. Not a bad thing...

Well the story is of an English professor who is taken to a counter-Earth (a planet that mirrors Earth on the other side of the Sun). There he trains as swordsman and a tarnsman (a tarn is like a big eagle). He goes around getting involved in the politics of this rather messed up world. He steals from a city, and that's where the action starts.

He captures the girl, she tries to kill him, they get captured, she is taken, he is placed to be killed. Now at the start, it is pretty cool and exciting but after a while, the death traps and escapes grow more and more unbelievable. I even began to roll my eyes when - again - Tarl was put in a death trap and escaped towards the end.

His complete refusal to surrender to the local customs got on my nerves. As an expat myself, it ground on me. I always tried to fit in wherever I went, not forgetting where I came from, but also never dismissing local customs. Towards the end, I wanted to slap him because he was just too goody-two-shoes

The ending clearly sets up that there will be a series.

Where the story was interesting was in the strange codes of honors of the castes - the warriors have their own, as do the merchants who need to turn a profit, as do the scribes, the assassins, and the initiates. The relations between freemen and slaves are odd, but "makes sense" within this universe. As I am currently working on expanding Tyrants of Saggakar, that part held interest.

The book done, I hit Wikipedia to learn more about the series. WOW! I had no idea this was a BDSM super series! I'm not into that and I did not get that vibe from the book. In retrospect, I can see it. Those currents are there, I just did not see them but they are there.

So what did I think about it. It was good but not great. I would give it 3.5 stars out of 5, which I must round out to a 4. Now would I read some more? I'm on the fence about it (one could say I'm not bound to an answer).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Retribution of Scyrah Forces

More long-painted models I put this here. I purchased these models and they were already converted at the time. When I bought them, I planned on using them for Starfinder or something like that. However, since I have yet to find something to play Sci-Fi games I like (I really need to dig into Esper Genesis), they merely gather dust under the TV...

I like these models and the "stormtrooper" pattern I did them in, which is the standard color scheme Privateer Press gives them.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

[Kinda Book Review] Battle For Rome by Ian Ross

Another audiobook. This one a historical fiction novel.

When I picked this up, I did not know it was book 3 of a series (Twilight of Empire). Gah. That's why I hate series.

I found this book with a moreless random search. I was intrigued by the premise. Most historical fiction is set in the late republic/early empire. However, this book is set at the dawn of the 4th century, covering the year 310-312.

Diocletian, the emperor who stabilized the Empire and set up the tetrarchy (where 4 co-emperors ruled part of the empire together). The tetrarchy failed almost immediately as Constantine who ruled out of Gaul and Maxentius who ruled out of Rome got to blows almost immediately.

The story follows Aurelis Castus an officer in Constantine's army and a down-to-earth soldier. The cast around him are interesting and colorful, presenting a fresco of the times, which is (un)surprisingly like today.

One of the high points are the battle scenes. They are clear. Concise. Fast-paced. Yet at the same time provide the reader with a taste of the chaos around Castus. Not only does Castus get involved in some of the large-scale battles, such as Verona or Milvian Bridge, but he also gets pulled into skirmished when he is not ready for battle. I was really engrossed in these scenes and could envision what happened all around me without issue.

The slower points move the story along well, focusing on relevant events, with an interesting overarching plot. He does not suddenly get into philosophical discussions. In fact, Castus doesn't really care for the Christian and when his secretary discusses with the bishop, he rolls his eyes and go off doing other things.

This book is aimed at those with an affinity for Roman history and the later Roman empire. I am a sucker for that period of history, so I'm a buyer.

I would've loved to get into the series at the start instead of in book 3, but from the first scene, I was hooked. That intro is very gripping and full of action. There are three more books for me to read on. The rest of the series has gone on my "Xmas Amazon List".

So how do I rate this book? I will give it a 4.5/5 (-.5 for the series thing), which I must round to a 5/5. I was really excited and wanted to keep going as I really enjoyed the plot and the approach to some of the characters.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

People of Akhamet

As usual, you can click on the image for a larger view of the characters.



Monday, September 9, 2019

Akhamet: Two More Adventures released

Two more Akhamet adventures to released on DriveThruRPG!

Dying of the Day

This was an adventure I wrestled with writing but it came together and really took on a life of its own. This adventure features one of the most memorable NPCs I did for Akhamet, Prince Diogenes the son of Apollo. To this day, I have requests to feature him again as I read murderous intent behind the request. Yet the Prince is a hero...

Getting the artefact was the easy part. Getting it to its destination will be more difficult than you can bear. Originally run as the FOE Gencon 2018 Special.
A 5th edition adventure with an Egyptian flair and a touch of Greek myths for characters 1 through 5 (Optimized for level 3)

Colloquially known as the "Prince Diogenes Adventure"

Death in Anupolis

Akhamet - Death in Anupolis is an investigation/ dungeoncrawl where the PCs are called in to find a missing priest. All of this set in Anupolis, perhaps the oldest and most ancient of cities in Akhamet.

This adventure, Randy-P ran multiple times at Gencon 2019. I ran it here in Murfreesboro and had a real blast.

Grisly murders turned the peaceful town of Anupolis as a murderer is on the loose. To make things worse, the killer takes different body parts from the victims.
A 5th edition adventure with an Egyption flair for characters 1-4 (optimized for level 3)

Get it on DriveThru RPG today

Get it on DriveThru RPG today

Friday, September 6, 2019

[Review] Game of Thrones Finale... was it that bad?

So I finally got through the final episodes of Game of Thrones. And frankly, I cannot get where all the hate comes from. It ends like the series has been thus far: with a "we survived" sort of ending.

Now I won't say I am super excited about the ending. It was "all right". I never read the books (and have no intention of reading them), so I don't care about that. So as a fan of the show, I have a few issues with it, but they have more to do with today's TV than with the show itself.

Here is my assessment of the result for some of the characters that made an impact.

Arya undeserved. She has the weakest of all ending. She sails off to somewhere. I did not care for her all along, so seeing her off doesn't matter to me one bit. Her entire story arc felt forced and contrived. She got powers of super assassins and she barely used them. Removing her would not have changed the story much (have Theon stab the Night King instead).

Brienne fitting. Now I do not like her. The character just makes no sense to me. Her one thing was when she got it on with Jamie... And I did not want to see that. Still her ending is fitting.

Bran fitting. Bran is a character that should've been better exploited. His true motives remain nebulous and thus left me pretty happy with him. With his powers, I am curious to see what he will do.

Cercei fitting. I doubt anyone liked her, she was the world's greatest bitch but her motivations held through. I liked her "just one good shot" line.

Danearis fitting. She had it coming all along and her action at King's Landing made her death necessary. She was a Targaryan through and through: just waiting for one small thing to make her go nuts.

Euron fitting. Okay this guy was a sleezy jerk. His brutal and graphic honesty was fun to see and towards the end, I rooted for this guy to live. Great pirate king!

Jamie fitting. He did move about for a LONG time after being stabbed in both sides. I got to really like this guy and was sad to see him die, but understood.

Jon Snow fitting. I like his exile at the end as he leaves the civilized world with the Wyldlings.

Night king undeserved. He died like a punk and his generals just stood there. Wasted opportunity.

Samwell undeserved. This guys should'a bit the bullet during the fight with the undead. He's not good for much. Still a fitting end for him.

Sansa fitting. The girl who got passed around the most ends up as Queen of the North. I cannot stand Sophie Turner with her dead eyes and emotionless face. I would not have cared if she died or was assassinated. However, that her end leaves the North in a positive note.

Theon fitting. His end redeemed him after all the crap he did to everyone (and what everyone did to him). He was a good guy in the end.

Tyrion fitting. This guy is perhaps one of the most polarizing figure as I loved and hated him: sometimes at the same time, other times in sequence. His transformation as a character was really remarkable and interesting throughout the series.

So, out of 13 characters, 3 I rated as "undeserved" and 10 as "fitting". So with that, I can declare myself satisfied with the ending of the series.

Would I watch more if they came up with more? Yes, I think I would. The finale left it open enough for more stories to be told in Westeros.

Unless the story focuses on Arya and her travels. And I don't want that.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Armchair Adventurers Labor Day Mini-con AAR

This past Saturday, I went up to Louisville KY for a one-day event held by Rich and Chris of Armchair Adventurers. The location was a store I did not know called Card-N-All (nice play on words to the Louisville Cardinals, the local university's sport teams).

After work on Friday, I got in the card and drove north, along I-65. Stopping for gas and coffee, I arrived at the store around 6:30 local time. I wanted to (1) see where it was and (2) I was to meet with Rich for dinner.

The store is nice and HUUUUUGE. I mean gigantic. After a short walk, we went to a local Italian restaurant. It was good stuff, then we returned to Card-N-All where I helped him a little with some administrative stuff.

Then I left and checked in to my hotel. My original plan was to have ActionMan come with me, but he got in trouble for doing something stupid at school, so this would be a solo day! Excellent I could watch Ridiculousness for hours on my own.

Saturday morning, I showed up 30 minutes early to get ready for the game. People were filtering in.

I had planned to run Akhamet for the first two slots, having both Gencon adventures, the newly released The Tomb of Prince Tsubeteb and Desert Pearls. Letting the table decide what they wanted to play, they chose the Tomb. It was a fun game, filled with the typical twists and turns, only enhanced by the craziness of the players.

I had planned to run the other adventure for the second slot, but I did not have enough players for a table. We re-shuffled and I sat to play at Aileen's Call of Cthulhu game.

Let me go on an aparte. I was excited for this adventure because the game used the 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu. 7e is the first edition that massively departs from previous editions of play. I had never played 7e before and wanted to play before investing time into it. Well, after playing it, it is like a riding a bicycle or meeting with the old gang to play another game of a twenty-year old campaign...

The adventure was interesting as each of us was a group of ladies from a club of good women in the 1920s. The characters were interesting and had simple enough background to make each of them have an interesting personality. I played Delilah Scott, whose husband Brother-Reverrend Samson Scott of London, was part of a very exclusive Gentlemen's Club. The others were similarly intriguing: Charlie the huntress, Nell the bookworm, Flo the old cougar, and Lana the Russian ballerina (there is someone I forget). Fun times. Fun times. I spent four hours with a bad Georgian accent. I managed to escape this, but I can imagine Delilah in a straight jacket rocking back and forth, saying "Jeezus" every few seconds.

For the last slot, my original plan was to play something. I had originally plan on playing Matt-M's Cthulhu adventure. However, Matt was taken to the hospital in the days before and could not attend. So I offered to Rich and Chris that I could run an old Cthulhu adventure I wrote years before. So I ran "In Darkness, I wait", which is set in World War II. After less than an hour of play, the party trimmed itself down to half.

The two new players who fled when the shooting started hid for a while and returned to explore some more and discover what was going wrong.

The day was done and I spend time talking with JD out in the parking lot. I headed to the hotel, made a pit stop at Waffle House, then sleep.

The Good

- Rich and Chris are super dynamic, friendly, and responsive. I really hope this event will grow and happen more often; I heard talks of twice a year. Well guys, you have a volunteer down here in Tennessee.

- The venue is great. Close to food in a strip mall. The team was super welcoming and friendly. I mean, a story that sells RPGs, miniatures, gundam minis, and video games? And fill with people on a Saturday? This is a place I would want to be. A lot. Often. Alas, I am no longer in Louisville (Chad will comment about this)

- The attendees wanted to play and try out new things. This is something I am always very excited to see. People played one game then another.

The Improvable

- The typical Attendance as there could've been more people. A few tables did not go off, but everyone got to play something they seemed to have enjoyed. Was the attendance lower because of the long weekend? I don't know.

- Matt-M's Health should improve. I will keep him in my prayers.

For the next time

- Bring ActionMan with me so he could be exposed to more games and gaming styles.

So by now, you should no longer ask yourself "Will you be back, JP?" Yes. Yes, I plan to be back next time.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

[Old Pro Tricks] Historical Campaign and Setting Writing

I am mentoring a guy I met on Facebook, Paul-O. He is creating a campaign setting based on a historical period I find fascinating. We started talking as my experience in such things could help him deal with some of the pitfalls of doing this. Part of his latest round of question yielded experience I thought could be useful to all.

He plans on publishing his setting in the future, something I will look forward to seeing.

I scrubbed the name of the people and locations to keep his idea private.

[Paul] What makes for better storytelling: having the characters start somewhere on the [Sea], which is the trade route crossroads and at the border of the approaching destruction of the [Historical] war machine? Or, start the players inside the ruthless [Historical] empire, potentially as displaced conquered people, rebellious citizens, or loyalists on a quest?

This is where you need to change from thinking as a GM and thinking as a setting writer.

As a GM you decide what your players will do: kill the orcs, conquer the city, destroy the evil god. This is where you decide what happens. As a setting writer, you must separate yourself from those concerns.

IF D&D were a play, the setting writer paints the set and the decor. Where is this? Why here and not there? Who are the big players? The adventure writer is the director working from his own script.

Since YOU will not be at every table, the plot of things at your table and at mine will be different, but set in the same place. You may decide the [Historical] are the bad guys whereas I may decided I want the PCs to fight against the [Historical II] rebels in my city. Both plots are equally valid and the more grey/ open to interpretation to set that line, the more adventure potential you open. Monsters are bad guys and few PCs bat an eye at going and killing beasts or fiends. However, killing many other humans is something different and should be see as such.

So your [Historical] could be aggressive and militaristic with a penchant for heavy-handed tactics but their empire is crumbling from internal pressure. The [Historical II]s are on the rise but many think they are [Historical] 2.0, the [Historical III] may use dirty tactics in war and hate both, and the [Historical IV] are officially allied to the [Historical II] but sell secrets to the [Historical]. This give a GM more pieces to play with.

True the rulers of [Historical] may be evil and those of [Historical II] good, but even if the leader is of a given alignment does not make the whole country like that. One may be good but a zealot for [Historical God] and another may be evil but concerned mostly with the creation of defenses. A good-aligned leader may hire assassins to protect his people. This makes the character relatable, interesting, and complex

There are VERY FEW historical people you can qualify as "pure good" (Jesus and the Apostles) and more as "pure evil" (Hitler and Stalin). I firmly dislike the current attitude that if someone does something bad or stupid one time, that person needs to be shunned and outcast forever. I did some stupid things as a kid and changed my ways.

A character that is pure as snow (as we now see too much on TV) or with blemishes that are meaningless are not interesting. You don't want perfect people, you want them to have inner conflict. One person hates his spouse, another is broke but no one knows about it yet, and another plans to abscond with another man's wife.

That create conflicts: within the character and in the setting. And conflict is what leads to adventure. Alignment should not be the only factor in determining what an NPC does. One of the best NPCs ever: Lancelot. By all account, a good and true knight. When given the opportunity, he slept with his king and best friend's wife.

So I ask you, does "Lawful Good" tell you everything about Lancelot?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

[Kinda Book Report] Glen Cook - Black Company: The Silver Spike

Audiobook.

Silver Spike CoverNow if you are a fan of the Glen Cook's Black Company series (I am), this one is a special treat in that it follows the events of The White Rose where the decimated Black Company is heading south. After buying more of Glen's books at Hypericon, I wanted to get back into the BC universe.

This book can best be described as a spinoff. It features a number of characters that left or opposed the BC in the first cycle of the series. In many ways, this is a sort of epilogue to the Black Company empire-shattering tour of the North. This was a very different type of book from the rest of the series in that it is less militaristic and more along the lines of "regular" fantasy book, while still fitting in the univerSE of the BC.

The story starts with a group of characters: four random low-level thieves decide to go and steal the Silver Spike that was used to destroy the Dominator at the end of Shadows Linger. The story then brings back Bomanz, Raven, Darling, Silent and the Limper as a(nother) villain.

The characters are interesting and have realistic development, with complex interactions. The four thieves were highlights with plot twists. Old Man Fish started off very low-key and grew into a pretty cool character.

I will say that unlike Path to the coldness of heart, the story end with a climax that is epic and awesome. Most story arcs are closed off (a lot of people die) but leave the door open on enough character for a possible sequel or writing them back into the main storyline.

If I had to rate this one... I'd go with a 5/5.