New LEGO Set – Tower of Orthanc

I came across this video revealing a brand new LEGO Lord of the Rings set – the Tower of Orthanc (aka Saruman’s tower from the Two Towers movie). With over 2000 pieces, it recreates the tower in amazing detail, down to a light-up Palantir. It includes minifigures of Gandalf, Saruman and Grima Wormtongue, as well as a buildable Ent!

It comes out in July, so you’ve got a bit of time to make some space (it’s over 70cm tall) and save some cash (RRP is USD199). 

Minifig Monday 5

CaveManIt’s that time of the week again, and today we’ve got the Caveman from Minifigure Series 1. He’s sporting an impressive beard that complements his stylish caveman attire. And let’s not forget that essential caveman accessory, the club.

Looking back at series 1, it’s interesting to see how far the minifig sets have come, adding numerous unusual minifigures to the mix. Still, the caveman is a classic and a worthy addition to any collection.

On micro-transactions

If there’s one thing that most gamers seem to despise (besides always online requirements in single player games), it’s micro-transactions. Those little nudges to spend just a little bit of money to play faster or better than normal, or even just to look cooler.

There are some games that are doing it right. They’ve introduced micro-transactions in a non-intrusive way, never making the player feel forced into buying the extra content. Guild Wars 2 is an excellent example of this – it’s free to play, meaning no pesky monthly subscription, but there is plenty you can spend real money on. These are mostly vanity items, like dyes, pets and town outfits, but there are also extra character or bank slots available to purchase. But it gets better – players can earn in-game currency and exchange it for gems, the currency used to buy these special items.

Needless to say, I’ve spent a fair bit of real money to get all the extra character slots I wanted, as well as that all important bank space. And a couple of makeovers for my characters. It’s unlikely that I would have spent this money if I had felt pressured or forced into it, or if there was a monthly subscription.

There are plenty of mobile games that fall into this ‘good’ micro-transaction category. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Pixel People, a cute little iPad game where you build a space colony by cloning different people together. Needless to say, it has a special currency that’s used to speed things up and build better buildings, and you can earn this currency by playing the game. So I’ve spent a few dollars to improve my experience. I’ve done the same where I’ve enjoyed a game and wanted to support the developers.

Then there are the games that give micro-transactions a bad name. I won’t name names, but you know the ones: you’ve barely been playing very long and it’s already becoming clear that the game is not as ‘free to play’ as advertised… Perhaps there are special buildings or other bonuses only available to paying customers. Or worse: limiting your turns/play time/energy unless you pay for more. And my personal nemesis: the game interface is designed so that it is easy for you to accidentally spend your hard-earned gems on stupid things like speeding up building production!

I consider this an underhanded way of going about things. I’d much rather pay for the game upfront than constantly be bombarded with requests to buy more gems/diamonds/etc. I think the problem is worse when the games are aimed at children, who might happily press the ‘buy now’ button and suddenly Daddy’s (or Mommy’s) credit card is $100 lighter…

For better or worse, micro-transactions seem to be here to stay. I just hope the games that use the more ‘honest’ model are the ones who win. They’re certainly the ones who’ll be getting my money!

New GM – Session 4

CoreBook

After a longer than usual break from the game, both the players and the game master were a bit rusty. I was quite nervous as I wasn’t sure I could remember everything that I had prepped (even with my notes and the adventure path book in front of me!) I hadn’t had time to read as much as I would have liked, and in the end I only managed to read up on the details of the town of Sandpoint. Still, this gave me a feel for the locations and NPCs in the area.

Fresh from the goblin raid on Sandpoint, our heroes were ready for their next challenge (after a bit of healing from the town cleric, that is). I particularly enjoyed the boar hunt with Aldern Foxglove, as his keen interest in our heroic monk was really rather fun to roleplay. Their investigations soon led them to Sandpoint Glassworks, where the first real combat of the session took place.

I must admit, my players did something I didn’t expect for this fight, breaking a window and attacking from outside the building. This created something of a bottleneck for both players and enemies. It also meant I had to figure out new tactics for the enemies, as this wasn’t covered in the book! (It also meant that my carefully drawn battle map wasn’t really used!)

The next part was the biggest learning exercise for me, however. I had neglected to read over the boss’s stat block as carefully as I should have, meaning I couldn’t take advantage of all his abilities, such as his sneak attack and high manoeuvrability, effectively dooming him to be killed or captured in the fight. While his capture wasn’t a bad outcome for the PCs, it did mean that the fight wasn’t as challenging as it could have been.

All in all, a fun session with some nice opportunities for me to see where I can improve for next time.

Minifig Monday 4

VampireIt’s Monday again, and that means it’s time for a new minifig! This week I present the terrifying vampire minifigure. This is not your typical vampire who can pass as human if you don’t look too closely, and he certainly doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight. No, this is the feral vampire, more bat-like in appearance than his ‘normal’ vampire cousins.

With his special arm extensions and his oversized ears, you wouldn’t want to meet this character in a dark alley. No doubt he would swoop down from above and attack before you even knew he was there…

Combat Manager

CombatManagerWhile I love my collection of Pathfinder RPG books, they are actually a bit of a pain to have at the gaming table, especially when you’re running a combat that involves monsters from all three Bestiaries. I have looked at some length for a solution to this problem, there just didn’t seem to be a ‘physical’ way to do it. Our dining table just doesn’t have that much room for piles of books or papers. Nor is there really a practical place to put a laptop.

This problem led me to search for a suitable iPad app that would do the trick. While I could have kept a browser with various tabs open, I felt that I had to be missing that perfect app that would handle all of this for me.

Finally, I stumbled upon the answer. I have tried various apps for both iOS and Android, and a few for Windows as well, and was disappointed every time. Then I found Combat Manager, a free Windows app that also happened to be available for iOS at a very reasonable price. A few sessions later, and both my hubby and I are using to help run combats in our respective games. I was impressed that the iOS version allows you to save groups of monsters to use in combat, so I can prepare ahead of time and just open up the file when a particular combat comes up.

Combat Manager also allows you to look up feats, spells, monsters, rules and treasure for the Pathfinder system. You can even advance monsters to make them a bit tougher. It really is a fantastic app and worth checking out.

New GM – Session 3

Rise_Book

For my third session, I had several weeks to prepare, and I was a bit more confident in what I wanted to do. So I picked up my Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition and started reading the first chapter. I felt I wanted to know how the chapter turned out before starting, though this alone took me a long time! By the time game night came along, I only had a few days to re-read the sections I thought we were going to cover in that session and make a few notes.

Even with all my preparation, I still felt extremely nervous. I had notes, maps, tokens, sound clips, player handouts… Admittedly, when we actually got to playing the game, we didn’t get nearly as far as I had expected, so I suppose I was a bit over-prepared! However, this gave me a lot more confidence, which I think was important to my and my players’ enjoyment of the game.

Needless to say, my PCs had a great time at the Sandpoint Swallowtail festival, enjoying the various games I found in Wayfinder #7 (via the Paizo messageboards for this AP). When it came to combat, things went rather well, and thanks to some horrible rolls by the PCs (three fumbles in a row by the monk!), the challenge rating was just about right, even though the PCs were already second level.

In preparation for my upcoming sessions, I’ll be reading as much as I can of the rest of the campaign – I’ve already started by reading the synopses for each chapter. Closer to the time I’ll recap what I think we’ll cover in that session, but for now, I’m quite excited to see how things turn out.

While the monk has been excelling in combat, our ranger has suffered from a series of bad rolls, so I’ll also be thinking of alternative ways to use his out-of-combat skills. I can’t wait until fourth level when he gets to go looking for a pet. He’s chosen the beastmaster archetype, so the entire range of animal companions will be available to him.