Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Just got back from a matinee screening of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

A few random thoughts on the movie, in no particular order ... I've had a couple eggnogs since seeing the movie, so don't expect anything too intelligent! And please note this is not an actual review! OK, maybe it is a review ... of sorts.

SPOILER ALERT - I think we all know how it ends, but nonetheless, you have been warned. :-)

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Smaug gets killed before the subtitle "Battle of the Five Armies" appears. Wow. No preamble. They pick up right where film two left off. Smaug obviously burns Lake Town to cinders but gets heroic black spear-killed by Bard with a makeshift bow in the town bell tower, with the help of his son. I liked this early kill off, and it set a good pace for the film.

Can someone shut Tauriel up please. Whiny elf. She goes through some kind of emotional journey or something apparently during the three films. Maybe Evangeline (spelling?) Lily is just a bad actress but I couldn't buy into it at all. The whole Kili-Tauriel relationship is so forced. I hated the Tauriel character from the start and she doesn't get any better during this film. Near the end I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes when she cries to Thranduil about why it hurts so much after Kili gets ... well, killed. Because its real, Thrnaduil replies. Pul-lease! *barf*

The White Council rescues Gandalf and confronts the Ringwraiths and Sauron at Dol Guldur. Very cool scene, loved it! Saruman and Elrond kick some wraith ethereal ass for the most part and then Galadriel goes all Hot Dark Elf Chick (makes sense when you see it, remember Fellowship? But better!) with turned up to 11 magic powers on Sauron and blasts him (presumably) off to Mordor. Someone should do a Tolkien Mirror Universe movie so we can see Nasty Gladdy more. :-)

Sandworms of Dune! Oh wait ... I mean Giant Toothy Rockworms of the Misty Mountains! These big critters eat tunnels through the mountains to get Azog's army to the Lonely Mountain on the sly, sneaky-like, except when they shake the earth and bust a rock chew move and everyone goes gaga ... and then they promptly saunter back down the tunnels. Pretty spectacular visuals, but I don't recall those things from the Hobbit book. lol If I was Azog, I'd be like WTF! Hey, wormies, get the heck on the battlefield and eat the damn way into the Lonely Mountain for frig's sake! Big enough plot hole to drive a tunnel eating mountain worm through. But anyway ... It's all good and it's a pretty freaking cool moment at the start of the battle.

Dain Ironfoot leads his dwarf army into the battle riding a pig-boar beast. I loved this character. He's exactly how I (and many others) like to play dwarves in D&D. Loud, insulting and funny. He headbutts orcs in battle and kicks ass. Totally over the top, it's great!

Thorin death scene with Bilbo. Gotta admit, I got choked up a bit. Freeman and Armitage's acting is well done, with Thorin coming to grips with his regret over trying to have Bilbo killed (earlier in the film) and his impending demise, and Bilbo holding in his grief and being supportive to a dying friend but just enough grief spurts out that you really empathize with him. At least I did anyway. Good stuff.

At any rate, gotta head out for dinner with wifey, so will end here.

Overall, I like this (upon first viewing) film a lot better than the first two. It seems to hold together better overall and has a good mix of tension building, action and character moments. The Bard character plays a bigger role than Bilbo, it seemed to me, which I found a bit odd considering it's called The Hobbit, but your mileage may vary on that part. It's not so much that Bilbo is put in the background as Bard is brought to the foreground for much of the film.

If you managed to make it this far without wanting to hit me ... I give The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies 3.5 gp out of 5. It would be a 4.5 gp regular fantasy film, but considering it's Tolkien and Jackson and the writers have so needlessly butchered and re-arranged much of the good professor's works for "makes for better film and we need other characters bullspit", that I can't give any higher rating than that! :-)

But go see it, it's a rocking good film!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wastelands Flora ... or Eat These Plants for Good Times!

One of the (many) reasons I geeked out over Iron Crown Enterprises back in the 80s was the selection of flora detailed in the various Rolemaster and MERP game supplements. I always enjoyed reading this stuff—even if I only rarely refereed ICE games—and it inspired me to include various useful (i.e. non-treasure goodies for players) flora into my D&D games. It’s a cool way to add a little bit of flavor to a campaign setting using in-game mechanical effects, but requiring minimal effort on the referee’s part.  
     I plan to continue this tradition with the Wastelands of Kreth. Today’s post has my rough notes on several plants that can be used by characters to ward off starvation, heal-up when blasted by fire or lightning, cure the sniffles, or get really high (and possibly go mad for a bit!) Obviously, these are not “monster” plants, like the kampfult, tri-flower frond or strangle weed. Although I do have several of those I’m working on for the campaign, this post includes just a sampling of benign vegetation. 
     The plants are presented below for 5e D&D as it is becoming more and more apparent to me that I will be employing the new system for the campaign once it gets rolling. 
     I posted some fairly negative opinions about my D&D Next playtest experiences previously on the blog. But it seems that since acquiring the new rules (starter set and the three core books are what I have thus far) over the last several months, I have softened my criticisms of the system overall—the D&D team have actually done a good job of improving it over the playtest versions. I like most of what I am reading, even if some of the character class features are still a wee bit too munchkin-fiddly for my tastes. If I run this system, I may just stick to the Basic Rules for options available to starting characters. We'll see. I’m especially impressed by what I’ve read of the Dungeon Master’s Guide so far. I must say, this book presents you a lot of options without drowning you in byzantine subsystems and excruciating details. Unlike my flora notes below! :-) 
     But anyway, I’m getting distracted. On to the damn plants. Eat these (or spread one of 'em over your nasty burnt body) for good times!

CAFRUUTI CACTUS 
The cafruuti cactus is one of the hardier plants in the Wastelands, able to thrive in even the driest conditions. The cactus flesh varies in color from green-blue to green-black and is covered with four-inch-long white needles. Numerous rings of flesh radiate out from its six-foot-tall central trunk. The widest rings are on top, giving the cactus a distinctive inverted tree-like appearance.
   The flesh and milk of the cactus may be consumed. Harvesting the cafruuti’s milk and flesh requires a DC 10 Wisdom (Survival) check. Success indicates one day’s sustenance for one person. Each extra point of success on the check yields an extra day’s worth, to a maximum of ten days. The milk and food will keep for twenty days before spoiling.

FLAMING SAQTRA
The flaming saqtra is a foot-tall, pink and yellow bulbous-stemmed plant, topped by an orange flower dotted with three small holes and ringed with four white leaves. The plant derives its name from the incandescent display it uses to lure insect prey. Every night the saqtra releases a glowing cloud of spores from its flower, attracting flying insects. Snatched by sticky tendrils shooting from the flower’s three holes, the insects are drawn down into the flower and consumed. The colorful spore cloud is otherwise harmless.
     The sticky sap upon the tendrils is produced in the bulbous stem and when properly harvested acts as a burn salve. Preparing one dose of the sap requires an hour (or a short rest) and a DC 15 Intelligence (Nature) or Wisdom (Medicine) check, at the referee’s discretion. When applied (as an action) to a creature who has suffered fire or lightning damage, the salve restores 2d4+2 hit points. The salve will not heal other types of damage.
     Once prepared and stored in a vial the salve will last for up to one year. A flaming saqtra plant produces enough sap for 1d4 doses of salve. Removing all the sap from the saqtra will kill it within a week, as it will no longer be able to catch food. One dose of saqtra salve is worth 40 gp.
     The flaming saqtra is found throughout the Wastelands, except in cold or mountain regions.

YOGOLO BERRIES
The sweet nectar and bright violet and yellow flowers of the two-foot-tall yogolo bush make it an attractive plant for wasps, bees, hummingbirds and similar creatures. For humanoids, however, the plump red berries with yellow spots that grow beneath the yogolo’s drab green leaves are its appealing feature—eating one of these marble-sized berries restores one hit point.
     Humanoids build up a tolerance to the healing effects of yogolo berries rapidly. The first day berries are eaten, they provide healing normally. On the second day within a week that berries are eaten, two berries are required to heal one hit point. On the third day within a week, the berries taste delicious but no longer provide healing effects. It takes one full week for a humanoid to lose its tolerance to yogolo berries.
     Each yogolo bush can be harvested for berries by spending ten minutes and making a DC 12 Intelligence (Nature) check. A successful check yields 2d6 berries, plus one extra berry for each point of success on the check, to a maximum of twenty berries per bush. Once harvested, yogolo berries will spoil in ten days and lose any healing properties. A single yogolo berry is worth 5 gp.
     Yogolo bushes are found in forests, jungles, marshes and other wetlands.

HU’FA FLOWER 
This lily-like purple and black flower has white and yellow streaks, and blooms twice yearly from the hardy, narrow-leaf hu’fa weed. Hu’fa weed is used to brew curative teas and elixirs that act as mild analgesics to help relieve common illnesses.
     Each hu’fa weed can be harvested by spending a short rest (or one hour) and making a DC 10 Intelligence (Nature) check. A successful check yields 2d12 batches of crushed leaves for curatives. A single batch of hu’fa weed is worth 1 sp.
     The hu’fa flower is a potent psychotropic hallucinogen when prepared properly. The ghostpriests of the human mordai-sul tribe, for example, enhance their spiritual visions by consuming hu’fa and wandering off to commune with the apparitions of their ancestors in dark mountain caves, high clifftops and other precarious locations. The ghostpriests believe that the more perilous the spot of their vision, the greater clarity they achieve—the hallucinogenic hu’fa flower enables them to overcome their fear of such places.
     The hu’fa flower is also poisonous if not prepared properly. Despite this, hu’fa is a popular recreational drug. In most cities, secretive dens and parlors are found in less-than-savory districts, frequented by hu’fa traders, casual users and addicts alike.
     Preparing the hu’fa flower for use as a hallucinogen requires a long rest (or eight hours), alchemical apparatus and a successful DC 13 Intelligence (Nature) or Wisdom (Medicine) check, at the referee's discretion. Proficiency with alchemist’s supplies allows the preparer to add his or her proficiency bonus to this check.
     On a successful check, the hu’fa flower is prepared into a liquid form and any creature ingesting it experiences 1d6 hours of bliss, enlightenment, euphoria or some other altered state of mind. If the optional Sanity ability score is used in the game (see the DMG), a referee might decide to have the creature ingesting the hu’fa make a DC 13 Sanity saving throw or suffer a short-term madness before the pleasant effects set in.
     On a failed preparation check, the alchemical process is botched, but the liquid is still preserved. A creature ingesting the ruined liquid must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1d6 x 10 minutes. If the preparation check turns up a critical failure, the would-be drug cooker spills the liquid on himself, sets himself on fire, or suffers some other nasty effect at the referee's discretion. (Madness, as above, hint! hint!)
     Each hu’fa flower can be harvested for 1d4 doses of the hallucinogenic drug and each dose has a value of 10 gp.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wastelands Inspirational Art - Tuomas Korpi

This is the second in a series of posts showcasing visual artists whose work has inspired some aspect of the Wastelands of Kreth.

Tuomas Korpi is an illustrator and designer from Finland. You can find out more about Tuomas here on his website.






Friday, November 14, 2014

Nirothans: Humans of the Wastelands

Today's post includes my rough notes for another human culture, or "subrace," that inhabits the Wastelands of Kreth. Again, this post is presented for 5e D&D, but is easy enough to reverse-engineer for old-school games (which I intend to do in the near future as well). I don't have an image to go with this human culture as they are a bit unusual, but I think they have a fairly cool pulpy vibe about them.


NIROTHAN
Description: Nirothans are slender, ebony-skinned humans with hair ranging from coppery-white to silvery-purple. They also have narrow, widely-set eyes varying from bright yellow to deep red. Their other distinguishing feature is a pair of nine-inch long antennae that protrude from their forehead and curve back above their bat wing-shaped ears. Nirothans often decorate their antennae and ears with jewelry indicative of their social status. The antennae focus the nirothan empathic abilities that enable them to read surface thoughts and emotions of humanoids and, to a very limited extent, non-humanoid creatures. When amongst other nirothans, this empathic ability is stronger, nearing true telepathy.
Homeland: The nirothan homeland is hidden in a region of the Sea of Choking Dust called the Dunes of Nirotha.
Culture: Nirothan society is rigidly hierarchical yet remarkably free of laws and regulations. A clan or house elder rules on all legal, economic and social matters involving his or her extended family. When clans conflict, two elders either negotiate a mutually beneficial settlement, or go to war to prove the victor. The victorious clan imposes its will (one of its bargaining positions) upon the vanquished clan. Nirothan houses often have a reputation for their prowess in a particular field, such as trade, craftsmanship, artistry, combat, and the like. Wise clan elders encourage diversity amongst the individual houses under their rule.
Religion: Spirituality, prayer and offerings are central focuses of nirothan life. Their chief deity is the Sun God, Amok-Rateh. Other prominent deities include Nivatha, goddess of family, the moons, healing and protection, and wife of Amok-Rateh; Kotasep, god of knowledge, secrets and magic; Ulat-Fara, goddess of bravery, valor and justice; Vunap, god of the underworld, judgment and death; Heturan, god of nature and storms; and many others. One commonly-accepted belief amongst nirothans is that they were born on another world—called Nirotha—and were magically sent to this world by the gods before a great cataclysm to preserve their culture and expand their knowledge and understanding of all things.
Age: Nirothans mature in their late teens and live between 80 and 100 years.
Alignment: Nirothans may be of any alignment, although evil nirothans are rare.
Languages: Nirothan and one other language. Nirothan script is a mixture of pictograms and hieroglyphs, and is challenging for non-nirothans to read. Similarly, nirothans often find it difficult to read the “tiny little scratches” that comprise most written human languages.
Nirothan Names: Nirothans do not have individual names as such; rather they bear titles indicating their status within their clan or house. Nirothan adventurers usually adopt or are given “names” by their companions and friends from other cultures.
Size: Medium. Nirothans range between 5 and over 6 feet tall.
Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Ability Score Increase: Choose two different ability scores to increase by one.
Empathic Senses: Your empathic senses gain you advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks. When you reach 3rd level, once per day you are able to enhance your empathic senses to function as if you cast the spell detect thoughts. When you reach 5th level, once per day you may create a telepathic link with one creature within 30 feet of you for up to one hour as if you cast the spell telepathy. An unwilling target may make a Wisdom saving throw to resist the link. When you are amongst other nirothans, you may create a telepathic link (again, as per the spell telepathy) with any single nirothan within 30 feet of you. If the nirothan wishes to resist this link, he or she must make a Wisdom saving throw to do so. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for all of these spells. 
Skill: Choose one skill you are proficient with.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pulpy Humans for the Wastelands

One of the minor goals of my Wastelands of Kreth campaign setting is to do humans some semblance of pulp fiction justice. Make them stand out a wee bit.

I don't necessarily mean game stats; rather I mean stand out culturally and physically. I want humans to be more diverse, have funky skin colors and anachronistic traits, try to make them more intriguing Pulpy-Cool-Dudes (and Dudettes!) and less typical Honky-Euro-Dudes.

To that end, I've been working on a bunch of human cultures, the rough notes for one of them is presented below for that new-fangled 5e D&D game (shocking, I know!) This human culture was mostly inspired by the Frank Frazetta painting The Silver Warrior (shown here) as well as my love for all things viking. It is also the one culture I'm working on which probably retains the most Euro Trappings ... so maybe it's not the best example to lead with ... but what the heck, here it is. :-)


VRAGNAK
Description: Vragnak are a broad, strong and warlike people with slightly bluish-hued skin. Their hair ranges from straw yellow to crimson brown to black, and their eyes vary from icy blue to dark grey.
Homeland: Vragnak hail from the icy northlands of the Shimmering Glacier.
Culture: Vragnak culture is often seen as violent, superstitious, and primitive by southerners. It is an amalgam of warrior codes, social castes (warriors, priests, makers and slaves), and animist spirituality. In truth, they are far more sophisticated and much less violent than perceived by mostvragnak build heated domed villages, aqueducts that don't freeze, greenhouses, and they traverse the icy plains of the north upon swift ice sleds. The vragnak are dire enemies of the gugnir, a race of walrus men who the vragnak believe were corrupted by the demonic Ice Hag. Vragnak and gugnir fight on sight and show no mercy. The vragnak maintain no relations with the southlands and mistrust all but their own people, except for dwarves. For as long as the dwarves and vragnak can recall, the two have traded and maintained friendly relations. Otherwise, the vragnak occasionally raid lands to the south for slaves, goods, and wealth not found in their frozen homelands. 
Religion: Vragnak honor and pay respect to a small pantheon of animal and nature spirits—the Great Bear, the Deathfrost Wyrm, the Warrior Walrus, the Hunter Snow Leopard, the Mighty Mammoth, the Demonic Ice Hag, the Tree of Life, the Frozen Dead, to name just a few. Children and adults are sacrificed on special occasions to appease the spirit and natural forces, as well as to bring good fortune to a great endeavorsuch as constructing a new village or raiding the southlands. Vragnak believe the world was partly shaped by giant men, so frost giants are both feared and honored by the northmen. 
Vragnak Names: (Male) Asag, Dagash, Gulbrek, Mortak, Sathok, Tyrus, Ugengol; (female) Agrida, Avyra, Brynd, Fakriga, Markursta, Sidrug, Vundra. 
Languages: Vragni and one other language, often Dwarven. Vragni is a choppy, guttural language strongly influenced by Dwarven. Vragni script is runic in form.
Age: Vragnak mature in their late teens and live between 50 and 70 years.
Alignment: Vragnak may be of any alignment.
Size: Medium. Vragnak range between 5 and over 6 feet tall. 
Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Ability Score Increase: Choose two different ability scores to increase by one. 
Feat: Choose one feat.
Skills: Choose one skill you are proficient with. 
Tools: You may substitute any tool proficiency gained from your class or background with vehicles (ice sled).