Thursday, June 30, 2011

Warhammer: Homebrew Doomflayer (Beta)

With tiny bits of flesh.

I didn't like the warp-grinder or the doom-flayer. So I decided to go for my own version.
Mind you, this is far from done. But I think we might be on to something great and quite skaven'ish.

Monday, June 27, 2011

D&D: Savage Tide Chapter 2 - The Bullywug Gambit

The Savage Tide – Chapter 2 ”The Bullywug Gambit”
It’s been some time since we last had the pleasure of diving into the Forgotten Realms and the tale of a small, and yet aspiring, adventuring party that sat out on a quest for fame and glory.

As a brief recap, I’m hoping to provide this section of my blog as a mixed review and campaign diary for my ongoing campaign ‘Savage Tide’. A series of adventures originally published in the ‘Dungeon’ Magazine. In chapter 2 our heroes, having now rid the city of Sasserine of the notorious Lotus Dragons, set out to hunt down Vanthus Vanderboren. Being the seemingly last leader of the guild to be alive, Vanthus must be brought to justice. And according to several documents discovered in the halls of the Lotus, he’d made his way to Kraken Cove in Blood Bay, in which he plans to ambush a shipment of treasure brought in by the Crimson Fleet.
But what presents as nothing more than a mere bounty-hunt, quickly turns into a dire confrontation, as the players have to race against the clock and rescue their beautiful patron Lavinia Vanderboren from certain death. And, of course, make some friends and see the wonders of the annual Wyrmfall Festival.
TBG is, as mentioned, the second installment in the campaign and is best suited for a party of third level adventurers. Compared to its predecessor the story starts playing a bigger role (which seems to be rather a common trait in the Paizo-campaigns, I must say) but still presents the players with a wide range of difficult encounters.
I’ve learned a lot from my previous chapters, including that my previous entry was way too long. I’ve therefore aimed for a more concise structure in this entry.
Part 1 – So we're going where, again?...
The Lotus Dragons were no more. The city of Sasserine was once again safe, though only a few people knew about it. The plans for seizing absolute control of the majority of the harbor-trade had been foiled by the four adventurers, Marcus the Warblade, Leopold the Bard, Devron the Sorceror and Bridget the Cleric. What was left of the rouge gang had been scattered to the four winds and the same night the adventurers sat down to plan their pursuit of Vanthus, the renegade brother of their patron Lavinia. Although Lavinia doubted that there would be much left of the stolen heritage, she was still keen on bringing her brother to justice. And she was eager to ask the heroes to track him down.
It seemed as if Vanthus was planning a surprise assault against the Crimson Fleet, stationed up in Kraken Cove, likely hoping for easy profit. Travelling by sea, the cove was nothing more than a short journey up the coast, which the heroes decided to employ. That same evening, they hired a captain and sat sail towards their destination. They were all pretty convinced that this would be an easy job.

Not much to say here. The players aren’t in a hurry so they have plenty of time to sell loot, scribe spells and do some preparations. If you want to help out your players, you can throw in something that will help against disease, as this will be an issue later.

Part 2 – I’ve got a bad feeling about this
The journey was quite uneventful, and the heroes spent the majority of it talking and planning what best to do, in case Vanthus wouldn’t come quietly. As they left the harbor, they noticed that the preparations had started for the annual Wyrmfall festival. Leopold the Bard told them that this was a common annual tradition in Sasserine, which dated all the way back to the foundation of the city. Apparently this involved the slaying of a great wyrm, which was now celebrated every year with parades, games and joyful music.  According to their calculations, they should luckily be back just as the first day of the festivities was about to set in.

When they reached the cove, the sun had slowly started setting, casting a blood-red gaze across the vast swamp that made of the majority of the landscape. Besides from a few rocks and cliffs, salty, disease-infected marshes lay wide as the eye could see, likely making all kind of overland travel impossible. Besides a few seagulls the heroes hadn’t had any company the entire journey.
They were, however, too busy to take notice, as they quickly spotted columns of smoke rise like a dire warning to every fool who’d dare approach the cove. It was obvious that something was burning.
As they soon realized, fire wasn’t the only concern, as the majority of Blood Bay truly lived up to its name. Scattered along the beach was mangled corpses and smashed pieces of debris, from what had likely once been a busy place of plunder and activity. Now it was nothing more than a watery graveyard.
As the heroes made their entry into the cove they noticed that the entire fleet of once proud ships were now set ablaze and as good as sunk to the ocean floor. Only one, a proud and sturdy ship, was gently rocking back and forth at the edge of the perimeter. It carried the name ‘The Sea Wyvern’.
The heroes also noticed a strange sight, when they stood out of their dinghy. Washed ashore was not only several pieces of driftwood, sail and occasional barrels, but also a strange fleshy mass, reeking with moist red substance. Apparently this had once been fish. But it seemed like something had made their internal organs grow at rapid speed, quickly resulting in a bloaty death.
As the heroes made their way up the coast they scavenged what could be salvaged. The amount of destruction was immense, almost as if the entire fleet of pirates had gone insane and decided to destroy every single piece of equipment within their reach.
“Who could possibly have done this? Vanthus?” Bridget asked as she picked up a few potions that were partly buried in the sand. “Perhaps,” Marcus said “it would certainly fit his style. However, is he was here to lay claim to the plunder, destroying everything at the place seems like a really bad ide—“
“MONKEY!” Devron suddenly screamed, and pointed towards the sparse vegetation growing on the cliffs. A tall howl from several mouths erupted the evening-air, as four mockeries of nature descended from the palm trees. Carrying nothing but a very few similarities to their once former selves, these monkeys were warped, deformed and twisted beyond recognition. Boils and tumors grew like masses of fungus across their backs, several of them blown and covered in yellow sticky material, and here and there sharp points of mutated bone penetrated the rough, hairless skin. Just like the fish, many internal organs had grown out of proportions, giving the already mutilated body a sinister appearance of something beyond this world. Additional eyes and tongues were wildly flickering from their faces, and yet it was clear that these beasts were burning with an inner hatred for all natural, and soon after the battle broke loose.
Not surprisingly the monkeys were no match for the expertise of the heroes, but they put up a significant challenge. Even as the final blows fell, Marcus noticed how these blasphemous entities kept fighting and spraying acidic material, till their bodies were utterly smashed.
And just as the battle neared its conclusion, an even more savage roar echoed down the beach, as two pirates, just as horribly mutated as the monkeys, emerged from beyond the debris to join the fray. Their voices were coated in madness, their words nothing more than mindless babbling, as they unleashed an unholy frenzy of attacks towards anything in their way.
A minute later, the heroes were recuperating, trading doubtful gazes.
“What in the Nine Hells happened here?”  Leopold gasped. Marcus shrugged and pointed with his glaive up the coast. Through the thin sheets of smoke, a dark cavern had become visible. The faint sounds of demented screams and yells were obvious. “I don’t know,” he said “but I’m pretty sure we’re about to find out…”

This is one of my favorite parts of the campaigns, as not only do I love those “Players arrive to a what-happened-here?-scene”. This is also the initial presentation of what they’re going to spend a long time fighting later on; The Savage Tide. Whereas they’re not supposed to figure that much out, I advice other GM’s to truly emphasize the horror and immense terror that took place here. I also made sure to let them know that the plant life had suffered greatly, and pretty much everything on the bottom of the ocean was disintegrated. Use your (morbid) imagination.
The adventure portrays the savage beings pretty much more…well, savage or monster’ish which I suppose fits better with D&D. I decided to go for a Warhammer-approach, in which the Shadow Pearls pretty much rely on chaos-energy to warp living beings into hideous abominations of nature. The more freakish the better.
Other great ideas is to have some of the mutated sailors eat each other on the beach, some of them might have grown together into hideous mockery of normality (maybe even fighting each other in this form), and if you want to be really sinister about it, it’s likely that some children would also be victims of the savage tide. The overall goal with this scene is to give the impression that something gruesome indeed has happened and that whatever caused it is so immensely unholy that it proves to be a serious threat to all of existence.
This is particularly important because the players won’t really hear more about the Shadow Pearls until chapter six, unless you take measures to supply that information. That’s a REALLY long gap (why, Paizo?) so make this scene memorable, by all means! Music from the Silent Hill games works WONDERS here!

Part 3 – Descend into madness
The cavern was moist and all torches were doused, and as the heroes progressed further their Light-spell revealed more signs of combat. The solid rock was splashed with stains of blood several places, and dismembered limbs and broken weapons laid scattered on the sandy floor. Navigation was further complicated by the echoing sound of tormented screams, originating from an unknown destination further into darkness.

It was certain that this was indeed the pirate-base they’d been looking for, but the place had been deserted in a riot. Or slaughtered. The caverns took them to an abandoned mess hall, in which more warped pirates were chopping up decayed pieces of flesh, howling in ghoulish delight as fresh meat presented itself. A former first-mate, now mostly crossbred with a baboon stitched with oozing wounds, grinningly appeared in the middle of the fight, and started planting blades in the backs of the heroes. “Come to me, meatbags!” he drooled. “Just give me a mouthful of your tasty pink flesh!”
More victims among the wildlife presented themselves, when they encountered the grim destiny of ‘Ripclaw’ the former pet-dinosaur of the fleet. Ripclaw was now a whirling mess of unstable energies and tentacles growing along his back, taking the fight directly to his enemies in the old store-room. Relentlessly the heroes fought on, and cut a way through into a gloomy cave, in which the maddened screams grew louder.

“Not only the sound of a madhouse… it IS a madhouse” Leopold sighed as his gaze travelled along the walls. Several cages were placed along them, containing eleven mutated people, flaying with rage as they hungered for flesh.  
“These are no pirates,” Devron mumbled and moved slightly to the right to avoid a grasping hand. “They’re just slaves, at the wrong place at the wrong time, who fell victim to this…curse. The only decent thing is to relieve them of their suffering”.
“I agree,” Marcus said “let these poor souls be at rest now”.
Death was swift for the slaves and only a moment later, silence was to seize the cave. But it didn’t. Far in the distance, roars and occasional swearing could be heard. It almost sounded like a women hurling out phrases such as “Ye think ye will get the best of me? Don’ make me laugh, boy!”
Mutual agreement was quickly reached to set out after the combat.
It took some time, though. Not because the distance was far, but because the intensity of the mutated pirates grew.  The players had a great time chopping through their remains, before they finally reached an isolated cavern, a dead end, in which a beautiful woman with dark hair had made her stand against a horde of savage pirates. Her clothes were in truth quite swashbucklerish themselves, but it was obvious that this combat would be to the death. Already she was in a pretty sore state, but still managed to look up at the heroes and sneer “Oi! Get in the fight or stay outta me way, buckos. These things are lookin’ to die, and I plan on obliging.”
The heroes instantly entered battles, providing her with a solid flank-charge. As the battle progressed, Leopold took the opportunity to inspect their newest sister-in-arms. As she swung through the air with a deadly grace, her ravenblack hair flew in big circles against her deeply tanned skin. Covering it was a black leather armor studded with fire opals and pearls that heaved every time she’d skewer a foe and laugh triumphantly. Often she would follow up with remarks such as “Ye picked the wrong lass to make a meal of today, matey!”. Taken her impressive swordplay into consideration, this happened quite often.
After the battle, she slunk down into a corner and breathed heavily as she started tending her wounds.  Biting a piece of bandage between her teeth she sneered “What manner of driftwood do we have here? Speak up! Your names, lubbers! If only so’s I can cut’em inta’ yer chests and save the undertaker some asking’ round!”
“There will be no need for that,” Bridget said, and evoked the power of her deity, as faintly glowing blue light healed the woman’s wounds. “I am Bridget, cleric of Shaundakul, traveler from Sasserine.  And these are my companions. We’re not here to fight anyone but Vanthus Vanderboren. Have you seen him?”
“Aye, I’ve seen the cur!” she spat “and let me say, ye be not the only one after that yellow dog!” Her voice was harsh, but did not cloak the faint shimmer of appreciation in her eyes, as the healing-spell did its work. “Ye rabble shall refer to me as Captain Harliss Javell. If there be anything to captain at all in this field’o battle…”
“What happened? Have you seen Vanthus?” Leopold gently interrupted.
“Aye, I have, friend. The fiend appeared here naught but a few days ago, filling us with slander and lies about fancy purchases and whatnot. The vomitous pig pretended to be a black marketer lookin’ for shiny stuff and we allowed him to stay. Seemed like a nice chap, but then, not an hour ago, he dumped a hold full o’ whale oil into the cove and lit it up.”
“What would he possibly hope to achieve by that?” Marcus asked
“Simple, it was nothin’ but a mere diversion. As I emerged from me cabin, I caught the bastard red-handed. Tryin’ ta rob ol’ Captain Javell? I stuck the fool in the arm and he squealed and dropped what he were tryin’t rob. A black pearl. Th’size o’a man’s fist, mind you! As it fell it cracked like an egg, some o’ Vanthus’s blood spattered the pearl and it boiled and flashed with light. I saw foul, chokin’ green gas spewin’ from it, burnin’ through the wood like acid. I grabbed th’thing, ran up and threw it inta’the water, but as it struck, the thing exploded!”
“So, the explosion caused all this havoc?”

“Nay…or, that may be. Things got a bit..weird. I felt kinda strange as green mist clouded me mind. Like a dire hunger was in me head. And the rage! Like I ne’er felt before. And then it was gone. Vanthus were there but him and I were the only humans left. That pearl, it did something to me crew. Turning them like this!” she disapprovingly tapped one of the corpses with her boot “Whatever that damnable pearl was, it turned good men into…man-eating freaks. Vanthus dove intoth’water t’get away. I did the same, only I headed for shore. Found me first mate Drevoraz. He’d resisted the change too, with a few others. We fought our way in here to help Captain Kigante…’cept he died not twenty minutes ago. Torn apart…Now, you fought your way in here. That means there ain’t much left of them out there, aye?”
“That is correct, and we’ve come to help. It seems like we share a goal, since we’re originally tracking down Vanthus. He is to be brought to justice for the crimes he has committed” Leopold said. “I take it then that he is no longer here?”

Harliss spat and smiled. “I know who he is. Th’Vanderboren name’s no secret to me. I know he’s got family in Sasserine. That be why I sent me right hand Drevoraz on his merry way to Sasserine as we speak. He’ll do for Vanthus’ sister, mum and pop and any other friends or family members that bastard has in that dunghill city. Cross the Crimson Fleet and we take everything in your life from ye. Best not forget that, boyo!”
“You did what?” Leopold snapped
“Ye heard me, cur. Now, move. I need ta’ get me belongings!”
The captain’s eyes narrowed.
“I mean, you’ve made a grave mistake. A huge mistake. Your right hand won’t find Vanthus in Sasserine. Especially not in the Vanderboren mansion! We’re hired by his sister. She’s seeking him as much as you are, if not more so. You’re bringing suffering and death to innocent people who’re on your side, don’t you see?” the bard insisted. “We don’t need to be opposing sides in this!”
Harliss eyed him for a while. With the pirates dead the only sound was now a faint wind breezing through the caverns. It seemed like ages before she finally spoke. The slight tremble in her words was obvious.
“I…” she began “I might’ve been…hasty…Is this really true?”
“Yes, Vanthus barely has any family left! Listen, woman, and look at these letters. He slew his own kin in cold blood. He doesn’t give two coins about them, and right now you’re damn well on your way to finish what he started, if your goons manage to slay the last heir!” Marcus boomed and showed her the papers from the Lotus Dragon-guildhall. Now Harliss was fumbling for words as she shook her head confused from side to side. “What a fool I be. I beg of you, please forgive this ol’ sailor for acting so blindly. Ye must hurry back. Warn your patron ‘bout the invasion! I doubt ye will be there in time, but let me help ya ‘s best I can!”

The captain hastily scribbled explicit instructions to her first mate on a piece of paper and instructed the heroes to present it to Drevoraz, otherwise he’d never believe them.
“Best of luck to ye,” she said as they all ventured out of the cave. “If ye be findin’ the swine known as Vanthus, stick a dagger in his side from ol’ Javell!”. They saw her setting out into the dusk with great haste. As they were left to themselves, the heroes looked at each other.
“How fast can we get back to Sasserine from here?” Marcus asked. Bridget frowned and said “I’m not sure. I have a feeling that it won’t be fast enough, no matter what…”

I intentionally left out some part of this dungeon. The players also find Brissa, Vanthus’ old flame from Sasserine, and a few other minor encounters. There are some encounters in here that might pose as a challenge, but nothing really serious.
The rooms are pretty lackluster although the slave pens make room for an interesting (albeit weighted) debate about what to do with the innocent slaves. The encounters are fewer and seem more relevant than in chapter one, and the overall atmosphere and purpose are both more evident. Good job. Again, I recommend music from Silent Hill, if you’re going to keep up the macabre and grotesque feeling inside the caverns.
The meeting with Harliss can be a test for your RP-skills, if you want to advance her a bit further than a salty pirate skank. If you’re not that ambitious you have nothing to fear. My players didn’t reach the top score on the diplomacy roll, so they didn’t manage to achieve the special token that would actually call Drevoraz off. The only real purpose the captain serves is to convey what happened and make sure that Vanthus is not to be seen again for a long time. The players will meet her again, much later in the campaign, but her role is so small, really, which also makes her a poor romance-option.

Chapter 3 – The Wyrmfall Festival
The journey home certainly felt a lot longer in the minds of the four heroes, as they were now certainly racing against time. Although Haliss never revealed the precise method of travel, their opponent obviously had a strong head start.
Once they arrived at Sasserine harbor, the atmosphere of joy and pleasantry was thick even before they made it into port. Faint music, hearty shouts and legions of colorful banners made up the welcome committee, as the entire city of Sasserine had started the festivities. However Drevoraz had chosen to, gaining access to the city unnoticed couldn’t have been hard amidst this mess.
“Captain,” Marcus gloomily said “get us docked, as fast as possible. Stay at the ship, and make sure nobody except us enter. If the resistance is hard we might need to get out of this revelry very quickly.”

Once ashore the four friends started making their way through the thick crowd, utilizing lots of pushing and ‘Make way!’. The city guard wasn’t of much use, barely able to keep order as it was already. A bunch of drunkards bid the heroes welcome and offered them a ‘Heal on the Beach’ as a customary introduction to the festival. As they trudged through the crowd they witnessed spectacular sights, such as caged minotaurs, wheels of fortune,  colorful tents, exotic dancers, brilliant and illusionary patterns and several criers who sought out brave champions to partake in joyful games. Particularly interesting were the several posters pointing towards this year’s special event: The Bazaar of Wonders.
“We should really check this out…” Leopold pondered “they sell some really nifty stuff, it seems.”
“Later!” Marcus said. “Trust me, I’ve been living here all my life, and they always end up going on with this thing a day or two longer than they’re supposed to.”
“What do you think that great machine is for?”
“Will you PLEASE focus on the task at hand, bard? Excuse me, Sir, passing by—“
“YOU THINK SO?” a small voice yelled. Marcus looked down at the gnome he had just brushed aside. An empty mug laid in front of him, most of its contents, though, had soaked the gnome’s shirt.
“I’m terribly sorry, Sir, but we’re in a real hurry. I didn’t mean to—“
“Nobody means to, you big oaf. Do you have ANY idea who I am? Jilanth Tortuso, mightiest of warriors, and I am going to kick your sore ass across this plaza. Have at ye!”
Jilanth was staggering at his feet, his ruddy face beamed at them. He was wavering a tiny rapier around, clumsily.
“Jilanth, please” a loud voice said. A half-orc emerged from the crowd with a concerned expression. “Don’t bother these fine gentlemen. Come, let me buy you a new beer”
“A NEW BEER?” the gnome shouted. “What about my HONOR, Kurgol? Didn’t you see what this buffoon did? I DEMAND satisfaction!”
“Listen,” Marcus gently interrupted. “Listen, we don’t want any trouble. And I am terribly sorry about this, let me make it up to you.”
In the meantime, Leopold had started playing a gentle tune.
“Hey, that’s my favorite song!” Jilanth exclaimed.
“It certainly is. Here, take some gold and have a nice festival, and we forget about this whole business, right?”
The gnome, now smiling, nodded and accepted the gold. Then he into the crowd. Bridget could swear she heard the words “That showed them for good!”.
The heroes quickly continued through the streets. The Vanderboren estate was placed a bit into the city, and the queue was massive at all city-boats, meaning a lot of travel had to be on foot.
Finally, after several painful maneuvers, the heroes reached the white, huge mansion.
Compared to the busy streets outside, it looked eerily empty. There was no sign of movement, but the widely open gates beckoned.
“We should plan our strategy thoroughly,” Devron said. “There is no guarantee what we will encounter in there!”
“Don’t worry,” Marcus said. “I brought harpoons!”
There was a moment of silence.
“Harpoons?” Leopold nervously asked.
“Yes, I have a good feeling about it. I never leave home without harpoons.”
“You carried them around the entire friggin’ time? That’s stupid!”
“No it isn’t!”
“Guys…”  Bridget nervously said
“Yes it is. What are you afraid of? Flying whales?”
“Harpoons are perfectly viable weapons, bard! Have you seen the SIZE of them?”
“Why didn’t you just get a bow?

They looked up. Six of the juggling stilt walkers had gathered around them in a circle. They were all dressed as clowns. And they were smiling in the bad way. An acrobatic, dressed as a skeleton, tumbled out of the crowd and hissed “This is for the Lotus, you bastards. Did you think we had forgotten?”
The next second it started raining alchemist fire. Then people started screaming and running in random directions.
The battle was short. The heroes divided to recuperate and from their respective positions took flanking strikes against the stilt walkers. The acrobat ‘Diamondback’ met Marcus in close combat, and although the fists of the monk were quick, the sharp glaive soon made short work of her.

“We can’t dally out here for long,” Leopold shouted “if we need to sort this out with the city guard it might be too late! Inside, now!”

This part can be really long or really short, depending on your preferences. There was an additional encounter, in which the players had to stop a rolling cart from demolishing an inn, but I didn’t mention it here since I barely remember how it turned out.
Personally, I used this as an introduction to the Wyrmfall Festival. Sort of like; Look at all the fun you’re going to have if you succeed! This of course means that you’re going to let your players spend time here between this adventure and the third chapter, but I will post an article about that later. There is a lot of fun stuff to do at the Wyrmfall Festival, and your players will likely accept a well deserved break once they’re done bashing Bullywugs.
Alternatively, just pull them through and run the three encounters. Both the gnome and the stilt walkers pose no real threat for the players at this stage, so allow them to have some fun, and remember they could get arrested for disturbing the peace if they’re not careful. If you’re short on time, you can easily skip this entire part of the adventure and let them arrive at the Vanderboren mansion. They don’t miss out on anything crucial.
Part 4 – Casing the joint
As soon as the heroes bashed through the front door they were met with a volley of arrows. They were fired with deadly precision, by hunters who were familiar with the human anatomy.
“Bullywugs, great…” Devron mumbled as he hurled a magic missile towards the slimy frogmen who’d taken up residence in the main hall. “They’re natives to the swamps around here. Drevoraz likely hired them as muscles.”
“I thought Lavinia kept those Jade Ravens around to prevent stuff like this from happening?” Marcus pondered, before leaping into battle. The enemies fell like flies to lethally precise maneuvers.
“They’re likely captured…or dead.” Leopold said. “What’s more important, where would they keep Lavinia?”
“LAVINIA?” Devron shouted at the top of his lungs. Only silence replied.
“Well, we sure made out presence known,” Marcus mumbled and put his face to the floor, making gentle sniffling sounds.
“…what are you doing?”
“Finding her scent…ah, there it is. Slightly blue, with a hint of sage… They’ve dragged her upstairs!”
The heroes quickly made their way to the top of the mansion, with very little resistance. Only a few Bullywugs dared stand in their way, and quickly met the floor. In the end, they reached the grand bedroom on the second floor. From their stay they remembered that this part of the house had been closed off for a while, but it had certainly been put to use recently. Mud and slime decorated the door in a splatter and the faint sound of shifting movement was obvious on the other side. Declaring their readiness, Marcus smashed open the door.

The scenery was dire. In the middle of the room sat four persons tied up in their chairs. Two of them the heroes recognized as members of the Jade Ravens, now unconscious. Next to them was Lavinia herself, looking to the heroes with a sudden glimpse of relief. Finally, Lavinia’s servant, Kora, was slain in the fourth chair, her blood long time coagulated on the floor.
Standing next to their lovely patron was a sinister looking half-orc, wielding a scimitar ready to strike. His expression full of hate, and distrust.
“Halt it right there!” he roared. The heroes hesitated. Even in the gloom of the isolated room, the half-orc’s face showed no hesitation to strike Lavinia down. “Not another step. Who are you?”
“There is no need for this,” Leopold slowly said. “We’re not here to fight you. Put down your weapon and we will talk.”
“NO! You put down YOUR weapons, or she dies!”
The looked hesitantly at each other.
They dropped their weapons.
“Where is Vanthus?”  Drevoraz sneered. “Has he not the guts to face me himself?”
“We’re not with Vanthus, surely you must understand,” Devron said “We’re sent by your captain. Harliss Javell. We bring you a message from her. This whole assault is a mistake. Vanthus has escaped, and the very people you seek to destroy wish Vanthus brought for justice as much as you do. Look at this!”
They threw the scroll at the first mate who slowly picked it up and ran his gaze over the lines.
“This could be a trick,” he said suspiciously. “How do I know that it is not so?”
“Surely it is a trick” a low voice croaked. It came from a dark corner. When the heroes turned their gaze at it, they saw an old, deformed bullywug sitting in a soaked chair, covered in mud. His robes were old and tattered, in as bad shaped as his skin. Around his neck hang an unholy symbol to a demonic entity. “Certainly you are not so stupid as to fall to this old trick, Drevoraz?... It is obvious that our common enemy only wishes to evade his rightful punishment…and deny the blood-god what is his…”

At this time, Marcus caught the eye of Lavinia. Her expression was steadfast, and for a slight moment she nodded to him, gently revealing her now untied hands.
“If Harliss really gave this to you,” Drevoraz began “she would have given you a token as well to confirm it. Something only she would carry. Is this the case?”
There was utter silence.
As the adventurers looked at each other in bewilderment the frog started croaking in a menacing laughter.
“That bitch,” Leopold uttered under his breath “she tricked us…”
At this point, Marcus reached to his back with a quick draw. “I’m sorry,” he said “but it seems like I’m dining on skewered frog tonight!”. In the next second he threw a razor-sharp harpoon through the air. With a hissing sound it sought its target. And with a splattering sound it found it in the chest of the bullywug priest.
The Hell broke loose. Lavinia instantly dodged out of danger and hid behind the four heroes, who stormed into the room with a roar. Leopold swiftly evoke the incantations of the hideous laughter on the bullywug priest, and Devron lunged bright missiles of force at the first mate. Marcus flung up his glaive with his foot and with an inner glee thought ‘This is why we bring harpoons!’.
Drevoraz fought easily, albeit perplexed of his former brother in arms who were now pinned to a chair by a harpoon and for some reason also thought it to be extremely funny? In the end the first mate was skewered by a blade, and uttered a final curse before slumping into death.
Lavinia gratefully hugged them all, once the carnage was over, telling them that all the Jade Ravens had fallen and that there were still plenty of Bullywugs to find around the mansion.

The heroes sheathed their weapons and smiled.
“Don’t worry,” Marcus said. “We’ll take care of them and make sure everything in here is back to what it used to be.”
Lavinia smiled, with a hint of mystery. “Actually,” she said “don’t bother too much with the interior. Frankly, I don’t intend to stay here for that long. I’m going away. Far away. But I’ll tell you more about that when you guys get back.”
They looked at each other for a moment and smiled back at her.
“We’ll look forward to that” Leopold said. “Now, let’s hunt some—“
“Don’t say it. Let’s just get to that basement.” Marcus sighed.
And so they did.

What a fight! I admit, the harpoon and hideous laughter really made me chuckle. Just imagine what it would look like, with the frog sitting in the chair : )
I was surprised that they decided to set out immediately for Lavinia, but then again I suppose that makes sense. The entire Vanderboren mansion is very long and can potentially result in another dungeon crawl if your players decide to be thorough. Whether you want this is really up to you. I loathe dungeon crawls and therefore ran this entire thing quite quickly, once they’d rescued Lavinia. There are a lot of those ‘no purpose rooms’ that you can simply skip, unless your players insist on actually looting their patron, or if they decided to work for the Lotus.
The basement presents and interesting and challenging battle. Luckily, my players had brought the Jade Ravens along, and quickly decimated the Bullywugs and their pet rust monster. This is sadly where the chapter becomes a bit ‘meh’, if they rescue Lavinia first. It pretty much turns into a Den of Evil-sort of thing, with “X monsters left to slay”. Once this is done, the chapter is over and they can progress to the following.

Overall impressions 
I like TBG a lot more than ‘Honor’. It’s much shorter and you can likely run it in just one session. The players get to see more of the surrounding countryside and the plot starts thickening. Once again, Vanthus really is pretty anonymous. They don’t even get to meet him here, only follow in his footsteps and come to an abrupt dead end. That’s bad story-telling, in my book, and it usually leaves players demotivated.
TBG also seems a lot more dynamic. There are more places, players quickly shift between them, and they actually get a sense of urgency as they race against time to save their patron. Additionally, dark clouds start gathering on the horizon, once they realize that something dark and sinister has made its presence known in this word, once the shadow pearl exploded.
Only the future will cast further light over this mystery. Until then, Miss Vanderboren has plans for her future, and they involve a place far, far away. Into the south.
- Great possibilities for some eerie atmosphere
- Players start feeling important
- Good encounters, combined with classical We-save-the-day-elements.
- If your players bear antagonistic feelings towards the Jade Ravens there is plenty of boasting to be had here.
- The plot of the campaign is presented.
- The plot of the campaign is presented, but poorly, since your players won’t get more information about it till four chapters later.
- We see even less of Vanthus, who’s supposed to be one of the main antagonists. This turns him more and more into a “Where in the world is Vanthus Vanderboren?” (You can actually sing this, try it for yourself!) instead of a real villain. Pity.
- The Vanderboren Mansion-crawl. Some people are turned on by dungeon-crawls. If you’re one of them, please disregard.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Warhammer: Building your own army-transporter

I’ve been rather quiet lately regarding my latest spark of creativity. Not because it’s something special, but because the entire project has been on a prolonged stand-by due to RL-restrictions.
However, in recent time I finally had the chance to invest a bit in the project known as ‘Miniature Case – Homebrew’.

Transport-cases for minis have always been something of an issue for me, ever back to when I first started playing in Warhammer 4th edition. Things were a lot more complicated back then. Not only were the minis (frankly) quite simplistic and ugly, but they were often a logistic nightmare. Back then, a lot of them were still made of lead, with a few, crude plastic-models emerging. This meant that more than often, you’d risk vital parts breaking off your knights and such, unless you had a decent transporter. It’s no exaggeration to say that I spent the first half hour of every tourney gluing my Cold One Riders back together.
Naturally much of this was my own fault, as I never owned an official GW-transporter, and still haven’t. At that time it was too high above my budget, and I prioritized other things more. That meant I’d use my father’s suitcase, packed with a lot of foam and newspaper. Not all that aesthetical and neither practical. I suppose I owe all those Dark Elves an apology for the bumpy rides.
Now, several years later, I’m still at loss. I’d gladly invest in the new GW-transporters as they are truly a lot more sexy than back then. But on the other side, with two armies and one of them being Skaven, I pretty much figured I’d need more than one of the standard-bags.
Therefore, being the handyman I am, I decided to make my own. And now I’d like to share it with you.
First and foremost, I can’t take credit for everything in here. I had help for the calculations from this guide:
Second, before screaming, please bear in mind that I was going for a simple, practical and thorough transporter above eye-candy. I could’ve used a lot more time, but I didn’t. With so many miniatures clocking my house, I needed to pack down at least all the infantry asap.
Step 1) The tools
I bought a trolley when they had a sale in the nearby supermarket. Beyond that I am pretty certain they can be easily acquired either from retail or used from a store dealing with that sort of thing.
I deliberately chose one of a certain size, due to mentioned reasons.
Thereafter I took measures, in order to determine how much foam I’d need. For this, a handy formular:M = (F - B ) / (C + B )
M is the number of miniatures per row, F is the foam width, B the width of each wall between the minis and C is the width of the compartments themselves.
In my case, the trolley was roughly 41cmX58cm (I deliberately measured a bit less, in order to make my foam-layers fit better, as they’d consequently be smaller than the actual size of the suitcase. This isn’t as big a problem as you might think, as long as you deal with 1cm-intervals). In this way it’s possible to use the formular to estimate how many minis your suitcase will likely hold per layer.
My point of origin was my Paint-set from GW, which has some nice compartments that fit a mini or two easily (it’s certainly possible to squeeze in two clan rats in one slot). A layer of foam is 2,5cm for the niche itself, and 1cm of foam as “foundation” below the grid. 3,5cm in total. Measuring the height of my trolley revealed about 26cm. / 3.5cm = 7,42 layers.
Each small compartment housing a mini seems to be greatly off with a measure of 3x5cm. You can put in a lot there.

Therefore I went out with my trusty girlfriend (who this entire project is, as always, dedicated to) to find the right amount of foam. Luckily we have an entire shop dedicated to that in my city, so it was no biggie. It was even possible to have it cut out specifically for your measures, but since I wasn’t that certain of my measuring skills, I decided to take it the long way.
Sadly,  I had to settle for less, since 2,5cm thick foam is pretty hard to come by. In the end I had to settle for 3cm and 1cm foundation. This meant fewer layers, of course, but I still estimated around 450+ miniatures could be stored in there.
I got a great deal on 200x70cm, and bought a couple. Along with the tools for the trade, this wasn’t a bad bargain. You might argue that white is an inferior color to black in this regard, but I will get back to my reasoning later.
Step 2) Foam-slicing
I cut out a layer as a prototype. This was merely to see whether my measures were totally off. Luckily they weren’t which meant I could just copy this layer five times.   You will notice that I rounded off the corners, which is because of the form of my trolley.
Step 3) Rinse and repeat
Put on a good DVD and repeat five times. Notice how nicely they all stack.
Step 4) The bottom foam
Then I did a prototype foundation for the first layer, which is to serve as the bottom. This one I just outlined and then cut off. Notice that I only did this one for the first one. The rest I waited to do until I had all the layers done (see later)
Step 5) The compartments
Using a scalpel, I CAREFULLY cut out a 3x5cm chunk of foam. You don’t have to be exact by the millimeter, but it helps a lot. Again I must warn that scalpels really can be insanely sharp, so you really want to forget about the DVD for a while.
Step 6) Measure
I screwed up a bit, actually. A good piece of advice; compare one of your tallest models to the piece of foam. In this case it was actually too big, which was because I’d done a bad measure. So I redid it and made it work. Those small initiatives can save you a serious headache later.
Step 7) Paint
Paint the surface of the foam liberally with dark paint. I’m not sure whether it matters which kind, as long as it doesn’t smelt the foam. I used basic acryl.
Step 8) Stamp it!
I HATE measuring. And there is a lot of measuring to be done, if you insist on doing all this by hand. Instead I decided to stamp every compartment of the layer, and then cut from those lines. I could basically fill out an entire layer before I had to reapply the paint. You don’t have to press that hard, really, it will leave some good markings for you to follow later, even with gentle pressure.
Step 9) Looking good
An example of how it will turn out. Notice that I didn’t go for that much structure and I could likely have maximized it better. But I’m happy with it, and don’t see that much waste. Remember to leave some double-rooms if you have big units, like ogres, weapon-teams, knights and the like : )
Step 10) Time is just flying…
One night and another good DVD later.
Step 11) The worst part
This is clearly the dull part, and can be painfully longer depending on your perfectionism. Time to cut out the compartments. I again used a scalpel for this, and once again will stress the importance of minding your fingers. I found it possible to just cut down at all four sides and then gently ripping out the entire block. This WILL leave some more messy compartments, with fluff and shreds hanging, compared to spending several minutes on every room. It’s up to you, really. But for me it’s just there to carry my Skaven-Slaves, so I couldn’t care less.

Step 12) The grid
When all is said and done. If you don’t like the remaining marks from the paint, I imagine you could easily spray it over with the color of your choice, once everything is done.
Step 13) Getting there

Nice and tidy
Step 14) Getting to the bottom

I placed the grid on top of the 1cm foam and cut out a bottom matching the exact grid above. This I did for every layer separately and took great care not to mix them up. It’s not a huge issue if you do, except you will waste some time playing foam-tetris to find the correct combination afterwards.

Step 15) Glue
(Sorry for the non-optimal quality of the photo, but I mostly work at night). I went outside to apply glue. Turn the entire layer upside-down, so that the paint-markings are facing downwards and apply glue as thoroughly as possible. I know there are a lot of ways to apply glue, and make sure it’s the right kind of glue! Check with a hobby-store, as some glue can actually ruin foam, I’ve heard. I used a spray with water-based contact-glue, which worked wonders. I sprayed as much of the grid as I could, and then held the bottom 1cm-foam gently against it for a minute. Then I left it to dry outside for half an hour and repeated it for the other layers.
Step 16) All the layers
Now with their glued-on-bottoms.

Step 17) Does it fit?
It’s likely that your layers won’t be an exact match, depending on the restrictions of your suitcase. With a scalpel this is easily remedied. For me it was a pretty near fit, and I honestly think I’d be no problem pressing another layer in there. I’ve decided to leave it as it is, though, so that I’ll have room for my armybook, rulebook and movement-trays. An additional tip, which I forgot but will have to make, is an extra 1cm-layer in the top, stopping your minis from falling out as you carry around the trolley.
Also notice, if you chose to go for the spray or another way in which you don’t have complete control over the glue; you WILL hit some of the compartments, and these WILL be sticky for some time. Not to any drastic amount, but you will notice it. The best bet is to simply move on, use your brand new transporter, and in time you will wear it off with no problems.
Rejoice that you now have your own, personal army-transporter.
In this stage you can even consider spraying it with a color of your choice. I am no expert in this regard, as you will likely require a very specific kind of paint in order not to stiff out your foam or have the paint crack. As always your hobby-store could help you here, but remember to save some foam for testing.
Just in case, before you go crazy on your new project : )
I hope you enjoyed it. I know I did making it, for sure. Transporting the Underempire has never been easier.

Friday, June 17, 2011

PC: Duke Nukem Forever review

I hate shooters.
I don’t know why. It might be traumatic, it might be personal taste, it might be whatever, but I really don’t fancy shooters at all. In my simplistic opinion we’re dealing with a genre that has shown breathtaking graphical advances, while the basic premise has failed to develop itself at its very own rotting core.
Of course there is a certain hypocrisy to this, because just as much could be said (if not even more) about my own personal flagship, the RPG-genre, which has basically reached a standstill in the last several years, only showing vague attempts to improve and take it to the next level. Though I will say to its defense that RPG’s (which translates into fantasy for the majority) are so tied up in conventions and rules that I certainly do understand why some developers are afraid of messing too much with it.
Shooters, on the other hand, I tend to wonder a bit about. I used to enjoy both Doom and Wolfenstein a lot, back when we were still getting turned on by erotic pixels in the first Larry-games. Actually, my very first PC-game was Doom. Doom was where it was at, we all played it and talked about it for hours, which in retrospect does seem quite odd for such an ugly game.
But the graphical aspect skyrocketed during the 90’es, especially for the shooters, and though I had plenty of opportunity to dive into it, the shooters lost me along the way. Quake was a drag (frankly, I found it hideous back then) and the Unreal-series was so mind-numbingly boring that I never made it past one hour of gameplay. Then there was the rerelease of Wolfenstein and Doom, and the sequels to Quake, and before we knew it we were looking at COD. What happened so fast? What was I wasting so much time on? Besides playing Baldurs’ Gate, I mean.
The Odd Man Fragged Out – Why I loved Duke Nukem 3D (   o   ) (   o   ) \o/
I took a general liking to the quasi-shooters. Those games that kept the FPP, and yet, in a whole new context.  Games like Hexen (admittedly, just a skin-revamp of what we already knew), Outlaws (a bit of the same, but with a nice humoristic touch), Thief (which is to this day one of the very best games in my book) and of course…Duke Nukem 3D.
I never knew Duke before the 3D-version. I only knew the game had boobs and plenty of violence. That’s frankly why I loved it back then. I distinctively remember we’d gather up a bunch of friends at the one guy who had the best computer (NIBBLES IN SVGA OR GTFO!), sort of like stealing your dad’s “Playboy”-magazine. Just, nerdier. And we never got tired of that ‘Shake it Baby!’
It wasn’t even as if you could sympathize or build much of a relationship to your protagonist (but frankly, the characters in the other FPS-games back then had personalities rivaled by damp cardboard). Duke was in many ways a parody of himself. A boy trapped in a grownup’s body, keen on presenting one sexist and flat one-liner after the other, making him nothing more than an action-hero cliché high on steroids. But that was all we needed him to be.
I loved Duke Nukem for several other reasons, though. My major complaint with the Doom/Quake/Unreal-series back then was that they seemed so similar in concept. You ran around dark corridors made of emo and shadowy pixels, bashing other people’s brains out so you could achieve a key-card which could unlock more dark emo-corridors with more monsters with brains. After half an hour it was as if I’d seen everything the game had to offer me. And I got bored and decided to look at titties instead.
Duke Nukem did manage to squeeze in what seemed like not only a variety, but also semi-realistic surroundings. At least for the first chapter and some levels in the following ones, in which you were running trough downtown, bars, the disco, clubs and cinemas. The buildings even had a toilet, for crying out loud. Who’d ever thought of a toilet in Doom? This was original. This was new. We liked it.
The multiplayer-maps carried on this torch, as a lot of them involved stuff like pool-parties, cafés and stadiums.  Of course we didn’t entirely evade the stupid and longwinded dark corridors with dull monsters, but they seemed a lot more forgettable now. DN3D also had a bigger emphasis on exploration, atmosphere and to a limited degree, interaction with the environment. You were tempted to explore the levels a bit. This is such an awesome effect, beyond words, which later was perfected by such brilliant games as Thief and Half-Life.
Compared to his boring competitors, Duke’s weapons introduced a new dimension of creativity. In Doom, every weapon just killed people, and some of them had easy potential to kill more than one.  A lot of games later began playing with things such as sniper-rifles and grenades, whereas DN3D took the odd turn and introduced freeze- and shrink-rays. And shattering those frozen opponents in multiplayer never ceased being funny.
Hell, it’s about time – Was I eagerly awaiting Duke Nukem Forever?
The short answer is no, but I can’t see it being that much of a surprise to anyone. I frankly don’t think that nobody but the very few in the minority could actually get excited about it after so many years. Let’s face it, after so many letdowns, we were all pretty much the digital equivalent of the disappointed son who’s stopped giving a crap whether dad finally comes home this Christmas or not. We’d learned to expect the worst.
For the very same reason, I don’t think I even really noticed the game’s release until a week before, actually realizing that things were about to get very real. And based on my just mentioned enthusiasm about DN3D, I’m almost ashamed to admit… I really didn’t care.
A lot of water had run under the bridge since then, and Thief is the only FPS that has survived in my collection of games. After one try at some random COD and realizing how much it sucked, I wasn’t really that keen to repeat that experience. On the other hand curiosity did kill the cat, and supposedly also made me decide to join Duke on another adventure. After all, you can’t help having some expectations after so many years.
Looking goooood… - But is it gooooood?
This is such an open question in many ways, and if you’ve read the reviews you’ve likely noticed that a lot of critics have not exactly hailed the king as much as he probably hoped for. The really short answer, in a simplified nutshell, is ‘No’. The marginally longer is: “No, what the hell were you thinking?”.
What really strikes you from the very beginning of the game is how much the developers have tried to ‘if it really isn’t broken , don’t fix it’. Normally I’m a huge proponent of this approach, as it has given birth to some truly great sequels throughout the history of gaming.
On the other hand this also serves as an excellent example of how thin the border between ‘boring’ and ‘joyful recognition’ is. In other words, Duke takes on one of the most cruel babes in history; Nostalgia. And she is a very cruel mistress indeed.
I will confess, though, I had an okay time with DNF. Not an awesome time, and in no way anything near what I appreciated back then (even now when the boobs really look like boobs). Frankly, though, I am wondering whether I’d say the same, had it not been for the title, which would’ve left the game as nothing more than a shooter that came out several years too late. In a sense, I suppose I really did want this game to be good. Which is a power that should never be underestimated and only shattered by truly horrible ass-smelling games (I’m still looking at you, Dragon Age 2).

The story and setting (yes, there is one)
In DNF we set out some years after Duke managed to save earth and all we loved about it, from the alien-invasion and kick their sore ass back into space. We’re greeted by a nifty little flashback-introduction which barely qualifies as a tutorial, and take control of our old protagonist. Duke is still spewing out punchlines and…punches, wherever he goes, and you can’t help notice the designers intentions to turn up the amount of interactive objects all around you. Thus I was able to play with the sinks, toilets and even paint a giant wang on the picture of my arch-nemesis, before setting out to combat him.
After this jolly reenactment, you gain control of the present Duke, sitting in his apartment spewing…one-liners. Besides from becoming a stinking rich business entrepreneur, owning what seems to be half of the country, Duke has also managed to clone Britney Spears with one of the models from Vampire Bloodlines, acting as his personal concubines. You’re reminded to attend a talks-show later this night, and by the way, the aliens have shown up again. Prolly nothing to worry about, right?
Basically, this is a deep as the story goes in DNF. As you’ve guessed the aliens launch their attack, the president tells you to stay put, the rebellious general encourages you to see the situation out, and you don’t give a damn and bust out their head.
DNF never really seems to give you any kind of glorified goal except killing aliens. But whereas games such as Half Life achieved this by a long series of sub-stages, in DNF you get the impression that Duke just so happens to take one sideway after another. Even early in the game, he straight out refuses to go to the root of the problem, preferring to rescue abducted chicks.  This takes you through a variety of scenery that while interesting, just ends up feeling like a feeble attempt to prolong the game.

These levels do come in a certain variety, but don’t get your hopes up too high. They’re nothing like you’re used to by today’s standards. The variety often comes in two factors:

A) Length
B) Elements

Whereas I was sprinting through some levels in mere minutes, wondering whether I’d outrun any enemies, others take significantly longer. All in all, though, don’t expect to get stuck that much, as levels now often shut down behind you, making sure you’re trudging nicely along the path. I think it’s nice that developers these days make sure that you can safely leave games in the hands of your retarded monkey. We don’t see that enough. It’s good news that your monkey won’t even have to make decisions, because crossroads are extremely rare in DNF. Even better, some levels even carry signs with arrows pointing it in the right direction.
Regarding B, DNF makes use of five elements: Walking, Platform-jumping, Puzzles, Mini-games  and Shooting. Each level consists of random (but not necessarily all) of these elements in various turns. Walking, first and foremost, you’ll be doing a lot. Some levels barely consist of anything else.
Platform-jumping is so you won’t fall asleep walking, making sure you’ll jump from tentacle to tentacle, or not fall off a cliff. Puzzles comprise a series of small challenges that are not only insanely boring but also offensively easy, sometimes bordering plain offensive. Perfect examples are to pick up a battery to power up a crane so you can smash a wall. In another you’ll have to scavenge a nightclub to make popcorn for a stripper. These end up as nothing more but speed-bumps.
Even worse are the mini-games which plainly suck. This is where you have to deviate (whether you like it or not) from what you were previously doing in order to drive a toy-car through a room and fetch you a battery. In other scenarios you get to drive Duke’s (real size) truck through a desert, or get shrunk in order to navigate past a kitchen by jumping between shelves. The basic idea in this is not as bad as its design, as these sequences drag out for far too long. While funny the first few minutes, once I got that third animation indicating another ‘Lol ur small now!’-sequence, I was groaningly face-palming. Also, driving Duke’s car is fun, but after it runs out of gas for the third time, it just stops being funny to go look for more , knowing you’ll get jumped by monsters before reaching it.
This brings us to the shooting. There is shooting to be found, contrary to belief. The enemies aren’t looking that great but not downright bad either, and again you see that the developers have tried to import as much as possible from DN3D. It’s just bad to see how they’re often used as staged fights, as you enter a room and start a shoot-out from separate covers before you can move on. This would be okay, had it been for more scripted events and the like, but since these only play significant parts of the fight in a few situations, you end up just walking from one isolated fight to the next.
From time to time you will meet a boss. Besides from one particularly fight at the top of a dam, which I enjoyed rather much actually, a lot of these are lackluster without that much to offer. Basically, you run, kill adds, shoot boss, reload and repeat.
The singleplayer-part seemed extremely short, even when I deliberately took my time to investigate a lot, and I ended up completing it after 15 hours or so. Compared to the amount I spend at RPG’s or Thief, this is not much.
All this being said, you now know pretty much everything the game will throw at you. I suppose I should have posted a spoiler there.

All the weapons but DN3D are back, with two significant drawbacks. First and foremost you’re allowed to carry only two along. Personally I went for the shotgun as it seemed to blow up everything, provided I was close enough, and the RPG (I laughed everytime. I’m such a nerd.) for dicey encounters.  Sadly I really wanted to try out my old favorites, the shrink- and freeze-gun, but the game never rewarded me with any extra ammo. Instead it insisted on force-feeding me Rippers (I loathe spray-and-pray) like there was no tomorrow, making me stick to the shotgun. I think this was a really bad idea to implement.
Secondly the weapons don’t really feel like making that much of an impact. Sure, you blow off the pig’s leg. Sure, fire that rocket to blow up the mob. But it just goes ‘squish’ like a jellyfish hitting a pillow, with a lot of blood. At the same time, weapons really do feel like DN3D, with not even the slightest of kickback. It’s just an animation that kills stuff.
Duke has become immortal, too. Now only his ego is hurt whenever someone busts open his head with a grenade. Luckily, our protagonist has learned some very nifty self-improvement speeches which he can practice to himself, provided that he can avoid damage for a short time. This shift to regeneration instead of hording those ridiculous medpacks all the time was one of the initiatives I actually liked.
DNF makes sure to include everything you’d expect besides that. Underwater-levels (which are as always extremely tedious due to them, again, being too long), a variety of monsters with various differences and strengths (but then again, they aren’t really that different once you get down to it, except from a named few) and finally managing resources. The game seems very generous with ammo. So much that I wondered why it even bothered making ammo in the first place, instead of weapons firing endless rounds.
The summary is that since the enemies seemed so identical beyond appearance and the weapons pretty much did the same (except the funny ones that, for some reasons, never received any additional ammo) I didn’t really care and went for ‘one size fits all’. Of course the insanely good bombs and mines are back in abundance, so in some situations it was even viable to rely solely on those.
Atmosphere – Sound and graphic and Duke. Not looking goooooddddd.
It’s still Duke. And I admit some one-liners made me giggle, albeit often the ones from the shrunk Duke, whose voice is pumped up on helium.
I wasn’t so put off by graphics as a lot of people seem to be. Maybe it’s because I’m extremely forgiving in that regard, still able to play Might and Magic 6 and ignoring the fact that it looks absolutely hideous. DNF is not pretty, a lot of the NPC’s are downright lifeless and devoid of expression and the backgrounds look downright outdated. But I’d never call it downright hideous. It’s manageable, and even my machine managed to run it nicely on high settings. I recommend lowering only your expectations.
Frankly, the only music I remember is the repetitive theme from DN3D, which is liberally applied everywhere in DNF. The rest is pretty tame, but again, manageable. Duke has some good lines that deliver, but besides from that there’s not really that much to recommend here. It’s a shame as I missed a lot of the other music from the first one.
Of course the developers have set out to keep the sly and dirty atmosphere. There are still plenty of boobs and the humor has certainly taken a turn for the…direct. While not as subtle, you’re now able to toss around vibrators, have sexual interaction on the toilet and even a boss makes sure to stick its three ( ! ) massive hooters right up your face. In this association is another particularly sick, but yet humorously over-the-top, joke in which you encounter three breasts hanging on a wall, which you can slap repeatedly in order to spray milky substance all over your screen.

That’s certainly one of the most disturbed things I’ve ever written.
But this is what the game encourages you to do. Whether it’s tri-boob-slapping or watching porn Duke has a chance to increase his Ego and thus chances of survival, every time he revels. While initially good for a few laughs, I couldn’t really help growing frustrated after a while. It’s hard not to consider whether this would be fun, had you only been 10 years younger.

The Verdict  (TLDR)
If you liked DN3d, playing DNF is like attending one of those reunions for your old class, at the same school you all went to. As you show up, you realize that everything pretty much looks exactly the same, save for a few minor details (which just so happen to be minor places you had fond memories of) and a lot of people haven’t really changed. As the night progresses, though, you can’t help feeling that no matter how much you want this to be the night of your life, everything somehow disappoints. Even though you always used to hang with that guy and talk about the big topics in life, now the charm is just annoying. The funny guys is now an idiot, you have no idea what you saw in that woman, and frankly the school itself now fills you with disappointment. In a way you wish you hadn’t come and instead kept just the memory.
This is DNF.
I have no doubts about the good intentions of this game, but it is clear to me now that part of Dukes’ original fame stemmed from his timing. He was, so to say, in the right game at the right time, in which he managed to outshine a lot of his competition.
Now times are different, and the battles fought in other arenas. The essential problem, though, is that Duke is still running around in an empty gladiatorial ring, shouting vulgar phrases and flexing that wandering cliché which is his one and only demeanor.
While still good for a short amount of entertainment, in this game Duke has lost the graphical fight before it has even begun. Once you compare him to mechanics seen in other prominent shooters these days, and his ‘personality’ compared to other beloved profiles such as Garrett or Gordon Freeman, everything about The King pretty much fades and leaves nothing left. Except an extremely anonymous shooter, which won’t be a problem for some people, and can certainly still provide a limited amount of entertainment.
If you’re still curious, though, I recommend saving your money for a sale. For now, it simply isn’t worth the money spent. I have a good feeling that you won’t have to wait 12 years for it to come around.
Score: 5/10.