Friday, June 29, 2012

Have a nice Pathfinder-Summer!

Just a small heads-up!
The Pathfinder – Carrion Crown group has officially gone on Summer vacation for the next 14 days (that means we won’t be playing again till the 18th of July). So till then, don’t expect to see many news within this domain. I will of course do my best to come up with some alternative essays and the like to keep things going.

In general, Ashes at Dawn has been at a reaaalllyy slow crawl due to all our side-questing and in general hasn’t been a very interesting chapter so far. I imagine that’s why we tend to always find something else to spend time on. The group is about halfway through the story, so I imagine we’ll be rather quick to wrap it up once we get back in business.
Till then, have fun and take care!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day 13 – People (players/bloggers) that you admire

Well, we're on to day 13 in which I'm to describe people I actually admire and look up to. This is awfully similar to blogs I like and awfully similar to sounding like a drooling fanboy, so I'll make it short and do my best to cover ground quickly without showering my chosen idols with praise.

Let's get right into it.


Old Kripp, such a debated figure. It's certainly not coincidental he tags his tweet-videos with ”No Life Kripparrian” as he's just about one of the most hardcore Diablo 3 players you'll find out there. Some people nuture a serious antagonism towards this guy (but hey, it's the god damn internet, what did you expect?) but nonetheless he was a huge source of inspiration to me with his barbarian videos. The guy has some serious gear and can likely get away with whatever he wants build-wise but compared to a lot of asses on the web, I like him for his calm demeanor. Watching him splatter on a well played character on HC and taking it like a man absolutely earned him my respect. So did listening to his advice on how to improve the more or less disappointment that is Diablo 3, even though Blizzard will likely never take any of it to heart.

I don't care whether he's only taking his deaths like a man because he has people farming for him. I don't care whatever people might throw at him, accuse him for in regards of exploits. Honestly, very few people have the right to throw the first stone in this regard.
If you're a barbarian in Diablo 3, definitely check him out on youtube.

Noah 'Spoony' Antwiler

If you've been following this dude for the past few weeks you'll be aware of the accompanying drama regarding him and a wholesome handful of people from CA. I've been following Spoony for years and I'll gladly admit that his best videos (SWAT 4, Phantasmagoria 2, Dragon Strike among others) are some of, if not the, most hilarious I've seen on the web. Followed closely, but never surpassed, by other great names as The Nostalgia Critic and Angry Joe. Even though the quality of his work (and, some would argue, his personal health) has been declining of late, I'm still sticking to him, but not necessarily his behavior. People tend to mix up these two way too much.

As of late, the gaming-culture has been exploding with discussions/debates about rape. I get it.It's bad. Frankly, I'm getting more and more fed up hearing about it. Sadly, a lot of things broke in regards to Spoony and his stunt, and while things in a perfect world would have involved one single apology and no aftermath of any kind, it sadly didn't happen. I don't see the need to go ranting about it any further, unlike other names on the web.

I hope for Spoony that his departure from CA will bring back some of his old identity and style; that we will see more riffs and Let's Plays (because in my book, this is where he truly shines). I still sit down and put on the entire Let's Play of Phantasmagoria 2, when doing Warhammer Painting Marathons. So I'm staying and am frankly fed up hearing about this whole episode.

Oh, and I heard that, Curtis.

Jim Sterling

I only began listening to the Jimquisition some weeks ago but so far I'm having a blast. The guy is snarky, ironic, sharp and plays music from Final Fantasy 9. What more could you possibly want?
Well, he hates EA-games. He's a born winner in my book.
Slightly contradicting myself in regards to my boredom of listening to rape-essays, Jim does make valid points and even well-argued to boot about the subject in one of his newest videos. If sarcasm is really your thing, you better give this guy a try.

Jervis Johnson

Think what you will of Games Workshop. Say they're capitalist pigs who overprize their products to exploit the poor consumer with no viable alternatives. Part of this might be true, part of this might not. Notably, the part in which we acknowledge that more and more alternatives are popping up around the net with significantly cheaper prizing than you'll ever find at GW.
But Jervis will always be the guy that makes me smile and buy a White Dwarf Magazine every now and then. Why? Because he is the grand old man and yet he's a child in his own way. I've loved his issues of Standard-bearer for quite a while, some of them I even replied to. One single case had a reply back, acknowledging my article on Psychology and Losing in Warhammer. It was a blast.

While I have never, ever met the guy (which I hope I will, eventually) in my illusionary world this is a man who plays and still finds the fun in what he's doing. Some of the most important traits to look for in developers withint our genre of interests. After all, we're all children. Yes, we are. Shut up. Rationalize all you want; what most of us do is to sit down and play and have a good time. And there is nothing shameful in that. We should therefore honor the people in this not (only) for the money but also for the passion. I think we've seen way too many examples of lacking passion among developers in various sub-groups of geekdom.

Keep on rolling dice, Jervis. Don't worry, one day I'll play you and you'll win, I guarantee.

John Bowser

Right, so this is going to be absolutely random, but John Bowser deserves a spot on this list, especially because I want something D&D-related on it. John doesn't even know of his position here (not that any of the other people do, come to think of it) but he's neither especially famous or anything. He just wrote the AD&D scenario Killing Orcs and Kissing Babies (googleableish), the first prewritten scenario I was happy about running as a GM. The others felt hollow, stupid or didn't really feel good or interesting. But this small adventure inspired me to begin writing my own story, plots and how I could tell a story as great as this.

Looking at it now, it's quite standard and yet there is some good thinking to be found. If you can convert it, it's a lovely little adventure for any side questing group. So dear John, thanks for the inspirational kick. Sad we never got to see anything more from your side.

No WoW?
There frankly aren't any people in the WoW community I look up to. I used to think Kungen was somewhat noticeable (frankly, how the hell couldn't he be?) but I can't think of any other person or player worth mentioning. I used to feel about Chris Metzen as I do about Jervis Johnson, but frankly I've come to realize I only notice him because I want his job. Sad, but true.

That's it for now. Be back later with the next chapter.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Carrion Crown: Ashes at Dawn pt. 2

(Attending this session was Mutt the human barbarian, Edgar the human cleric of Gond, Galfur the dwarven inquisitor, Kia the human sorcerer and Colin the halfling paladin of Lathander. The average party level was 11)

The heroes gathered their belongings and decided to push onwards down into the underground. They had the feeling they were about to stick their hands into one, huge, ugly hornet’s nest, but since Quinley hadn’t shown up yet it seemed like the only option.
Behind the door was a long hallway bathed in a red hue, showing strange tapestries of predatory beings decorating the walls. It was obvious that someone called this place home and the sweet smell of blood was thick in the air. On their way, the heroes discussed their most prudent course of action, which ended up being diplomatic and talkative. After all, there would be no reason to run in, guns blazing, into a city swarming with the undead. (Seemed reasonable enough. The adventure actually makes it a possibility to simply storm the place and gather the clues by hand, although this really seems to be the boring approach in an RP-aspect…)
So they reached a door and heard muffled voices on the other side. Slowly opening it, Galfur and Mutt looked inside and were greeted by four vampiric guards, getting to their feet. They drew swords and one of the sneered “Who are you?”
Galfur immediately stepped onwards, grunting “I’M YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!!”
(So much for the talkative approach, I see…)

Luckily, his team mates stopped him from going Sir Lancelot on the vampires and told them they wished to parley with their leader and that they were sent by Quinley. Quinley was well known to the guards and they took an instant fascination of Kia (formerly known as Vincent until Wild Magic got the better of him) assuming her to be the headperson of the group, with her highest charisma score. They let her and her cattle onwards down the halls for almost an hour, asking them about their errand and informing them that Sir Luvick Siervage would likely wish to see them if they were hunting the vampire-killer. Things had been on edge of late in the community.

In the end they entered a huge underground complex consisting of several houses, settlements and various homes. The streets were bustling with minions, enthralled beings and spawns all eyeing the possibility of fresh meat. An unholy cathedral was placed to the far north and a salon richly decorated in red shiny lights rested to the west. An old pumphouse was to the east and to the south a grand hall towered up against the ceiling. This was where they were going.

Inside they were met with a court of elderly looking and yet savage vampires, sitting at their thrones in the far end of the room. On the biggest throne, a charismatic gentlemen eyed the party with an almost calculating gaze. He nodded lazily with his head as they entered and the guards provided Kia, the mistress, with a chair. Her slaves, the rest of the party, was ordered to stay, behave and only speak when spoke at. 

Luvick was at his good behavior, greeting the heroes and bidding them welcome to his domain. He also wished to know why he should ever let them leave? Kia told him about the group’s quest and their wish to track down the Whispering Way. Something they understood he would be easily able to help them with. To this, Luvick nodded with a sly smile, although he certainly didn’t  understand what anyone would wish with such a group of deranged necromancers. When explained about the heroes hypothesis that the cult might be dangerously close to bringing back the Whispering Tyrant into this world, Luvick considered it for a second and then offered to settle for an agreement. If the heroes could bring the murderer to him, he would gladly tell them everything he knew about the whereabouts of the cult. They were not to slay the killer, merely bring him to justice at the hands of the nocturnal. In return the heroes would have safe passage in the vampiric community.

They agreed to this and were told that the vampires held one suspect in custody in the old pumphouse. A nosferatu who apparently had carried evidence when caught, that some of the minor noble houses of Caliphas had in fact hired him to carry out three of the murders of important vampire nobles. However, as the killings were still proceeding, they assumed there were more out there waiting to be found. Luvick suggested the heroes spoke to the nosferatu and also Desmond Kote, the vampire inquisitor, and Lady Evgenya, owner of the salon. 

(There are a few pointers that seem unclear in the original adventure, such as whether the killings have stopped after they captured the nosferatu and exactly how many killings there have been. If you have very inquisitive players, like me, better prepare some more detail than ‘vampires have died!!’)

Thus the heroes bid him goodbye, promising with news.

(GM’S: REMEMBER; The heroes get XP in this adventure whenever they successfully interact with the vampires, as if they had killed them in combat. I tend to forget this all the time, so might spare some of you the headache!)

Going Magnum vamPIre (fuck it, they can’t all be winners…)
They immediately headed to the old pumphouse in which they were greeted by a brooding nosferatu sitting in the middle of the room, surrounded by vermin and insects crawling on the floor. As he noticed them enter, he smiled and got up. “Ah, more of Luvick’s servants, yes? Have you come to gloat some more? No? Oh, no, now I see. You’re not slaves. Yet. You are here with a purpose. Would it be to set me free? I assure you, I would be most grateful!”

This was Ramoska Arkimnos, skilled alchemist and practitioner of the arcane. When asked about his involvement with the murders he shrugged, denying any kind of involvement. He was well aware of their happenings but assured the heroes he had nothing to do with them. The vampire community claimed to have proof of him being hired by nobles to carry out the deeds, and if they wanted to see for themselves, he was sure that Radvir the tailor, and second hand of Luvick, would gladly present to them any ‘evidence’ they would have. Ramoska had no idea who could be behind such an act and neither didn’t really care. The heroes spoke to him a bit about the motivation of such; perhaps wishing to split up the vampire community before an invasion? The nosferatu merely nodded and mumbled ‘Yes, yes, very interesting!’ along the way.
Edgar asked about his involvement with the Whispering Way and to this the vampire smiled. He’d indeed had a clash with them some small time ago in which they contacted him to test out a very potent potion, apparently able to cause Lichdom. Although he was no supporter of the Way’s goals, this was too tempting an opportunity to let go and with a very small sample, he had indeed been able to verify its potency. Also the fact that it was more like a poison than a potion. It was supposed to be administered to someone. Who? That was beyond his imagination.

Alas, the Whispering Way had neglected to pay him his fee, which would ordinarily be of no big concern. However, in the principles of things, Ramoska didn’t approve of being scammed and therefore wished nothing more than to get out of here and get back at the cult. He therefore promised the heroes to divulge any information he had, could they prove him innocent.
Without any further questions they left him and decided to head for the Mr. Radvir, the tailor, who apparently held the hard evidence for the nosferatu’s crimes.

A tailor to a jailor
The tailoring shop was small but well stocked. The dresses and handiwork in here was nothing short of amazing. Dating back thousands of years there was an immense amount of time put into each and everyone of them, reflecting a man dedicated to his work. Greeting them with a huge smile, Radvir Giovanni shook his long blonde hair and bowed deeply for Kia as she entered, asking whether she’d prefer a lovely dress this day?

Considering it for a second, Kia decided to go against her urge and instead asking about the murderers. Radvir frowned and agreed this was indeed a tragic chain of events, and even though they’ve managed to lock up the nosferatu things certainly hadn’t improved much. He was, however, certain of the nosferatu being the mastermind behind the scenes and whoever was out there likely was a minor concern that would quickly be brought to justice by the vampire authorities.

Kia told him that they too were on the case and wished to bring whoever responsible for trial. Radvir nodded and presented her with papers found on the nosferatu as they seized him. That vampire had been playing a strange game for some time and they’d kept their eyes on him for some time. And for good reason, it seemed. The papers confirmed three noble families of Caliphas hiring him to perform three of the murders on some of the most esteemed members of the community, which was pretty solid, Radvir thought. Kia agreed on this and asked whether Radvir had any other suspects to go on, which he admitted wasn’t the case. Perhaps it was a mortal or enthralled minions of some kind?
As they left the store, they spoke about these papers. Mutt and Edgar, however, realized that the three mentioned noble families had left Caliphas months ago?...
The mystery grew thick.

(Again, for some really strange reason there are no names given of nobles in the adventure. You might do yourself a favor and come up with some of your own.)

Drinks and Devils
The heroes went to investigate the vampire community for a bit. They began by visiting the cathedral of Zaebo, the infernal duke of arrogance, nobility and perversion. Both Galfur and Colin refused to enter this unholy place, leaving Kia, Edgar and Mutt to themselves.

Inside they met up with Desmond Kote, the inquisitor, along with two of his priests. Kote didn’t care much for their presence and initially was quite dismissive. As they spoke more about the killings he couldn’t tell them much they didn’t already know, except for his agreement when they presented to him the stake they found earlier. Kote had been gathering stakes from previous victims as well, noticing the all too similar patterns on them, as if they came from the same carpenter. He had been unable to track this person down, however. He suggested the heroes spoke to Lady Evgenya if they wished to know more about patterns in regards to the victims.

(There is a skill challenge involved here, but I frankly hate them, so I skipped it)
A group of very curious nobles met the heroes as they entered Lady Evgenya’s Salon, bidding them welcome in a very sly way. One of them who seemed to be the main man at the door asked them thoroughly for their purpose of being here, and Kia expressed the urgency of meeting the Lady and that they were working for Luvick.

The heroes were ordered to wait for a while in which they inspected the room. Several thralls were resting in the room, drinking, smoking and eyeing them eagerly. It was obvious that Lady Evgenya was a vampire with plenty of people at her side. At one time, a small undead girl came to the group, insisting to dance with some of them. Kia immediately sent Edgar to do it. After all he was the slave now. This was done with some reluctance and fierce gazes from the cleric.
Also, an elderly vampire with an appetite for small people insisted on burrowing Colin for a dance on the floor. While considered for some time, Kia agreed, sending the halfling dancing, well knowing that any kind of turmoil would likely result in their deaths.

(I strongly considered having ‘Confusion Pump’ playing in here. Just saying)

Lady Evgenya arrived in a burst, slamming open the door and with a sob hurled her arms around Kia, crying. She knew Luvick would never abandon her; how fortunate he’d sent capable minions to protect her in these times of danger!

(I played the vampires quite a bit more eccentrically than they were likely intended. Lady Evgenya was histrionic drama queen on the verge of borderline. Period.)

Kia gently calmed her down and agreed dancing with her. While they did so the vampire kept sobbing and telling how much she feared for her life. She was absolutely sure that the murderer would come for her next, just as he had already taken the lives of three of her very best friends. She’d noticed a very strange pattern in the killings; for example that many of the murders had happened around Restoration Park. Another interesting fact was that the murderer seemed to only go for vampires with large amounts of thralls and spawns below them, which only gave a stronger indication of her being next, as she was the one currently holding the most thralls in the community. In addition, there had been a strange tendency among the spawns left behind from their dead master. They had started acting weird, almost as if they had become…secretive and covert.
She was so afraid to go out that she had fortified herself inside her salon, refusing to leave before the murderer had been brought to rest.
She insisted that Kia and her slaves would stay with her for all eternity. Kia managed to talk her way out of this, stressing that there was no need for any drastic measures. They needed to get out soon so they could bring down the murderer and avenge her friends, after all. But she did promise to come back and be her plaything very soon!

The heroes left the salon quickly and got their bearings together.

(Edgar's player, Silverglass, made this lovely piece of art from the scene. I think she nailed it quite well!)

Bloody right!
Acting on rumors the heroes decided to seek out some spawns and stick an ear to the unholy ground. Apparently, according to the few spawns that wanted to talk to them, there was a gatheringplace in the community not far away known as the Blood Cellar, in which many of them came to ‘get their thrill’. When asked, they described it as a feeling of ecstasy, like utter freedom they had never encountered since they were embraced into the vampiric society. It reminded them of mortality.

The heroes, curious to find out more, headed to the Blood Cellar to find out more.

(Again this adventure is horribly vague on this part. All it says is that the spawns and thralls are ‘acting weird’ which is then left for you to interpret. I decided to run them like junkies, finally tasting what it was like to live a free and mortal life without the heavy mantle of undead hanging on their shoulder. I suppose it’s entirely up to you how you wish to run it).

At the cellar, several spawns were gathered and the party sent in Mutt, pretending to be another junkie in need for his extract. Two kind vampires in the cellar provided him with a vial of red substance for almost no money, and he staggered back out quickly. As none of the heroes had any knowledge of alchemy, they decided to get out of town for now, and find someone who’d know about this substance.

You have been waylaid by enemies and must defend yourself!
Suddenly on their way out, the party was ambushed by spell casting coming from up the tunnel. Two fireballs roared towards them and brought them half to their knees. The invisible vampires won initiative and boomed them repeatedly, slaying Galfur and being damn close having serious impacts on the remaining party (Galfur had three negative levels at this time, so it wasn’t really his day…)

The heroes quickly rallied, healed and got off a True Seeing spell on Colin, who localized the two vampires from the Blood Cellar. Kia moved into position and cast a Glitterdust (YES! WE FRIGGIN GOT OUR SPARKLY VAMPIRES!!). They cried out “You should never have interfered with this!” and hurled scorching rays at Kia, bringing her to -3 hit points (One ray missed on a natural 1. It made all the difference.)
Edgar brought her back up and Colin began pin cushioning the vampires, who in exchanged hurled scorching rays back at him. Mutt broke the tie by charging in, tearing the first vampire apart. The party then focused fire on the second one who tried dominating Mutt into finishing off Kia. (That natural 20 sure came in handy on that save!)

With the vampires slain, the heroes set out from the tunnels quickly and returned to the surface. With their dead companion needing a raise they had important business to see to first. And then decide how to best track down this mysterious killer.

To be continued next week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

D&D: Shadowman's Tricks and Traps review

If you’re a GM, like me, there is a possibility that you one time or the other dared venturing into the exciting terrain known as riddles and puzzles. Like me. The benefits of such seem obvious, truth to be told, especially regarding various fantasy settings such as Dungeons and Dragons. Games in which the heroes all too often get to rely on their brute force and high numbers and solve most things by a mere roll of the dice.
Puzzles are awesome in this regard as they force your players to stand down and approach the issue from a whole new angle. This also counts for the metaperspective; there is nothing I love more than watching power games being reduced to frowning piles of passive aggression, as their “ZOMG PERFECTLY BEST BUILD!!!” does nothing against riddling texture on a door. It’s just how it is.

If you’re REALLY like me (okay, we’re stretching it here) you’ve delved deep into various sourcebooks for puzzles and riddles because you, let’s face it, are not clever enough to come up with your own. That’s okay; I usually tell people it’s because I work too much to figure out my own riddles. Luckily, for people like us, the internet and plenty of books out there offer solid alternatives and today I’m going to talk a little bit about the newest order that hit my mail; Shadowman’s Tricks and Traps by Cloud Kingdom Games.

How not to get carried away by a moonlight shadowman
Some people might be familiar with previous publications from Cloud Kingdom Games; such as Riddle Rooms 1: Dungeon Dilemmas and Riddle Rooms 2: Wilderness Puzzles and Perils. Whereas both books did offer some interesting ideas, some certainly more involved and creative than others, to me it was never a secret that the big time hitters were the Shadowman-scenarios included. One in each book, the second one being notoriously longer and more challenging than the first.

Essentially, the shadowman-scenario reduces the campaign to a PC adventure game from the 90’es. The players are stripped of all powers and let alone in an isolated area, such as a room or a very small house. Unable to escape, unless they acquire a very certain item, they are forced to muster their brains and do some serious chain-thinking in order to succeed. It’s the classy adventure-game mentality as some of us have learned to love. In order to get the map tattooed on a guy’s back we need to get to him over burning sand, which requires us to find something that will allow us to pass the burning sand, but before we can get to that, we need to find a way to distract the guard watching it, and so on. It’s an awfully simple, yet appealing, way of dealing with problems that often turned more complex than intended.

Enjoy the front. It doesn't get any better.
I ran both Shadowman scenarios for my Savage Tide group with great success. It was therefore no biggie for me to set up a big event before ordering Shadowman’s Tricks and Traps (honestly, a whole book NAMED after him! Awesome! It even says it comes with three small adventures of pure puzzles!) and today it arrived in the mail.

My impressions?
Not really that positive. But it’s important that you know where I’m coming from with this.

What’s wrong with Shadowman’s Tricks and Traps?
Allow me to first and foremost say; if you’re one of the (very few, I imagine) people out there considering to order the book for the same reason as I did; don’t. There are ZERO scenarios in the 90’es adventuregame style. None.

The book is bigger than I imagined and roughly speaking contains a small series of separate puzzles followed by a few chapters of connected riddles and challenges, such as being stranded on a deserted island and finding your way off. In addition, the book is supplemented by a Hint and Solution chapter which is greatly needed for some of the challenges. Compared to previously mentioned books, there is surprisingly few illustrations in STT and the few you’ll find are mostly boring and look like clipart torn out from Windows in black and white. Shame.

Regarding the quality and difficulty of the puzzles it’s worth noticing that this book first and foremost seems to be a riddle book and then secondly, something you can use in your roleplaying campaign. There is often a quick tip as to how you can incorporate a puzzle into a session, but nothing that will rock a seasoned GM. It’s easy to get the impression that this books is in fact better enjoyed alone on a winter’s eve before the fireplace, or on holiday at the beach in which you wish to keep your brain on the run.
But again, nothing a good GM wouldn’t be able to compensate for. Just don’t rely too much on the illustrations.

However, for this very reason the puzzles never get specific ally fantasy-minded. Most of them are pure word-plays, code cracking or intended to take up time. For example, in one puzzle you’re simply presented with a text of gibberish that COULD be read as a certain sentence provided the players have a certain kind of twisted mindset, as the book states. Even though hints can always be given, this seems to be stretching it. Even when I was aware of the solution and ran through the puzzle once again, I just never saw it. And knowing my players (and thinking of just about every player I’ve had) I’m damn well sure none of them would as well.

Of course everything gets better with hints. Otherwise, the sole way of solving some of the puzzles seems to involve staring down the page till a revelation presents itself. Again, wordplays, puns and numbers make up the bread and butter for the puzzles in this book, meaning you’d likely be safe using them in a D&D session as well as taking them to a social night with your co-workers (although I wouldn’t guarantee about their reaction). These puzzles are SAFE puzzles, for good and evil. They are neither original nor especially innovative in any ways.

Speak English!
STT is in English; hardly a surprise. But what matters is the fact that since the book insists so heavily upon wordplays, you’ll likely have a really hard time shoehorning some of the puzzles into your game unless it’s an English speaking one. For the majority this is no issue and you can likely look past this complaint. But for the rest of us this gets a bit annoying. Whereas some people in my own group speak great English, I know for sure some of them would be put off at the very notion. And I already loathe when I cut off players due to puzzle-placement.

An example of this, which is really not a huge spoiler, is getting a guy a spyglass, even though there is no spyglass to be found. Instead, the solution is to steal a drinking glass from the spy drinking in the tavern. This one is clever, I really liked it, but it’s damn near impossible to translate into my language. A more horrible example involves a blacksmith looking for a hammer. The solution is to get a ham and have butcher write an R into it. HamR. HaaaamEEERRRRRRR. GET IT??

In these cases, STT seems more like a cheap montage of entertainment. Bad puns rather than challenging puzzles, and it’s a shame. I really hope that someday I’ll get the chance to try it out with an English speaking group just to see the difference, but until then it now rests safely on the shelf, high up and away from use. While the ideas behind the scenarios and some of their challenges are not bad, these are pretty much the only good thing I can point out regarding this book.

The conclusion
If the language issue is not prominent in your case, I’d say it might be worth a try, although you shouldn’t expect miracles regarding some of the puzzles. If you’re group is more pragmatic or they wish to solve puzzles through actions and not only pun-play; I really wouldn’t recommend getting this at all. Save your money for something better, perhaps try the other two books I’ve described. As for now, 20$ is not a whole lot for a riddle book, but on the other hand; it’s too much for THIS riddle book.
It’s a shame we see so few truly dedicated puzzle-riddle books for the fantasy setting, but if have any recommendations that don’t fall into the pits mentioned in this review, I’d love to hear from you and pass along the info!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Diablo 3 - Inferno Act 2 cleared

In the wake of my most recent blog about Diablo 3 and our efforts of progressing into Inferno mode I’ve been having some questions regarding my personal solo play and impression of the brick wall that is currently making up the late portion of the game.

As I’ve described in the previous part we got to around act 2 Inferno, in which a lot of people are frankly ramming their heads, not inexplicably, against an immovable object. If you’ve been at the game for at least some time you’ll know of this and the storm of complaints it has resulted in for several people. A lot of stuff has changed since then; for instance, most of us have reached act 3. Also the real money auction house has seen its early steps and it’s been interesting to see, not to mention feel, what impact this has made on my game.

I’m saying MY game in this regard, as I rarely wish to comment on other people’s reactions. I do that for a living, after all. In my spare time, I just wish to express my own concerns in this regard, which I assume is also the reason you’re still reading up on this.

For those uninitiated, I’m still sticking fiercely and relentlessly to my barbarian, whom I began playing shortly after the game was released and I dumped my Witch Doctor. There is something brilliant about the barbarian class, especially the way they’ve really made sure to provide you with the feeling of pure power behind every blow. The sound alones are awesome and I never tired of it up till the start of inferno.

Spank me! Harder!
 Another thing you haven’t likely noticed if you’ve followed the community of D3 is the massive wave of concerns regarding the current gap between ranged and melee-classes. If you’ve played a monk or a barbarian in Inferno act 2+ you also likely have an idea what I’m talking about. Especially if you’ve played them as I think they should be played (as in; hurling yourself into the fray in a steel-wind of destructive chaos. Not sprinting around farting tornadoes out of your ass…).
Even Blizzard themselves have acknowledged that, yes; there is a problem in this regard. Ranged classes simply have it too easy kiting their way through the acts, scooping in the epics and laughing all the way to the bank as they cash in on the AH from starved barbarians yearning for whatever upgrades that might buy them a few more precious seconds of life, as they’re surrounded by vortex-frozen-arcane-dessecrate elite packs of stingers. 

Unfortunately, the current attempts at solving this issue have been an odd mix of vague and illogical, mostly relying on punishing ranged further and sadly drawing in melees (We up the repair costs, THAT’LL TEACH THOSE ZERGING-RANGED BASTARDS!!!... Because we all know melees never zerg). On the other hand, incoming inferno nerfs are generally on their way for everyone and the +damage buff for multiple players is down for the count.

While I’m a huge personal fan of the last, most of these solutions seem like symptom treatment rather than acknowledging a general bad design of Inferno-mode. Inferno mode isn’t about skill. At least not in the majority of it. It’s one huge, massive, massive gear check that sadly allows wizards and demon hunters to skulk around the back door.

I’m old now, but strong. And very gear dependant. That’s what matters.
At the time of writing, patch 1.0.3 seems to be the harbinger of a brilliant future and the promised land of Diablo 3. Some have even gone to such great lengths as to say it’s the end of the beta. While some elements of the patch surely seem long overdue, such as the buffing of Legendaries, I think it’s simply too early to tell in regards to melee-ranged balances.
As for the current time, we can only relate to what we’ve got, and for the same reason I wanted to talk a bit about Act 2 on inferno, from a barbarian perspective.  I’d once again like to point out these are merely my own numbers and what worked for me from a personal perspective. Much of my inspiration comes from Kripparian’s channel, who you should really consider checking out. Just don’t be discouraged by his gear; this guy can get away with pretty much everything he wants in that gear.

As a quick setup these were my aims for trudging through act 1 and it worked quite okay:
400+ resist all
6000+ armor
6000+ dps (you can get away with less, but killing will take time)
around 30k hp
500+ Life on hit weapon

Stat priority on gear is something along resist all>vitality>str but having all three on an item is, needless to say, preferable. There is a lot of debate regarding the viability of improved attack speed, which really beefs up your dps and works great in tandem with Life on Hit, but due to the incoming nerfs to this ability, I’d say to wait and see the end result before going crazy. Still, some barbarian builds make great use of this for some truly impressive numbers:

My build is as follows (yes, tanky barbarians are fun):!bVe!aaZcYc

Some will argue against Superstition. It’s saved my ass several times.
I like leap over furious charge, mostly due to utility. Plus, you’ll truly feel the Iron Impact damage reduction and it’s on a relatively short cooldown, allowing you to semi-spam it.
Threatening shout can be traded for whatever you prefer, really.

I’ve had it with this mother*cking Kulle in this mother*king desert!
I had huge issues when I reached act 2. I know, not the only one around. But getting my ass handed to me big time was truly frustrating and some elites I flat out didn’t stand a chance against and would get killed within mere seconds. Alternatively I’d just run around all the time to avoid pools of desecrate or fire chains.
I didn’t take hard notice about when things started to change, but I’ll say that 6k dps won’t get you very far in act 2, as things really take a lot more punishment. As far as I remember, things changed a lot when I reached around the 8.5k dps, 800 resistance (after shout) and  around 40k hit points. I still died a lot, though and had to stick to small trash groups.  Some elite packs I flat out had to either ignore or zerg down one by one, waiting for berserker rage to go off cooldown.
Another thing which helped immensely in Act 2 is a solid shield. Preferably a Storm Shield. I got mine with a mere 20% block and still it did wonders for me.

Once you get around handling trash in act 2, you’re pretty well set for the majority of it, I’ll say. There aren’t that huge variety, perhaps except the fleeing ones in the large open areas. Such as in the oasis or the bone desert before Kulles final resting place, in which you can easily pull another trash pack if you aren’t careful.
The salamanders hurt me a lot. Some people claim them to be dreadfully easy; I don’t get it. I think they were more than nasty. 

Magda is not particularly hard, although her adds do involve some kiting perhaps. Kulle, on the other hand, is a nightmare for most barbarian from what I’ve heard. It’s recommended to either get help or be very, very patient. Trouble is, you’ll likely spend most of your juice smashing his adds, leaving yourself open to him later on. Ignoring them is a pretty bad idea also. Alternatively you can bug him out, which is likely only a method for the desperate people.

I got stuck on Belial phase 2, all up till today in which the real money auction house launched (and I do friggin wonder how many people out there are saying something similar today…). Once you push him into his third phase and you have decent resistances and hit points, Belial Inferno is surprisingly easy. Just keep dodging his green stuff (which WILL kill you!) spam iron impact leaps for massive armor and you’ll be able to survive direct hits from him.

I’d like to say there is no shame in skipping or rushing parts of act 2, really. Everything is meaner and more stupid here, especially those god damn stingers that I am sure was designed by a very, very lonely and miserable person who hates mankind.
In fact, the worst parts I felt to be the narrow, small corridors, such as the sewers, in which I had so little room to navigate in from those blasted fire chains-arcane-frozen combos.

Act 3 and the role of the real money auction house?
Like so many other people I’ve bought new pieces of equipment for real life money now. There is no shame in admitting that anymore (well, depending on who you ask; I surely won’t judge you). So far it’s been only new gloves and pants while the rest of my gear has been either farmed or bought for gold before everything was inflated into those ridiculous amounts previously.
And yet, I’ll have to admit, I still splat relatively easily in act 2. Trash rarely gives me any trouble what so ever, but still there are some elites in which I simply burn a berserker rage and tear one up before dying or running away, waiting for a new berserker rage, rinse and repeat till dead. I’ve included a snap-shot of my character’s stats, just to give you an impression of the relative values compared to what monsters do.

 Going into act 3 now is massive. The monsters have sooo many hit points, they hit a wee bit harder than in act 2 and from what I’ve hard they later on hit quite a lot harder. I goofed around for a bit and had to realize that I really needed more damage in order to down anything within a reasonable amount of time or beef up my defenses a solid bit, otherwise I’d easily get torn apart.

And yes, this is how Inferno is supposed to work; I’m well aware- extra challenge and all that.
My point is; from my calculations I’ve spent around 20-25 millions of gold on this character. And some of the veteran players out there will quickly point out that this is nothing compared to some other barbarians / monks who’re further into the game than I am. Today I even paid real money for it. Not a huge issue for me as I’m not economically struggling, but the principle of it still shows that the wise move for me now is to spend more money on more gear.

I’ve decided to step back a bit and take a deep breath. Maybe I need to change specc, even though this one has worked so well. Maybe I’m not seeing something here. But at the moment I’ll have to admit I’m not having so much fun with Inferno. I suppose the reasonable thing to do then would be to farm Act 2 for a while, but then again, with patch 1.0.3 not so long into the future, farming too deeply into stuff atm. could seem like a waste, depending on your point of view.

I’m fine with this, to be fair. As I’ve spoken to my friends about, once we’ve completed Inferno, there’s likely not that much left in the game for us to do. It’s odd, however, to see it happen so quick, taken into consideration how long it took me before I could safely say I could farm Act 5 Hell in Lord of Destruction.
I really don’t want to spend any more money on D3 than I already have. Even if it means hanging around waiting for nerfs in order to complete the game. At its current state, the EU real money auction house is not in a terribly bad state; it’s easy to get some fair gear for a manageable amount. The great stuff, of course, is still floating around up there around the 200+ euro mark and since this pretty much represents  the only remaining true upgrades for me, I’m figuring it may be time for a little break or so.

I’ll make sure to come back with some opinions once 1.0.3 hits. I have the feeling that it could potentially turn much of the game around into something entirely different. The real question is whether for good or ill.