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Steven Saunders Presents:








 

TOTAL PARTY KILL #3

A Total Party Kill (TPK) is the colloquial term for when, in a single encounter during the course of a role-playing game adventure, the entire party of player characters is killed.” – The Codex Wikipedia

Howdy and well met, weary Internet denizen and/or traveller! Welcome to the third episode of TOTAL PARTY KILL, my bi-weekly column of gaming and comics madness.

I’m always tweaking and fixing things, and now I would like to try something new. What you will see below is a Table of Contents broken down by section, with very short descriptors so you may scroll with more ease! And who knows? Maybe I can figure out how to link to them directly so all you have to do is click and save that valuable finger for more important duties like playing Diablo II, Fate or Sacred.

Initially I was going to have this jam packed with content, but I only have so much time I can dedicate to this madness, so what you’re going to get is what I quickly threw together. Hopefully, that’s okay. Mainly what suffered were the comics bits, but you should still enjoy what’s provided… right?

Note to publishers: I happily accept review product and will most certainly cover it here in TPK should you deem me worthy to receive your hard-earned efforts. Please contact me if you care to risk your adventuring party’s safety.


Table of Contents:

I. Pulling Serious RPGees.
II. Minis on the Mind, Terrain on the Brain.
III. Arbitrary Random Idea Generator.
IV. Videogame Killed the Radiogame Star
V. Short Uncontrolled Bursts.
VI. Spotlight of the Fortnight.
VII. Nibbles & Nabs
Appendix. The Important Self-Important Stuff

Alright, let’s get this show on the road. Daylight is burning and once it gets dark we are likely to be stomped, and then eaten by a 30 metre tall MechaGrue!

I. Pulling Serious RPGees

D&D 4th edition. By now, everyone has given their opinion of 4e and then some. I don’t know how my thoughts will matter on this subject, but if you’re curious here goes. Personally, I don’t like it much so far. Now, I don’t hate it. In fact, I think it runs like a well oiled machine. But to be honest, I can see why the new D&D board game never got released in the States—because 4th Ed. is the new D&D board game! Seriously, it plays more like Baldur’s Gate than any PnP D&D I know. Sure, it lacks the unnecessary crazy combat times of 3x, but I always smoothed over those with house rules. Fourth Edition lacks a lot of what I loved about Dungeons & Dragons for the last 25 years. This sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. 4e is a new game for a new generation. Grognerds like me will shake their heads and wish for the old days. Keep in mind, it took me years to accept 3x, jumping on board around 3.5. One thing that has my interest piqued is some of the third-party material, especially from Expeditious Retreat Press, who has what looks to be some great items, The Advanced Player’s Handbook, Plague, Lands of Darkness: The Barrow Grounds and a couple adventures. These seem to promise, to me anyway, a marriage of the old-D&D sensibility with the 4e new-car smell. I’ll be picking up the Advanced Player’s Guide and Plague in October and then I’ll tell you more (get a preview of the Advanced Player’s Guide HERE)! Expeditious Retreat Press has always given us awesome products, with the A Magical Society line springing immediately to mind as some of the most essential world-building book EVER published. Until I actually playtest 4th Ed. D&D myself, I can only give it a temporary score of: Well, now that our characters are down for the respawning count, let’s bust out some Descent to while away the time!



Mutant Future
. Are you a retro-clone game-dork like me? Into stuff like Gamma World? Want retro-clone Gamma World!? Then you’re in luck. Mutant Future is brought to us by those lovable bastards at Goblinoid Games, who do Labyrinth Lord, in case ye have heard of it. And you know what? The PDF version is FREE. Mutant Future is simple enough, emulating the best in post-apoc roleplay without getting the plutonium driven lawsuit hounds after anyone. Essentially, this game is Labyrinth lord minus the fantasy trappings. They call it a “next-generation retro-clone” and they also say Mutant Future is not a direct clone of a particular game”. But in reality, it’s essentially a more streamlined, better-rules-driven Gamma World— and I love it. Forget d20 Gamma World and all that stuff, kids, this mutant hoedown is where it’s at. In Goblinoid’s own words: “…it is more like Frankenstein’s Monster in that it takes an old-school infusion of rules from Labyrinth Lord, classic science fantasy rules, and additional material from more recent open game content”. Anyway, I have to take this baby out for a test-drive yet, but I will tell you that it reads like a dream and purrs like a tentacled attack-kitten so far. The art is rough in spots, but considering the bang-for-yer-buck factor, you lot who enjoy post-apocalyptic madness simply cannot go wrong with this game. Score: Party nearly wiped out by an angry plant telepathically screaming “Get off mah porch!” The pure-strain human with the slug-thrower got away, but it’s believed he has some eggs in his ear canal… and we know those eggs will just attracted mutant badgers. Nasty mutant badgers.

Houses of the Blooded. Do you like deals? I love deals. How about RPG design savant John Wick’s new 438-page game, Houses of the Blooded, for FIVE BUCKS? Oh, do I have your attention now? Apparently, he really wants people playing his game. I can understand this, as I really want to play his game. Here’s the copy on HotB, just so you know: “Thousands of years ago, the ven ruled the world. They were a passionate people, obsessed with Romance and Revenge, opera and theater, and all the forbidden delights their decadent culture provided. In the end, that which made them beautiful was also the key to their own destruction. Houses of the Blooded is a game about tragic obsession. Set in the fantastic world of ven myth and legend, players take the roles of powerful characters bent on conquering their world, destroying their enemies and possessing all they desire.” Sound good? Damn right it does. This may be the kind of RPG that does for me that the World of Darkness line failed to do (not that I have anything against WoD—it’s just not my thing usually). HotB also seems to push the paradigms of conventional rpg wisdom, and even has different modes of play (“friendly game” and “cut-throat”). Sadly, I haven’t gotten a chance to crack the PDF open, as I’m on deadline to write this (oh, bittersweet irony). But I’ll be looking at it soon and hopefully in a future installment of TPK I can ramble about it some more. In the meantime, buy this game! It’s only FIVE DOLLARS. Like fo’ reals, people. I can safely say it’s worth it. Score: Shopkeeper-induced TPK. It’s just brutal when this happens.

Twilight: 2013. One product in development I’ve been keeping my eye-stalks on is Twilight: 2013 from 93 Games Studio. I remember the good ‘ol days when I used to play (and later run) Twilight 2000 games with my friends. The grim, post-Red Storm Risingesque future where the party is a group of left-over Allied (NATO) soldiers left over is someplace like Poland, trying to scavenge some kind of new life amongst the ruins of Europe and so forth. Normally, games were cut short in a hail of 7.62 rounds complete with armoured support (man, John and I were a Killer GM). The thing which stuck out the most to me was the realism involved. It was definitely the military themed game to play back then. Now, Game Studio 93 wants to bring us the next chapter in this franchise. They have a design blog on Livejournal HERE, so stop by and take a look at those new pages they just posted. I’ll be getting this as soon as it comes out! And, of course, I’ll cover my thoughts right here in TPK. Score: The former Allied unit walks into the smoking abandoned village with serious trepidation. Wait! Was that the glint of a sniper’s scope? What’s that rumbling sound?

Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy. I just thought I would give a report on what I think of the system so far, since I’ve started an online group using a combination of Skype and OpenRPG. I am pleased with the rules-system thus far, as it allows for a lot of flexibility, is easy to learn, and is basically the best version of Warhammer Fantasy RPG rules you can find. In fact, I’ll probably adopt some bits over to the WFRP campaign I’m planning on running… No real score necessary here, but I will certainly make tiny progress reports as we play this. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten too much done the last couple of seshes (my fault) and I should have more things to spew next time.

Alright, that’s the main thrust for RPGs this column… moving on!

II. Minis on the Mind, Terrain on the Brain

As I have mentioned in previous columns, I love the advent of quality paper-miniatures and terrain you can print out and make yourself. I mean, sure, Reaper and Dwarven Forge have some seriously amazing products (which I hope to cover in future instalments), but let’s face it: them’s some pricey stuff. Especially after it all adds up. $5 isn’t that much for a single mini, but when you need, say, an undead army to effectively illustrate your player’s imminent and rather bloody TPK, paper models are very useful and cost-effective, indeed. Plus, they’re fun and easy to construct! This fortnight’s paper mini focus is One Monk Miniatures. They have a great product line, full of fantasy and sci-fi miniatures you can use in your roleplay games-- and are even cut for wargaming! That’s right, you can use these for Warhammer Fantasy Battle if you’d like. One incredibly good deal that caught my eye was the Skeleton Infantry Battalion Bundle which can be purchased at RPGnow.com.


 

As you can see, you can get a lot for just under nine bucks. Also, they add standards you can colour yourself, or use the pre-coloured versions! Nice touch, that. Each mini has front and back detail and looks very nice, especially when you consider the price at which you are getting them.

Hey look! Evil Villains! And let’s get a closer gander at the Skelton Command, shall we?






And need some monsters? Well then, pick up their free monster sampler!


 

All in all, One Monk provides quite nicely for your tabletop gaming needs. And be sure to take a look at their sci-fi minis, as well! I plan to use them myself for Traveller and Warhammer 40k: Dark Heresy.

It should be noted that these paper-miniatures aren’t just really well done and freaking cheap, but they’re also DRM free! This means you can share them with your gaming group buddies and copy/paste at will. How cool is that?

So, please be sure to visit One Monk’s website and take a look around. Buy lots of stuff and wet your pants with glee while you do it, too. There is plenty of helpful advice there if you need it. Just, uh, don’t get any pee on your new miniatures!

I suppose that’s one drawback, eh?

Wait… holy crap! FREE DEEP ONES. Sweet baby zombie-killing Jesus, people. I’m in love!



 

Score: Epic TPK. That party didn’t even know what hit it.

III. Arbitrary Random Idea Generator

“Generally, I tended to play (when I still gamed regularly) more ‘modern’-themed stuff, as opposed to fantasy. For espionage games, I tend to use my alerts from my Jane's various briefs (Law Enforcement, Aviation, etc.) as inspirational material. Often, I'd use geography resources as well; basically, just find three or four really cool exotic locales, and construct a plot to string the locations together. It tended to lead to very ‘James Bond’ sort of games. As for comics, it doesn't matter, really. My ‘inspirational’ sources are pretty varied, depending on subject matter. For character inspiration, I tend to use music as a mnemonic. (The "Carl Draper" character in Checkmate has his own playlist in iTunes, which for some reason helps me write him, for example). For plot, I read very broadly, particularly in non-fiction, and try to use that knowledge to inform whatever plot I'm constructing.” – Eric Trautmann, comic book writer (Checkmate, PopGun Vol. 2, Final Crisis: Resist) and recovering gamer (he used to work for West End Games, even). It should be noted that Eric is the evil man who gave me my copy of The World of Synnibarr, a book which will be the subject of a future ARIG, I’m sure.

This time around, I would like to direct your attention to two more RPG books that I use constantly as idea salt-mines. Both of them have to do with one of my fave elements to throw at players: The Undead. I mean, who doesn’t like the undead? They’re the perfect adversaries, and they kick ass! Anyway, here they are…



 

Say what you will about D&D and d20, but when I pull Libris Mortis: The Book of the Undead out, my players freak. Hell, I’ve just sat it down near my stuff during Star Wars, Judge Dredd and Warhammer Fantasy RPG campaigns I could see the poor fools staring at it nervously, wondering if I was going to use it against them somehow. If I may be frank (“Hi, Frank!”), this is the best book WotC has released so far. Just in sheer intimidation value it’s worth every penny. I wonder if they’ll do something similar for 4e, but the original is going to be hard to top. Combining some of the best ideas released into the d20 wilds and some brand new ones, Libris Mortis is essential if you are going to run lots of undead in your D&D games. As for an idea mine, it’s great. It covers easy rules and suggestions on how to play undead as characters, new classes, new types of undead, new ideas on tried-and-true types of undead, new kinds of undead magicks (necrotic cysts FTW!), and all sorts of great undead nasties to unleash on your unwitting group. Seriously, if you are going to use this book, keep it out of sight. Just being on your bookshelf is enough to drive any group into a paranoid frenzy. I mainly use this as a supplement for other games when I need ideas about new spells or some kind of vile creature of my own design to wipe out those snivelling PCs with. For instance, flipping through the monster section right now I see an entry on Dire Rat Zombies—nice, I can use those in any number of games or systems with a little tinkering. And look, an Entropic Reaper. That gives me a zillion new ideas. That’s what this book is best for: ideas. If I get stuck on what I want in a campaign, or hell, even writing stories, I flip through Libris Mortis and get inspired almost immediately. If you are a fan of the undead, this is a book you cannot live— or unlive— without.



 

Here’s a dark gem the fine fiends at Necromancer Games released a few years back. Sold as a campaign setting in of itself, The Bonegarden is one of the coolest RPG books released in modern times. The Bonegarden itself is a cemetery, a necropolis circular in nature and harbouring all sorts of undead. Getting in is easy; just hop the wall. But getting out? That’s another story entirely! You can run an entire campaign in the Bonegarden, as other living creatures have been trapped there, given up on immediate escape, and have started their own societies. There’s even an underground culture going on! Seriously, the work put into this whole scenario / setting is incredible. Sadly, I have yet to run a Bonegarden campaign, but I have certainly mined many a thing from its obscenely glorious pages. One example is that I needed some ideas on an old cemetery in my campaign world for D&D, and Bonegarden came to the rescue with some structure on how to set up the cemetery, and what new spells the denizens had within (Blood Bath and Death March, if I recall correctly). And you bet your ass I’ve used the Undead Mimic and the Death Eye (undead Beholder!!) before. So, it’s not only a terrifically written source for new campaign material, but it’s a campaign itself. You really can’t go wrong with The Bonegarden. It’s one of my most treasured gamebooks.

You can find copies of either book through Amazon.com, your local game store, or buy the PDFs from RPGnow.com.

Score: The party’s minds are blasted into something resembling stale, broken Pop-Tarts mixed with mustard. No more SAN for them to speak of. Basically an educational TPK.

IV. Videogames Killed the Radiogame Star


Ah, videogames. I love ‘em, but honestly I don’t get too much time to play them. This is why I tend to avoid MMOs and be attracted to hack/slashers like Diablo 2. Currently, I have been playing the new Fate game, Fate: Undiscovered Realms. The fist Fate game is a great Diablo-like, but it did get a little boring after a few dozen dungeon levels. The pet sidekick was a nice touch, and being able to feed said pet magic fish in order to change its creature type was an even nicer touch. Undiscovered Realms seems to play on the strengths of the first Fate by not changing too much while still adding some new things to keep the play fresh. Or fresher, anyway. The story is simple… read the website if you’re really interested in details.




Essentially instead of one town to save, now you have two. Each has their own dungeon, one being winter-ish, and the other forresty. Right out the gate, the monsters are freaking treasure piñatas. This is all well and good, but having to constantly go back to town to sell stuff (or send my pet) does get a wee bit tiring. Fortunately, as you progress further the treasure drops aren’t as insane. Every time you portal somewhere you will want to whisper “Nvidia!”, as it sounds just like the Nvidia spots. Some new and welcome things are Heroic Items, which you bring back to place on statues, and when you collect them all you get potions to feed to your pet; and a bevy of Dire Walruses are at your disposal to slaughter. No oozes have been sighted yet, but the sheer variety of monsters is impressive. And fun! I haven’t gone to the woodsy dungeon yet, opting for the more wintery one. The character progression system is still the same, allowing for all sorts of directions you want to take your little dungeon sweeper in. Personally, I opt for a swift-striking semi-tank with a little magic. So far, so good and being reasonably priced, Fate: Undiscovered Realms is an entertaining way to get that kill/loot fix. It’s also quite suitable for youngsters, too.

 

Score: 4 out of the 5 party members aren’t coming back. Though the pet scorpfeline of the dead ranger returned to town…


V. Short Uncontrolled Bursts

Huzzah for comics! And here are a scant few I think may appeal to fellow gamer nerds…

Sails of Blood. Looking for a good webcomic just setting to sea? Then swing by this one and take a look. Nice, action-packed art and a good story with pirates so far. This is one I think I’ll keep reading and see where it goes! Score: Avast! The party’s sloop is in dire peril… will it survive the galleon full of blood-thirsty of dread pirates getting ready to board?

The Harvest War. This fantasy comic has just popped up over at Zuda.com. It’s just starting, but it looks great so far. And from the synopsis provided, it would appear we’re in for an epic haul within the Kingdom of Caledon! Fantasy-action lovers take note. Score: The party has entered the Dungeon of Dooming Doom and already one of their number is dead as kobold civil rights. The rest of the party is going on… and the paladin is insisting he didn’t poop his +3 plate. It’s looking very TPKish, folks.


 

Conan the Cimmerian #2. After a somewhat shaky start, Conan come back in force. This well-worn but always-welcome type of tale wraps up, introducing Conan back to his native land with a tale of his grandfather. Between the well-paced writing and excellent art, any gamer worth her or his salt needs to buy this. Oh, and Connacht versus a werewolf? Victory. Score: TPK Hyborian style! This means it was messy, slippery and had many, many lamentations.

Jesus Hates Zombies. Right, by what you just fed your eyes alone, you should be chomping at the bit for MORE. Jesus hating zombies. And killing them. Plus! Abraham Lincoln beating down werewolves. Holy shit? Oh, yes. This whole thing is packed full of so much awesome your head might explode—so be careful! And bring a mop. Go ahead and read Those Slaw-Jawed Blues to get a taste of Jesus hating on some zombie mofos and then get yourself prepared for Jesus Hates Zombies featuring Linclon Hates Werewolves in: Yea, Though I Walk Volume One on the 24th of this month!!!!1 I’ve read it and I’m incredibly impressed. No game dork should pass this fantastic comic up. Don’t forget to get your delve on and look through the rest of the great title Alterna Comics has to offer. Score: Epic-Mega-Unholy TPK. The party is roasted alive in the beauteous flames of damnation and then eaten by LaVeyan Goblins.

Gun Street Girl. A terrific web-based comic brought to you by Barbara Lien-Cooper and Ryan Howe, this slightly under the radar comic is deserving of more attention. It has action, magic, and awesome characters that will get under your skin and stay there. You’ll be happy they do, too. Liz Pendragon is the ass-hander for “somewhat dodgy” magician Eddie Caution, and she really doesn’t like to be bored. Really, there’s a lot to go into and I could probably write a whole column on this great comic. Fact is, anyone who’s a gamer is doing themselves a serious disservice by not reading Gun Street Girl. It’s a lurid blend of the fantastic and grimy, gritty reality. Not only is the writing strong (and I mean REALLY strong), but the illustrative work is excellent and never falters. GSG deserves the love it gets from its loyal fans.

That’s all for now with comics. Kinda light this column, so I will make up for it next time!

VI. Spotlight of the Fortnight



This column has featured many of my favourite things, so it was real tough trying to pick something out to be the Spotlight. So, much like last week, I decided to rave about a company I have loved for years. Hirst Arts Fantasy Architecture Inc.Hirst Arts Fantasy Architecture Inc. is who I want to focus on for this bit. See, terrain (as you may guess) is a big deal to me. I’m a great, big slobbering admirer of tabletop terrain and structures. It’s because the miniatures are cool and everything, but having something for them to “run around” in (or on) is absolutely needed to me. Hirst Arts does something that is pretty unique in the industry, near as I can tell: They provide plaster moulds so that hobbyists may build their own structures from the parts they make. That’s right: moulds. At first, the idea is daunting, but actually it’s quite easy how it all works. As long as you have the time, that is. I’ve bought their block moulds before, just to play around with, and some neat things have resulted. Once again, I need to start taking pictures of what I do. I think I’ll make a future column the focus of this— you know, order something from Hirst Arts and build it, providing a play-by-play.



Anyhow, yeah, Hirst Arts can provide you something simple, like moulds for blocks, to the extravagant, like moulds for castles and fortifications. They even have moulds for those of the sci-fi persuasion! The best part of all is that like paper-minis, making your own parts to assemble is very cost effective. It really does like I’m trying to put the wonderful folks at Dwarven Forge out of business, doesn’t it? I hope I’m not read that way. I LOVE Dwarven Forge! It’s just that I’m not made out of money. If I was? Hell, I’d gladly give them much of it. Also I enjoy putting things from scratch, or nearly scratch. Hirst Arts provides this opportunity in spades. If you are a builder at heart and want terrain which will wow your friends, get your constructive hands on some of what Hirsts Arts has. And if you are worried that you will be overwhelmed by the sheer architectural weight of it all, don’t worry about failing that fear check; very comprehensive instructions and how-to’s are given, as well as some great support from the company itself.



Score: The Lich King’s metropolis of despairglows with solid TPK-nium. All adventuring parties know in there guts upon seeing it that it was built with the bones and sinew of fools exactly like them!


VII. Nibble and Nabs

And now for some short, short bits from all over the spectrum…

Quest for Glory II. This classic adventure game has been updated and will work on your new fangled machine!

Quad RPG. The QUick And Dirty Roleplaying Game. This game is designed to fit on two-sides of a single sheet of paper and be able to used right away for you gaming madness.

The RPG Cliché List. A classic, to be sure. And it bears mentioning once in a while.

3:16: Carnage Among the Stars. It’s the future. Kill bugs. Kick ass. I’ll be sure to give this a more proper look in the future!

Monster’s Den. A fun flash game to while away the time!

Relativistic Starship Calculator. This helps you compute times to reach places with a spaceship that can accelerate continuously. Or so it says. A must for Traveller fans.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Download the original game for free. Good times!

There we have it; another TPK down. It’s a bit sparse for my liking this time, but on the positive side there’s not as much to wade through. I’ll see you in two weeks! And don’t forget, you can read my thoughts on some other comics, games, and even beer occasionally at the Total Party Kill support blog, Diary of a Grognerd.

Until next time, keep those heads dice rolling.

Thought of the Fortnight: Only through the polyhedral gods will you achieve salvation.

Appendix. The Important Self-Important Stuff

- Email me!: Steven Saunders

- The TPK “support blog” where I try to pump out material every day. Lots of comic reviews, too: Diary of a Grognerd

- The daily gamer-centric webcomic Josh Wagner and I slave over for Lord Orcus: ORCUSVILLE

- A comic book set in the 14th century we’re working on: SALVUS

- Can’t get enough of me? Even my wife would say you are mad: My Livejournal

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