Tuesday, January 26, 2016

D20-Era Reviews Tuesday: From Stone to Steel

In the past, I had reserved Tuesdays for my "Game Design Decisions" posts, wherein I wrote about why I did things a certain way in my on-going World of Samoth Campaign (why I chose the races I did, how I handled religion and magic, etc.). Those posts pretty much ran their course with the end of the three-part (and very rambling) "Classes" series.

For the next few Tuesdays, I'll now be focusing on writing some reviews of some oft-forgotten old D20-era books that you may want to re-look at for your current campaigns. As always with my blog, I'm focusing here on ideas, not rules. So, for those of you who don't like the D20 bloat of classes and feats and all that, not to worry. I don't like that stuff, either. But, the D20 era was a time where very small publishers that might have a very niche product, which under other circumstances never would have seen the light of day, were able to publish handsome hard-cover, fully illustrated books with a D20 logo on them and find an instant audience. As such, for me, it was a time of discovering a lot of new ideas that I hadn't considered in the past.

I have written about a few D20 books before - most recently I wrote about using Northern Crown: New World Adventures as a basis of inspiration for a faux-Colonial era fantasy RPG. Today I'm going to focus on something almost akin to a history book - From Stone to Steel. This massive 351-page hard-cover tome was first published in 2003 using the original 3rd Edition Rules and that's the version I have. I was later updated to a 3.5 edition, but that's really just semantics as the majority of the rules would translate just fine.

While this book probably would fall into an "Arms & Equipment" guide category, it is so much more than that. Here's a look at the type of content included:

  • Sticks and Stones. An overview of the prehistoric era and the types of materials and tools they had available, including illustrations. It also includes sections on "The Pack Mentality," "War, Infection, and the Dead," first aid, and also covers a wide geography of Native Americans, Meso-Americans, and Islander, African, European, and "Other" developments during the time period. You of course also get some stats for Prehistoric weapons and armor. 
  • Chariots of Bronze. Covers the Bronze Age in Sumeria, Egypt, the Far East, the Incas, and Europe and the Mediterranean, including a discussion on copper versus bronze, military tactics, and a long overview of chariot combat. 
  • Iron and Empire. This part covers the Iron Age, focusing on the Assyrians, the Scythians, the Greeks, Persia, the rise of Macedonia, and sub-Saharan Africa. It also includes discussions on iron including rust and faeries. There are sections for psychological warfare, Greek fire, using elephants in combat, and history regarding the Greek-Persian wars. 
  • Rome. This covers the history of the early Roman monarchies and republic, the Punic Wars, Carthage, weapons and armor of Rome, the legionnaires, the Germans and Celts and their tactics, gladiators, animals as opponents, the Huns, and the fall of Rome. 
  • The Far East. Here you get weapons, armor, military tactics, and history for ancient China, India, and Japan, including different eras like the Han Dynasty, the Gupta Empire, the Ming Dynasty, and a whole section on the Wudan Movement. This section also includes information on Nepal, Okinawa, and Malaysia & Indonesia. 
  • A Dark Age, a Golden Age. This section covers the aftermath of the fall of Rome and the rise of the Barbarian Empires, early European Christianity, the rise of Islam, the British Isles (including notes on Arthur and the Saxon Invasion), Feudal Europe, Charlemagne, the Vikings, and the Crusades.  
  • Pageantry, Platemail, and Pistols. This is less focused on geography but instead discusses issues such as bows versus crossbows, war and military tactics, the rise of the Yeoman, firearms in the era, the beginning of the Renaissance, and the rise of "personal weaponry" (fencing swords and such). Some neat touches include things like a Janissary Prestige Class - again, even if you don't use D20/3rd Edition rules, you can still learn about the history of the Janissaries and how a class (social class, not "rules" character class) might fit into your campaign world. 
  • Myth and Magic. This section is a bit unique and covers ideas like Divine Items, Normal Magical Item Abilities, and Items by Region (including America, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Asia, India, Japan, Mesopotamia, Europe, Teutonic/Nordic Myth, Celtic Myth, Rome, Greece, Medieval), Historical Racial Items, and some new spells. 
  • Materials. This section covers using different types of materials to create weapons and equipment, such as Bone and Teeth, Cord, Dragon Hide and Scale, Fabric, Gemstone, Glass, Ice, Leather, Stone, Wood, and a variety of different types of Metal. There's some really creative stuff in here. It also includes ideas for maintenance and repair. 
  • Appendix. This large section includes alternate rules for armor and damage, some ideas on blunt force trauma, and a pretty long bibliography. The rest of the book is all tables and indices. 

I really like how the book covers so many different eras and cultures - most books like this tend to focus on Western European weapons, armor, and equipment, and then maybe pay some token respect with a few pages on Japan. But this book gets into much more detail on a variety of subjects - there's an illustration showing three different kinds of elephant barding used in India. There's a section on the revolt of the Red Eyebrows in the Han Dynasty.  There's also a whole section on the "Guang Hu Adventurer" which comes from a fictitious time period sometime in the early Ming Dynasty - but these are basically like who the main characters in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were like. It's not just presenting a new Prestige Class (which is does), but rather it's all the background about the era and why these adventurers do what they do.

For a history geek like me, who likes to try to include as much real-world history in his games as possible, this book was a huge benefit to me. It's fun to read, great to look at given that it's chock-full of illustrations, and a very useful book in terms of incorporating new ideas into your campaigns.

As mentioned, I have a hard-cover copy of this book, but the PDF is available on DriveThruRPG right now for only $5.00.

Did anybody else pick up this book back in the day? What are your thoughts on it? Leave them in the comments below!

  • Format: 351-page hard-cover black-and-white book (also available as a PDF)
  • Where to Buy: As mentioned, this is currently available as a PDF on DriveThruRPG, although I'm sure you could find used copies on Amazon, Ebay, or at a local game shop. 
  • Price: Originally, $39.95
  • More Information: Monkey God Enterprises, the pubishers of this book, seem to have gone out of business, so there is no "official" site for this book. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Everything (Big Room Mix)" by Kaskade

Monday, January 25, 2016

Looking Forward to 2016

Well, as I mentioned before, I lost most of my Summer and early Fall last year due to very unforeseen circumstances. But, things are progressing for the positive with my daughter, which is great news. While work remains extremely busy, I feel like I'm in a decent place where I can get back to the blog and not feel "guilty" about it.

At the tail-end of 2014 and early 2015, I did a "Daddy's Geek Top 10 of 2014" two-part post, recapping my list of cool things that debuted in 2014, including games, TV shows, movies, comics, and Star Wars stuff. I had intended to do a list for 2015 as well, but seeing as how we're already more than two weeks into 2016 and that I did kind of drop out for a bit to focus on my daughter's recovery, I think it makes more sense to focus on things that I'm looking forward to in 2016.

I'd love to hear your lists for 2016, as well as things that you really enjoyed from 2015. Please drop them into the comments below.

Coming in 2016...

  • Movies. 
    • Given how big a fan I am of DC Comics, it might seem obvious to think that I'm looking forward to "Batman vs Superman: Dawn of the Longest Movie Title", but sadly, as cool as the idea of having Batman and Superman together in a movie sounds, I'm just not looking forward to this movie. Although I was actually pretty enthusiastic about "Man of Steel" after I first saw it, I've had about two and a half years to ruminate over it, and at this point I am decidedly in the "I don't need to watch that movie ever again" camp. The main part of this is actually what I alluded to in my review in the last third of the film. That's a huge part of my dislike of the film. But more important, it's just not Superman. If the film had been about pretty much any other character, or even a made-up hero, I probably would be fine with it. But my real issue is that DC and Warner Brothers seem to be going so far out of their way to make their movies "dark" and "grim" to be different from Marvel, and in so-doing, they are losing the sense of who their characters are. Batman works well as a "dark" character. But Superman? Not so much. As I look at the Marvel movies, for the most part, they do look like they were pretty much pulled right off the comics page. However, "Man of Steel" decidedly does not like that, and that's to its detriment. Given that Zack Snyder is also working on the "Batman vs Superman" movie, and given what I've seen so far in the trailers, it looks to be another dark, gritty movie that I'm just not looking for in a comic book movie. 
    • On the flip-side, I am pretty excited for "Captain America: Civil War." I enjoyed the comic series the story is based on, and I'm glad they were able to work Spider-Man into the movie franchise. 
    • Then there's "Suicide Squad," also based on a DC Property. Back in the mid-80's, I had a lot of fun reading the John Ostrander run of Suicide Squad, in the post-Legends days. However, the new movie doesn't look like it has the sense of goofy charm those stories had (even though they were based on violent criminals - it was essentially a comic book version of the Dirty Dozen, which worked quite well). I'd say I'm a little shocked that DC picked the Suicide Squad to debut in the movies before some of their more well-known properties, but they're using the Harley Quinn version of the Squad which is currently in the comics, and Harley is basically DC's equivalent of Deadpool (which isn't to say she's anything like Deadpool in terms of her character; it's just that she's a one-off humorous character that people seem to just adore for no explicable reason). 
    • And speaking of "Deadpool" ... right now I have no interest in that movie. I'll probably just wait for cable/DVD for that one. 
    • Then there's "Star Wars: Rogue One" which I'll definitely see - it's an interesting time period, and I'm looking forward to seeing a different treatment of the Star Wars universe other than that of JJ Abrams. 
    • The list of movies I'd like to see also include "X-Men: Apocalypse," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny," "Ghostbusters," and maybe "The Magnificent Seven" (although I'm leery of that last one). 
  • TV.
    • I haven't yet heard a ton about the new shows coming out for the 2016/2017 season, but in a few months I'll be going to the Upfront Presentations held by the networks and can report back then. 
    • In the meantime, the two shows that are debuting in 2016 that I am pretty excited about are "Agent Carter" (season 2) and "Legends of Tomorrow," both of which debuted last week. I have them recorded but my wife and I tend to like to watch these types of shows together and last week we were both busy with work and didn't get a chance to watch them yet. 
  • Comics. 
    • While one can read ahead roughly three months to see what the "solicitations" are for comics, I actually tend not to read those too often. Many of the solicitation descriptions actually can contain spoilers, especially when you see things like "Final Issue" listed. As such I don't really know much about what's coming up this year but I'm sure there will be some big summer cross-over events that end up being not quite as good as they should be. 
    • Image continues to come up with really great, intriguing ideas with spectacular art. One of my favorite Image titles, The Fade Out, just finished its short 12-issue run (it was planned to only run 12 issues; it didn't get canceled because no one was reading it). This "film noir" style comic that took place in late 1940's Hollywood was by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who really have a knack with the noir style setting. I'm really eager to see what their next project will be. 
    • I've read a rumor on comics site Bleeding Cool that DC Comics will be doing yet another reboot of sorts this summer once the remaining titles (that haven't already been canceled) from the original New 52 reboot in 2011 reach #52. Right now they are on #48. There are actually only a few of titles that will reach #52 this summer (it's all the ones you'd expect - Batman, Detective, Action, Superman, JusticeWonder Woman League, Flash, and Green Arrow, plus a couple of others). Other than that, DC lately seems like they are starting to focus on shorter, self-contained "mini-series" that are planned to run for 6-7 issues. It's a strategy that Marvel TV-show runner and comics writer Jeph Loeb mentioned as "the future of comics" in an interview on Kevin Smith's "Fatman on Batman" podcast a few years ago. Essentially the idea is that kids (or people in general) are going to be skeptical of picking up a comic book that has a high issue number on it, for fear that they won't be able to follow the story. But, if instead  you have shorter runs of self-contained story arcs that run their course and then start over again with a new #1 and a new arc, you're more liable to get someone to take a chance on picking up an issue. While there's some validity to this theory, for those of us that are "continuity geeks" (I like reading stories where authors take scenes from the past that seem unrelated and work them into the current stories - Geoff Johns and especially Grant Morrison are experts at doing this), it's a real let-down. 
  • Games. 
    • Unfortunately, my gaming ran into a standstill starting in the summer after my daughter's accident. Since then, I've actually only role-played twice - once at a Convention over Labor Day Weekend (which, as I noted in my post, was not a great experience), and once just a couple of weeks ago at a Friday night Savage Worlds Cthulhu game. I'm in the process of soliciting dates from my group that will work for an upcoming game in my long-running World of Samoth campaign
    • Other than that, on the gaming front, I was recently asked to participate in an RPG-related event again this year, which is really awesome. I'm not going to share quite yet what it is, but if you've read my blog for the past few years, you can probably figure it out.
    • I'm not entirely up-to-speed on what new RPGs or supplements are coming out this year - I'd love for people to drop their recommendations below. 
    • Other than RPGs, I played a few board games in 2015 but I don't really know what new games are coming out in 2016. I usually am exposed to new board games from my friend, Cal, who plays a lot of new board games at his friend Tom's house on Friday nights. 

There's my quick look at some things I'm looking forward to in 2016. Again, I'd be really interested to see what movies, TV shows, books, comics, and games you all are interested in (and why). Drop a comment below, or head over to my Google Plus page (link over to the right-hand side) to discuss.

Cheers, and Happy 2016!

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Iced Black Tea
Listening: "Scavenger" by France and Dom

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