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A Very Brief Review of Chobits

September 2nd, 2016

Chobits - CLAMPChobits is the story of a young boy who discovers a robotic girl (a chobit) in a garbage pile, takes it home, and turns her on. It quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary chobit, and a great deal of mystery builds up around the chobit’s true identity and the strange abilities she appears to possess. Along the way, CLAMP kind of flirts with commenting on the objectification of women (but seems to mostly just use that as an excuse to objectify them). The central enigma and the flirtation with deeper commentary on the “fan service” of modern manga kept me reading until the end and then… Well, let me just tell you.

REALLY SERIOUS SPOILERS

This is the truth behind the great engima of Chobits:

We discover that Chi — the chobit discovered by our protagonist — was created by a pair of computer scientists who wanted to create a fully sentient AI, and they think of her as their daughter. One day, however, Chi realizes that she wants to experience true love. So she comes up with a foolproof plan to do that:

“I will give myself amnesia and enter a comatose state. I want you to throw my comatose body on a trash pile and hope that my one true love finds my unconscious body there.”

I… umm… Wow. Okay. That’s really stupid.

Not done yet, though, because then her mother says: “We wanted our daughter to find true love, so after she went into a coma and couldn’t consent, we reprogrammed her so that if her first boyfriend didn’t marry her she would not only commit suicide but murder every other android on the planet.”

Guys, that’s not really a great plan, I think–

“Also, we specifically made our daughter so that she could fall in love with someone. But then we designed her body with an off switch in her vagina so that if she did fall in love with someone and then they had sex, it would delete her entire brain and functionally murder her.”

What. The. Fuck. Is. Wrong. With. You?

And just as you’re reeling from the big reveal that this entire story is about the secrets kept by some phenomenally fucked up people, they follow it up with: “Why did you call them chobits? Why not just call them robots?”

“Oh, because we didn’t want them to be bound by the Three Laws of Robotics.”

Because, obviously, that’s how the Three Laws of Robotics work: You just name something a robot and the Holy Spirit of Asimov fills their corporeal form and binds them forevermore by the Three Laws.

Fuck off, CLAMP.

GRADE: D

A guide to grades here at the Alexandrian.

Review: Ten Candles

May 19th, 2016

Ten Candles - Stephen Dewey

Ten days ago something, or someone, blotted out the sky. Now no stars can be seen, all communication with satellites has been lost, and the sun no longer lights up the sky. Five days ago, They came. No one knows who or what They are, but two very important things are clear:

They fear the light.

They’re coming for you.

Ten Candles is a masterful storytelling game by Stephen Dewey. The basic premise of the game remains the same every time you play: The sun and stars went out. They came. You and a handful of other survivors are clinging to flickering sources of light and trying to find a safe haven. But the mechanics of the game vary the identity, nature, and goals They possess, and this can be combined with an almost endless variety of starting conditions (which the book amply demonstrates by including twenty-five radically different modules) to create something unique and special every time you play.

Your characters will die. The story we’re going to tell today is not one of survival, but one of hope and loss. This is a story about what happens in the dark and the final few hours in the lives of a group of survivors fighting against it, losing themselves within it, and inevitably being consumed by it. Though their endeavor may be doomed to fail, it is our duty to make this story of their struggle as meaningful as possible.

During character creation, two major things will happen: First, your character will be defined by a Vice, a Virtue, a Hope (a moment which will give your character hope if it occurs during the game), and a Brink (the place to which your character can be pushed when things become desperate; and a place to which one of the other characters at the table has seen you go before). Second, ten candles are lit in the middle of the table.

Once character creation is completed, the first scene begins. The players receive a communal pool of 10 six-sided dice (equal to the number of lit dice). Whenever a conflict roll needs to be made, the character initiating the conflict rolls the communal dice pool:

  • As long as you roll at least one 6, the conflict is successful.
  • Any dice that roll 1 are lost and discarded for the rest of the scene.

If the roll results in failure, a candle is darkened and the scene comes to an end. At that point, the communal dice pool is restored to the now reduced number of lit candles, and the GM gets a pool of dice equal to the number of darkened candles which can be rolled in order to seize narrative control of successful conflict rolls away from the players.

The major wrinkle to this simple resolution mechanic is that players can choose to burn their character traits: Each trait is written on a card and placed in a stack when the game begins, allowing each player to burn the top card of their stack. Literally burn it: Light it on a candle’s flame and toss it into a burn pot in the middle of the table. (This doesn’t destroy the character trait in the sense that it still defines who your character is, but it does force each trait of your character to be placed in the spotlight as the game proceeds.) Vices and Virtues can be burned to reroll 1’s. You can attempt to achieve your Hope by staging the moment and making a conflict roll. And your Brink, which is always a character’s last card, can be used to reroll all dice in a check repeatedly… until a check ultimately fails, at which point the Brink card is lost.

Once only one candle remains, unsuccessful conflict rolls now result in the death of the character attempting them. When the last character dies or the last candle burns out, the game concludes.

PERFECT PACING

The atmospheric effect of playing Ten Candles in a darkened room is tremendously effective: The candles going out one by one. The ritualistic elements of burning the cards. It all greatly heightens the mood of horror, suspense, and fatal tragedy engendered by the game’s premise.

But what makes Ten Candles a great game is its perfect control over pacing: Each scene builds in tension as the dice pool dwindles… and dwindles… and dwindles until failure seems absolutely certain and a candle is darkened forever. The restoration of the dice pool relieves this tension, but now the path to desperation is shorter. And so each scene generally becomes shorter, more intense, and more desperate creating an ever-escalating cycle of tension and release.

This simple pacing pattern is expertly disrupted, however, by the Brink mechanics: As the game nears its end, more and more of the characters will be pushed to the edge. And because each Brink survives until a roll is failed, at the very end of the game — as things reach their most desperate level — there is a momentary suspension of hope.

All of this is then thematically colored by the GM’s growing dice pool, allowing the GM to seize narrative control more and more frequently and viscerally creating in the mechanics the loss of control being experienced by the characters.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

A few years back I talked about how the fundamental failure of Dread — despite the strength of its core novelty — was the fact that the mechanics of the game ultimately created pacing that was deeply and irrevocably flawed: The collapsing Jenga tower created a similar “rising tension” to the Ten Candles scene mechanics, but on a scale of time which combines poorly with early player elimination and which lacks a satisfying conclusion. Although Ten Candles uses a completely different set of mechanics, I’ve repeatedly found myself comparing the two games because of the similar pacing hard-coded into their mechanics.

And, at the end of the day, I feel like Ten Candles basically just kills Dread and takes its stuff.

The only limitation of Ten Candles is that it’s tied to the central conceit of the sun going out and Them appearing. But I don’t think the ties are particularly tight: Although you might lose the thematic connection which exists between the candles and the loss-of-light premise, there’s really only one step in the character creation process which would need to be adapted for other premises. (There’s one card during Brink phase on which a player writes the Brink for Them. You would need to shift the nature of that card to match whatever survival horror scenario you were running.)

In any case, Ten Candles is great. I’ve only had the game for a couple of weeks and it’s already hit my table multiple times, which is a strong testament to its quality. An even stronger testament, perhaps, is that multiple players have bought copies of their own and are either planning to run or have already run their own sessions. That only happens when a game is getting something very, very right.

In short, Ten Candles nails it.

THESE THINGS ARE TRUE.

THE WORLD IS DARK.

AND WE ARE ALIVE.

Style: 5
Substance: 5

Author: Stephen Dewey
Publisher: Cavalry Games
Print Cost: $28.00
PDF Cost: $10.00
Page Count: 90

Batman vs. Superman - Dawn of Justice

Two and a half years ago, I concluded that Man of Steel was a thoroughly mediocre film. It was so thoroughly mediocre, in fact, that I wasn’t planning to see Batman vs. Superman in the theater. But yesterday a friend’s birthday celebration included a viewing of the film, and so I ended up seeing it after all. My conclusion?

This film is significantly less mediocre than Man of Steel.

I’m still not going to recommend that anyone see it in the movie theater, but I will say it’s probably worth checking out after it hits the rental market. (And if the purported Director’s Cut actually materializes, I’ll even go so far as to watch the movie again to see if that will correct any of the film’s flaws.)

The biggest difference is that the core storytelling elements of Batman vs. Superman (unlike its predecessor) are not fundamentally broken through a combination of incoherence and inconsistency: The first half of this movie is not about Pa Kent being portrayed as a pillar of virtue while teaching Clark to never become Superman; nor does its second half feature numerous scenes of Superman being completely indifferent to civilian casualties before breaking an “I Don’t Kill” rule that the film never bothers establishing because four people are being threatened.

But while Batman vs. Superman doesn’t share Man of Steel‘s big, macro-scale problems, it shares a similar plethora of bone-achingly stupid errors of execution. What drags the film down (and prevents me from calling it a truly good movie) are the plot holes, thematic inconsistencies, and a simple lack of care and craft. There are some truly amazing and wonderful moments in the film, but the whole enterprise has been weighted down with stupidity and shoved off the end of a pier.

SPOILERS AHEAD

I am not going to attempt to catalog every stupid thing that the movie does. This will instead just be a sampling of the nearly constant, low-level failures of basic scriptwriting and film-craft that Batman vs. Superman suffers from.

Let’s start at the beginning: Superman is framed for killing a bunch of terrorists by a mercenary team who shoots the terrorists with a bunch of bullets… Since when did Superman use a gun? If you saw Superman somewhere and then found a bunch of bullet-riddled corpses, what possible leap of logic would make you say, “Superman must have done that!” (What’s even weirder is that the mercenaries use very special bullets that can be tracked back to Lex Luthor. The bullets don’t actually have any special properties that make them better for shooting a bunch of terrorists and there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t just use normal bullets. But, sure, use the bullets that can be traced straight back to you. Why not?)

Adding to this oddity is the fact that all of this happens directly in front of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Lois Lane. But for some reason she… never writes the story? Nobody cares what an actual eyewitness has to say?

(There’s also a bit in this sequence where Jimmy Olsen is a CIA agent who is pretending to be her camera man and gets himself shot in the head. Lois also never reports that the CIA nearly got her killed. Snyder then continues the trend of pointlessly killing supporting cast members from his source material by having Lex Luthor send Mercy Graves to die in a bomb explosion for absolutely no reason whatsoever.)

Lois’ entire arc for the rest of the film, however, is investigating what really happened at the terrorist compound. She does, in fact, figure out that Lex Luthor is behind all of it. Bizarrely, however, this has absolutely no impact on the film because she never tells Superman (or anyone else) about this despite having multiple opportunities to do so. (Amy Adam’s Lois Lane — like Cavill’s Superman, Affleck’s Batman, Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Irons’ Alfred, Fishburne’s Perry White, and… well, basically every single actor and character in the movie — deserves so much better than what Snyder is apparently capable of giving them.)

There is, in fact, a lot of, “Just freakin’ SAY IT you idiot!” problems to be found here, as if the movie had been penned by the writers room for a mediocre sitcom. Lois, for example, realizes that somebody knows that she can be used as bait for Superman and, in fact, has been doing exactly that… but then just completely fails to tell Superman that, either. Later, Superman refuses to simply say to Batman, “Hey! Lex Luthor is playing us!” opting instead to say, “Just listen to me!” over and over and over again while walking slowly towards him triggering a series of pressure plate traps. (Although why you would build pressure plates to target somebody who can fly is a little mind-boggling in its own right.)

Speaking of the fight with Batman, the entire basis of Batman’s anger with Superman is a result of Superman’s seemingly callous disregard for incidental damage and civilian casualties during the battle at the end of the Man of Steel. If that’s going to be the ethical backbone of the film, however, you can’t have Batman’s big solo action scene in the middle of the film feature… tons of incidental civilian casualties. (Or, if you do, there should be some self-reflection or at least authorial reflection upon it. This film, on the other hand, just doesn’t seem to realize what it’s done.)

On a similar note: Batman, having forged the Spear of Kryptonite Destiny to fight Superman, leaves it in Gotham after realizing that Superman is actually just a guy trying to do the right thing. (Which, I may note, is realized in a moment that is absolutely fantastic.) Seeing Doomsday, he realizes that he needs the Spear. So he decides to go back to Gotham, get the Spear real quick, and then come back to where Doomsday is. Ha, ha! Just kidding! He decides to lead Doomsday into the city to where the Spear is.

Speaking of that Spear: After Batman chooses not to kill Superman, he throws it aside. Lois Lane picks it up and decides she wants to get rid of it so that no one can use it against Superman again. So she walks over to a stairwell twenty feet away (which is flooded for some reason) and… throws it in. “Ha, ha!” she thinks to herself. “No one will ever find it in this shallow pool!”

Five minutes later, completely ignorant of Doomsday or the fact that the Spear would now be useful, Lois suddenly gets an, “Oh shit!” look on her face and goes back to retrieve the Spear. (I can only conclude that she suddenly realized that what she did with it was really stupid.)

Most of this litany is dwelling on basic logic problems in the storytelling. That’s largely because they’re easy to explicate. There’s also a lot of pretty basic problems with things like editing and pacing. One clear-cut example happens just before the confrontation between Superman and Batman: We’ve just had a big face-off between Superman and Lex Luthor. Luthor reveals that he has kidnapped Martha Kent and, unless Superman kills Batman, he’ll have her killed. Superman has acquiesced. We cut to Luthor’s henchman placing a timer next to Martha telling her when she’ll be killed. We cut to Superman telling Lois that he has to go convince Batman to help him… or kill him. Superman flies up into the sky. We cut to…

… Wonder Woman checking her e-mail? Yup. And then we get a 4 minute scene in which she literally clicks on a series of e-mail attachments, each showing a video of one of the future members of the Justice League. These videos are pretty cool, but they’re completely irrelevant. Whoever said, “We should interrupt this rising tension here to lay some pipe for our cinematic universe.” should be taken outside and shot.

(This sequence also creates a weird continuity glitch where Wonder Woman walks into her hotel, checks her e-mail, and then five minutes later is boarding a commercial airline flight.)

Finally, let me mention the really bizarre dream sequences that stud the Bruce Wayne story. As far as I can tell, these seem to exist primarily to generate footage that could be included in the trailers. (It’s possible that the most self-indulgent of them is an actual “vision from the future”, but even as such the narrative role it plays in this film is dwarfed by the amount of film time it chews up.)

With all of that being said, there are also a number of things that the film does very well. The opening of the film (showing the end of Man of Steel from a different angle) is really clever. The first Batman action sequence shows us a version of Batman that is scary, effective, and utterly unique. Heck, the first appearance of Wonder Woman in all her glory is almost worth watching the movie for all by itself. (I’m listening to Zimmer’s exceptional Wonder Woman theme as I’m writing this.) In fact, the best compliment I can pay the film is that it made me much more interested in seeing Wonder Woman. And Warner Brothers needs to greenlight a Ben Affleck directed solo Batman movie ASAP.

Dresden Files – Reading Order

February 2nd, 2016

Dresden Files: Storm Front - Jim ButcherThe Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher primarily consists of fifteen novels, but Butcher has also written a dozen or so short stories and novellas (which, while generally not essential, often have events which reflect back into the novels). Butcher’s website has a list of where the various short stories fall into the Dresden Files continuity, but unfortunately every entry on the list includes a spoiler description of the story. While reading the series, my efforts to find an alternative list duplicating the chronological order failed. So now that I’ve finished the series, I’m putting together a spoiler-free version of the list in the hope that it will prove useful to others.

There are currently two short story collections: Side Jobs and Working with Bigfoot. Butcher plans to collect the rest of the stories (along with some not yet written) in a collection tentatively called Brief Cases, but since that doesn’t exist yet I’m including references below to where the stories can be found.

INTERNAL CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

“Restoration of Faith” (Side Jobs)

1. STORM FRONT

2. FOOL MOON

“B is for Bigfoot” (Working for Bigfoot)

3. GRAVE PERIL

4. SUMMER KNIGHT

5. DEATH MASKS

“Vignette” (Side Jobs)

6. BLOOD RITES

7. DEAD BEAT

“I Was a Teenage Bigfoot” (Working for Bigfoot)

“Something Borrowed” (Side Jobs)

8. PROVEN GUILTY

“AAAA Wizardry” (Dresden Files RPG)

9. WHITE NIGHT

“It’s My Birthday Too” (Side Jobs)

“Heorot” (Side Jobs)

10. SMALL FAVOR

“Day Off” (Side Jobs)

“Backup” (Side Jobs)

“The Warrior” (Side Jobs)

“Last Call” (Side Jobs)

“Curses” (The Naked City, ed. Ellen Datlow)

11. TURN COAT

“Love Hurts” (Side Jobs)

“Even Hand” (Dark and Stormy Knights, ed. Pat Elrod / Beyond the Pale, ed. Henry Herz)

“Bigfoot on Campus” (Working for Bigfoot)

12. CHANGES

“Aftermath” (Side Jobs)

13. GHOST STORY

“Bombshells” (Dangerous Women, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois)

14. COLD DAYS

“Cold Case” (Shadowed Souls, ed. Jim Butcher and Kerrie Hughes)

15. SKIN GAME

RECOMMENDED READING ORDER

My recommended reading order for the series is basically identical to the internal chronological order, except for “Restoration of Faith”. I think that story functions best as a proper prequel, and I would hold off on reading it until some point after Grave Peril.

If you’re less interested in the short stories, the novels largely stand on their own. However, there are five stories which are prominently referenced and which I recommend seeking out if you’re looking for an “Essentials” reading list:

  • “Something Borrowed”
  • “Heorot”
  • “Backup”
  • “Aftermath”
  • “Bombshells”

Also: The first three books in the series are pretty good pulp fiction. They’re entertaining, but they’re not really anything special. If you start reading them and you’re thoroughly “meh” on the whole thing, skip ahead to Summer Knight and read from there. (That’s where Butcher starts kicking the whole series into a different gear and it just keeps getting better.)

But I don’t recommend doing that, because the first three books do lay a lot of pipe that will enhance your enjoyment of the later stuff.

Tagline: A solid D20 module from an industry newcomer. A couple of crucial flaws undermine what would otherwise be a strong product. Cautiously recommended.

NeMoren's Vault - James BellWhen I first heard the plans emanating from Wizards of the Cost regarding the Open Gaming License and D20 Trademark License I was somewhat skeptical… but there was also a glimmer of excitement and a dash of hope in my emotional make-up.

And its specifically because of products like NeMoren’s Vault that I felt this way.

If NeMoren’s Vault had been produced this same time last year, it would have been preceded by a mammoth tome called something like The Fiery Dragon Fantasy Roleplaying System. And we would have been treated to mind-numbing artwork. And screeching purple prose. And vast claims about how the FDFRP was going to revolutionize gaming as we know it.

And we would have opened this book up and found exactly what we knew we were going to find all along: Dungeons & Dragons with the serial numbers filed off.

In the process, a solid adventure module like NeMoren’s Vault would have been irrevocably lost under the detritus of the hulking monstrosity which would have been the FDFRP: $30 for the rulebook; the time it takes to learn the new system; the effort it takes to start a new campaign. There is far too much investment to be made before you get down to the $10 it actually costs to pick up the module. At the end of the day, something like NeMoren’s Vault is not worth a massive investment of time, energy, and money.

It’s worth $10.

Which, handily enough, is exactly what it costs.

PLOT

Warning: This review will contain spoilers for NeMoren’s Vault. Players who may end up playing in this module are encouraged to stop reading now. Proceed at your own risk.

Three hundred years ago a man by the name of Kragor NeMoren played a key role in the formation and success of the Grand Alliance between humanity and the elvish folk as they repelled the goblin hordes. In return for his service, he was granted ownership of a vast tract of rich forest land by the elvish king and, in turn, a royal title as Baron of the West Wood by the human king. Before he died, Kragor built a mansion – complete with a massive vault for protecting the riches he had accumulated, housing the family’s dead, and storing wine.

Fast forward 250 years: Baron Paytro NeMoren, the last of the NeMoren line, takes a wife. One week after the wedding, however, Amelia NeMoren is kidnapped by Paytro’s ex-love – Lisette – and her two brothers. Lisette comes to the manor and demands that the baron proclaim her the rightful baroness – otherwise she will kill his new wife. Paytro, afraid of the truth coming out, drugs Lisette and her brothers and seals them within the family’s vault.

Tortured with grief and guilt, Paytro goes into seclusion for the rest of his life – and dies apparently without heir. Lisette and her brothers would have starved to death, except for the fact that Lisette used her mystic black arts to transform all of them into undead ghouls – eagerly awaiting their chance to wreak vengeance upon the NeMoren line.

Enter the PCs, who have (by one way or another) come into possession of the silver keys (one per PC) which denote them as heirs of Baron Paytro. As you can easily guess, they are to enter the NeMoren family vault – which only their keys can access – and discover what their inheritance consists of.

Other stuff that’s been happening: A creature known as an Undrathur – a large, humanoid carnivore which burrows through the earth – has taken up residence in the area around the Vault. As a result of his burrowing, the lair of a hobgoblin tribe has been connected to the Vault. The hobgoblins were periodically raiding the Vault, but have been driven back by the ghouls and other undead Lisette has created. The hobgoblins periodically venture out to claim sacrifices in order to appease the ghouls, and their sacrificial chamber has – unbeknownst to the townspeople – befouled the local water supply and created a strange plague. The combination of mysterious disappearances (the kidnapped sacrifices) and the plague have been labeled “NeMoren’s Curse”.

This is something that NeMoren’s Vault does very well: Any one of these elements (a dead noble house leaving behind a subterranean vault; Poe’s Cask of Amontillado by way of a fantasy dungeon; the underground lair of a hobgoblin tribe; a massive, man-eating predator leaving behind underground tunnels) would suffice to explain your average dungeon crawl. But by taking all them in concert with one another, NeMoren’s Vault gets a whole larger than the sum of its parts.

This strength is re-emphasized in the fact that the design of the Vault consistently integrates these background elements in the particulars of the dungeon’s construction – although there are several elements of the Vault which would otherwise be cliché, the fact that they have been made to arise naturally from the Vault’s history and construction gives them a sense of realism and believability

The author has also done a nice job of not only considering a plethora of possible endings to the scenario, but examining a variety of different ways in which each thread plays out. Ideas ranging from placing the PCs in the middle of a civil war arising from the true inheritor of NeMoren’s title and lands to the discovery that Amelia NeMoren is still alive and held in magical stasis to the various fall-outs of breaking the balance of power between the ghouls and the hobgoblins.

A PROBLEM WITH TREASURE

Unfortunately, despite some of its glimmering strengths, NeMoren’s Vault is possessed of one crucial flaw:

There is more than 100,000 gp worth of treasure lying around this Vault.

And that’s just the stuff that’s easily accessible. If you count the stuff they’ve made difficult to access (by collapsing all of the entrances into a treasure room, for example; or requiring one of the PCs to chop off a finger to access the magical vault) there is an additional 225,000 gp worth of treasure I’m not counting (including one of the six legendary Runeblades – mystic blades which “have the power to conquer entire nations”).

That’s 325,000 gp worth of treasure!

Assuming you use the suggested party size of four characters, that’s roughly 25,000 gp of treasure per PC (81,250 gp if they get all the treasure in the complex). To put that in perspective:

1. According to Table 5-1 in the DMG (pg. 145), that’s the amount of treasure that a 7th level character should have accumulated (12th level for the higher number).
2. Using Table 7-2 in the DMG (pg. 170) and the Encounter Level/Challenge Rating for NeMoren’s Vault, the amount of treasure which should be present in an adventure of this type is only 10,000 gp (and that’s only if they defeat the monster which the module tells the DM they probably shouldn’t have to defeat).

Did I also mention that, at the end of the adventure, they also end up with a legal writ granting them possession of one of the richest baronies in the kingdom?

Even when you realize that they neglected to give Challenge Ratings to the various traps and puzzles found throughout the Vault, you’re going to end up with seriously overpowered PCs at the end of this adventure. I seriously suggest going through NeMoren’s Vault and vigorously thinning the treasure hordes out before letting your players go through it. (Or, alternatively, buff up the challenge ratings throughout and run your PCs through at a higher level. Changing the ghouls to ghasts, the medium-size skeletons and zombies to huge skeletons and zombies, and the hobgoblins to bugbears should do the trick – although you’ll still need to cut down the treasure a little bit.)

Actually, the problem is even greater than it appears at first glance because, in fact, they have overstated the Challenge Ratings on several of the encounters (for example, listing Ghouls as having a CR of 2 when, in fact, they only have a CR 1). This is a problem quite a few of these inaugural D20 products are bound to have (because they were working from preview documents or guesswork, rather than the final versions of books like the Monster Manual). Keep an eye open for it and make the necessary adjustments.

(On a related note: I would have liked to see a summary of treasure available in this scenario. A tool like this would not only make it easier to adjust the overall treasure size for parties of different sizes, but in its construction would have immediately alerted the author to the fact that he had vastly overfilled this dungeon.)

WORKING WITH THE WEB

One interesting feature of the Fiery Dragon product line is the on-line support the company is offering. Although still in its nascent infancy (and therefore still rife with the possibility of going heinously awry), there are some interesting ideas under development:

1. Additional support material for the various Fiery Dragon products available on-line (such as complications and secret areas for published modules).
2. An on-line tavern in which players can “Roll for Rumors”. This isn’t particularly impressive at the moment, but conceptually the idea of sending your players to an on-line tavern to pick up the rumors which may (or may not) feed into next week’s adventure is interesting.
3. Perhaps the best feature, at the moment, though is the provision of “private campaign areas” – featuring a number of tools (including the hosting of up to 1.25 gigabytes of game-related files, message boards, etc.) for creating an on-line center for your on- or off-line campaigns.

CONCLUSION

NeMoren’s Vault is a solid product.

It is not an exceptional one — the treasure imbalance, mediocre-to-subpar artwork, a few unfortunate lay-out choices, and the generally traditional set-up prevents it from being one. But it is not a poor one, either.

It is worth $10. And that’s what you pay for it.

It serves its purpose. And that’s why you’ll pay for it.

What excites me about NeMoren’s Vault, though, is that – when you look beyond the weaknesses which pull it down – the strengths which remain are in all the right places. There is an underlying foundation of creative thought and gaming sensibility which, if given the chance to grow, has a chance of becoming something truly impressive.

NeMoren’s Vault is a good product. But Fiery Dragon Productions bears watching for the potential greatness which lies ahead.

This is a review of a complimentary pre-production copy, distributed by Fiery Dragon Productions for publicity purposes.

Style: 3
Substance: 3

Author: James Bell
Company/Publisher: Fiery Dragon Productions
Cost: $9.99
Page Count: 32
ISBN: 1-8946-9300-0

Originally Posted: 2000/11/02

James Bell replied to this review by noting the systemic errors that had been made (particularly in the amount of available treasure) and issued extensive errata to correct the problem. (Two huge thumbs up to him for that.) Fiery Dragon would, in fact, go on to produce a number of really nice D20 products. NeMoren’s Vault would be revised into both a 3.5 Edition and a Pathfinder Edition. I have not personally looked at the updated versions, but I’m guessing they’re still pretty nifty. You can grab the Pathfinder edition here.

Re-reading this review a decade and a half later, I’m actually strongly tempted to use the original version of the module unaltered to launch a campaign: Yup, you’re 1st level characters who have just ransacked 325,000 gp of treasure out of the ground, including a legendary blade with all kinds of prophecies attached to it. Plus, you’ve got a legal writ granting you the richest barony in the kingdom. So… now what? Instead of fetishizing balance, let’s see what happens if we deliberately invert expectations.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

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