Monthly Archives: July 2011

Gamma World Book Review: Red Sails in the Fallout

Note: This review contains affiliate links.

Last Tuesday saw the release of the second Gamma World novel since the 4e compatible ruleset came out. Titled Red Sails in the Fallout, it’s a fun romp across the Australian outback with plenty of action and imagination.  It was written by a different author (Paul Kidd) than the first Gamma World novel (Sooner Dead), although you will have to forgive if I make some comparisons between the two.

The book’s main protagonists are Xoota (a prescient/felinoid quoll), Shaani (a radioactive/electrokinetic lab rat) and “Wig-wig,” (an empathic swarm of earwigs).  They are joined later in the book by other party members who have their own quirks and strengths to add to the story, but I don’t want to be accused of spoilers, even small ones.

This book uses the same plot device as Huckleberry Finn: create a reason to leave home, set the characters adrift into the unknown, and engage them in random unrelated adventures along the way.  It worked for Huckleberry Finn, and it works for Red Sails in the Fallout.  Not only does it work, but it works splendidly.   Plus, the book is funny – Paul Kidd doesn’t take Gamma Terra too seriously, which is good because, from what I can tell, most people who play Gamma World don’t either.  Kidd does humor effortlessly, with off the cuff quips and humorous situations.  The fact that the humor has an Australian twist only helps.

So, comparisons to Sooner Dead.  First, in making these comparisons, I’m not saying one is better than the other – they’re merely differences.  Both authors have handled Gamma Terra well, and in their own way.  Sooner Dead focuses mainly on two protagonists who act as guides for a group of scientists, where Red Sails has more of a “traditional” party on a “traditional” quest that you would experience if you were actually playing Gamma World.  Also, Sooner Dead makes no mention of Alpha Mutations or Omega Tech, where Red Sails features these elements of the game prominently.  The characters even talk about “feeling new alpha mutations coming on.”    Finally, where Sooner Dead makes no direct mention of specific origin types (to the point where I’m STILL not sure what Hella’s origins are), Red Sails states them loud and proud.  It makes me wonder if Mel Odom (Sooner Dead’s author) wanted to play down these elements in his novel, or if it’s just that the book was simply commissioned as the game was still being developed.

Either way, that’s a strength of Sooner Dead.  One of the problems with Red Sails is its assumption that the reader has played Gamma World.  While this is probably a pretty good bet, alluding to the fact that “radioactive omega ale” can trigger “alpha mutations” without further explanation could leave some readers in the dark.  There is quite a bit of “Gamma World vocabulary” that the author drops, and a quick explanation for the uninitiated would go a long way towards bringing more readers into the series, and maybe even more players into the game. 

Small problems aside,  I really enjoyed Red Sails in the Fallout. Not only was it an entertaining read, but it also made me want to get back into playing Gamma World.  Most of the book’s plot had me imagining how I could drop a similar encounter into a Gamma World game.  The plot and action are fast and furious, and the locales varied and exotic.

Finally, I will note that Wizards of the Coast has begun publishing their books for the Kindle (and probably other e-readers) which I think is a really smart move.  It’s how I purchased the book this time around, and thus there was no waiting for Amazon to ship me the book on the day it was released.  It was just there.  Sooner Dead is also now available for Kindle (it wasn’t when it first came out).

If you’re looking for a fun beach read this summer, pick both of these books up.

If you’ve read the book, let me know what you thought in the comments!

Weekly Roundup: 2011 Ennie Nominations Edition

Well, the Ennie nominations were announced this week.  You can check them out here; perhaps you’ll see some names, products, and blogs you recognize. And no, we don’t mean this blog.  But it is good to see our fellow bloggers getting recognition, and some for things that aren’t even blogging!  Speaking of fellow bloggers…

At Daily Encounter this week, Obsidian Crane pondered the criteria for labeling a D&D adventure as a “classic.”  Lots of good points here, and definitely worth a read.

Blood, Sweat, and Dice talked about the positive effects of nixing the Raise Dead ritual.  We like the idea of making death a final event in a character’s life.  Sometimes it feels like raise dead is too… easy.

Leonine Roar wrote a basic primer on ways to increase an encounter’s challenge and damage.  While this may or may not be information you’ve read elsewhere, a reminder is always good.

Stuffer Shack listed the 50 things about D&D you won’t find in the books.  We found ourselves chuckling and nodding our heads at most of them.  True… so true…

Finally, if you missed the cute story about the little girl who interrupted her dad’s D&D game, and the ensuing hilarity, you can read about it on the WotC forums here.

What great article did we miss this week?  Leave it in the comments!


Grab Fighters

After our last podcast, we decided that articles would be the best way to give detail on the character builds we discuss.  This frees us up from having to read off every single power and feat choice during the podcast, and talk more about concepts and general choices.  We hope you enjoy these new supplements to our podcast!

Related Podcast: Episode 13

Martial Power 2 introduced an interesting new build for fighters: the Brawler.  Instead of the normal weapon talent (+1 to hit with one- or two-handed weapons), you get the following benefits:

  • While wielding a one-handed weapon in your main hand, and your off-hand is free or grabbing a creature, you get +1 AC and +2 Fortitude
  • In addition, you get a +2 enhancement bonus to unarmed attack rolls, and a +2 bonus to grab attacks and attacks to move a creature you are grabbing (increases to +4 and +6 at paragon/epic)

These combo well with a new at-will, Grappling Strike, where you make a standard Strength vs. AC attack against your target, and on a hit, you grab the target until the end of your next turn.  This is a great way to grab monsters without making the standard “grab” attack, which doesn’t include modifiers from your weapon and doesn’t do damage.  Fighters also got several good encounter and daily powers that work when your off-hand is free or grabbing a target.

To maximize the effectiveness of your grabs, here are some more tools you can use:

  • Inescapable Hold is a feat that makes enemies trying to escape your grab have to roll against your Fortitude instead of Reflex, even if they use Acrobatics
  • Forceful Drag is an encounter U2 power move action where, if you have a creature grabbed, you can move up to your speed, dragging the creature with you, and then knock it prone.  Which combos nicely with…
  • Pin Down, a feat that says that any prone creature that you have grabbed can’t stand until you end the grab or it escapes
  • World Serpent’s Grasp is a feat that says whenever you hit a slowed or immobilized target with an attack, you can knock it prone

With these abilities, you grab an enemy, use Forceful Drag to knock it prone, and then keep regrabbing it every turn, keeping it prone (hopefully) for a long time.  Alternatively, once you have an enemy grabbed, it is immobilized, so hitting it again will knock it prone.  Making the enemy roll against your Fortitude is especially good since you already have a high Fort from being a fighter, and you get an extra +2 from being a Brawler.  You might even toss on the Superior Fortitude feat for an extra +2 to your Fort defense (+3/+4 at paragon/epic) to make it that much harder for the enemy to escape.

“Lazy” Shaman Hybrids

After our last podcast, we decided that articles would be the best way to give detail on the character builds we discuss.  This frees us up from having to read off every single power and feat choice during the podcast, and talk more about concepts and general choices.  We hope you enjoy these new supplements to our podcast!

Related Podcast: Episode 13

Shamans In General

A non-hybrid shaman gets some fundamental class features, the most important of which is your spirit companion.  You summon your companion as a minor action, and many of your attacks and other class features work off of your shaman.  Many of your powers will have a range of “melee spirit”, which means the attack is usable if the target is adjacent to your spirit.  Depending on which style of spirit you choose (bear, eagle, world serpent, etc.), you get powers and features that are unique to that style.

“Lazy” Shamans

As a hybrid shaman, you don’t get all of the features associated with your spirit style, but you do get an at-will attack power.  To be a “lazy” shaman, you’ll want to choose the Elemental Spirit, which gives you the power called Spirit Infusion.  This is a standard action that targets an ally adjacent to your spirit.  The spirit is dismissed (though it can be resummoned with another minor action), and the ally can make a basic attack with a +2 power bonus to the attack roll and a power bonus to the damage roll equal to your Intelligence modifier.

In addition to this at-will, shaman has other powers that also grant other players attacks.

For example, in Primal Power there is an E3 called Sly Fox Spirit which grants a basic attack to an ally adjacent to your spirit, and if that attack hits, grants a second basic attack to a second ally adjacent to your spirit.  As another example, there is a D5 called Vengeful Blood Spirits in Primal Power that lets two allies make charge attacks, doing an extra d10 on a hit, and also gives those allies +2 to hit and damage with charge attacks for the rest of the encounter.

Since none of these powers use Wisdom, and as a hybrid shaman you only ever need to have three shaman attack powers (one at-will, one encounter, and one daily), then you don’t need to have any Wisdom at all if you choose these powers.

You’re then free to choose your other hybrid class to be almost anything.  Ideally you might choose something based on Intelligence to make your Spirit Infusion as effective as possible.

If you’re feeling especially lazy, you could even hybrid warlord/shaman, and take all the warlord powers that also grant attacks to other players (Commander’s Strike, Powerful Warning, etc.).

If you build your character correctly, you won’t even need to bring any dice to the table!  Though you might have to borrow a d20 from someone for the occasional saving throw or skill check…

Level Up — Episode #13: Athas, Sentinels, and Encounters

We are back from our hiatus!  Hamblin took a vacation and went to Origins to play some Ashes of Athas.  Benoit has been hard at work building terrain for GenCon, and has started teaching his daughter to play D&D.

We also have a special guest, Ameron from  We discuss the first two chapters of the Ashes of Athas campaign, Benoit talks about his new Sentinel druid he is playing at D&D Encounters, and Derek also talks about his experiences with Dark Sun and running Encounters.

Some links Derek mentioned:

As always, we want your feedback!  Leave a comment below, email us at, or send a tweet to Benoit or Hamblin.

Level Up logo by Wesley K. Hall. Music by pornophonique and is available for free under the Creative Commons license.

Weekly Roundup: Secret Project Revealed Edition

Recently, I hinted at a “secret” project I’ve been working on.  Well, time to pull back the curtain.  I have been building 3D models of the Fourthcore Deathmatch maps for GenCon.  The first two maps are done, and I’ve posted pictures here – I put them in a separate article because there are too many for a weekly roundup.  The third map is secret, so I won’t be posting any pics of that model.  Check them out (next article), or if you’ll be at GenCon, come see them in person!  The models will be for sale at GenCon after the Deathmatch, and any models not sold at the end of the con will go up on Ebay.  I’ll announce that here if I end up auctioning them.  Now, on to some articles…

Geneome showed us how he made the Ritual Tower from the Dark Sun adventure “Revenge of the Marauders.”  This is as simple and inexpensive as a project can get, and it still looks great!

Spinoff Online wondered if Hollywood is over its love affair with geek culture.  While not a D&D specific article, it’s still a good read.

Arcane Springboard conjectured about the future of D&D over at This Is My Game.  Is D&D close to 5th edition, or is 4th edition simply expanding further?  Time will tell.

Daily Encounter gave us a free multi-part skill challenge.  In it, PCs need to evacuate a town before the adjacent river overflows its banks.  Success is measured in how many villagers are killed in the natural disaster.  Check this one out!

Finally, The D&Dverse was rocked on Tuesday, as Save Versus Death announced that he will no longer be working on Fourthcore, then followed up with this explanation.  We hope to see Fourthcore live on, however, as fans continue to develop within this subgenre of D&D (and we believe he has this hope as well).

Don’t forget to check out the Deathmatch model pics – next article down!

Fourthcore Team Deathmatch: Model Pictures

A couple of months back, I heard about the Fourthcore Team Deathmatch going on at Gencon this year.  I was very excited about this event, as I have long thought the D&D rules could easily support team PvP play, as long as the players were not too attached to their characters.  So, I contacted C. Steven Ross, the organizer of the event, and arranged to make some custom 3D models of the maps.  I will be bringing them to Gencon, and a few lucky teams will be playing on the models instead of battlemaps.  (I have no idea how that will be decided, and I won’t be involved in that process.)  I will also be selling these models after the deathmatch, so I’ve included some pictures of the disassembled components.  The third, secret map will also be for sale.  It’s a dungeon map, and will be Dwarven Forge compatible.  Any models not sold at Gencon will go up on Ebay.  The the original maps that I was using as plans for the models are found here, at the DMG p.42: Actions the Rules Don’t Cover blog. 

Click any picture to enlarge

 The Slaughterhouse 
The “crystalline orb” in the center is the nailgun trigger, and the demonic faces on the walls are what shoot the nails.  The maps are identical; I used pillars to block off the “diagonal half squares” from the original map.

 Here is the base map I was using to design the model, from the DMG Pg. 42 website: 

   And here are the  pictures of the finished model:


Overview: Fully Assembled

Side view, showing two levels

Super big closeup (click for full size)

Top level removed, menacing meat grinder

Closeup of the meat grinder

Nailgun Origination Squares

Closeup of pillars, can see the paint job

I tried to make the arena as modular as possible so that it can be used for many different things.  Pictured below are all the separate components.  By inserting Dwarven forge floor tiles between the wall/floor sections, the walls can be turned into an arena.  Also, the meat grinder comes out, and turns into a bottomless pit or a “boxing ring.”  And of course, there are the four wells, “crystalline orb,” and sixteen pillars. 

All the separate components. The meat grinder comes out to turn into a fighting pit or hole.

The Citadel   
My favorite part of this map is the piece I didn’t make.  Gregwa made the treasure pile in the middle of the map, which includes scrolls, a treasure chest, a staff, and even a gauntlet!  The front gates open in two layers – a wooden gate, and metal gates behind that.  C. Steven Ross will be adding the catapults and ballistas at Gencon.  The four walls come apart so that they can be rearranged into other configurations.

Here is the base map I was using to design the model: 


  And here are the pics of the finished model: 

From Above

Side View

The front gate, fully closed

Wooden door open, gate closed

Front Gate, fully open

Treasure pile, made by Gregwa

Boiling pools of blood

Pitch pits

All the removable pieces

The walls come apart in four sections, and are not attached to the base board.

Hope you enjoy them.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer them.