DMs Guild Review: Minotaur’s Bargain

A press copy of Minotaur’s Bargain was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: JVC Perry and Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

DMs GuildMinotaurs are usually depicted as just another monster, one that happens to be found in mazes and labyrinths thanks to Greek Mythology. Fantasy author Richard A. Knaak transformed the horned humanoids into a rich culture within the Dragonlance universe, one that I gobbled up back in high school and college.

Minotaur’s Bargain” runs with that same concept of Minotaurs as a tribal warrior culture, not unlike the orcs of Warcraft. It’s a neat idea but the adventure somewhat squanders potential role-playing interactions in favor of a standard deathtrap dungeon.

The adventure is a mini-dungeon crawl designed for a party of 5th level characters, with a suggested play time of 3-4 hours. It’s relatively tiny compared to P.B. Publishing’s other material, running at only 12 pages not including maps and statblocks.

The adventure hook has your player characters arriving at a Minotaur settlement to seek a potential alliance. The Minotaurs only respect strength, however, and no matter how negotiations go, the PCs are thrown into the arena.

The PCs have a chance to role-play with the powerful Minotaur leader, but the result is the same regardless. Given the title of the adventure and the fantastic Foreward by Knaak himself, I was expecting a much more story-heavy adventure. Instead after that initial confrontation, the PCs are dropped into a dungeon full of fairly standard traps.

The arena is divided up into four separate challenge rooms that must be overcome before the fifth and final challenge (a big boss fight) opens up. It feels very video game-y, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

DMs Guild

In the initial room the PCs are told to bring only one item with them – including clothing, armor, or arcane foci! Most PCs are going to balk at this, and there are rules and notes for anyone who wants to try and smuggle in more items (um, where exactly are they hiding them??). I’m always leery of taking away power or agency from my players. Stripping them of beloved loot makes everything in the dungeon much deadlier than normal.

A potential Minotaur ally named Partheos can be found at the entrance. I enjoy when the DM gets to add an ally to the party, often serving as an organic way of imparting information or narration to the players. But Partheos is written as more of a brief font of information for the challenges ahead. He is young and cowardly which could have some interesting repercussions, though the notes on roleplaying him are minimal.

The four challenge rooms can be tackled in any order. There’s a decent variety here but nothing particularly awe-inspiring. It probably doesn’t help that I’m still pawing through the insanity of deathtrap dungeon design that is the Tomb of the Nine Gods from “Tomb of Annihilation.”

Areas contain the standard array of dungeon traps, including ground spikes, spinning scythes, pressure plates with wall darts, and a 60 ft pool with a Darkness spell. The goal in each room is to simply pull a lever. I don’t see why any spellcaster with the Mage Hand cantrip and/or 3rd level spells like Fly, Alter Self, and Gaseous Form couldn’t complete most rooms without breaking a sweat.

There’s not a lot of combat. The spike trap room can potentially include some random beasts, while the scythe/wall dart room has a unique orc variant called a Gladiator. The final battle is against a crazy powerful CR 8 Minotaur boss with legendary actions!

The most interesting feature the dungeon offers is in integrating the arena crowd. You’re not in some underground tomb – you’re in a gauntlet-style arena with a cheering (or jeering) crowd all around you. If the PCs perform honorable deeds or heroic actions (or roll a crit), the crowd will cheer, resulting in either Inspiration, or throwing out useful items like a Potion of Healing.

On the flip side if the heroes act cowardly or the crowd notices their smuggled items, the fickle crowd will hurl rocks at them, making attack rolls and dealing damage. This is a great feature that really drives home the fact that the PCs are proving themselves in an arena instead of crawling through just another dungeon.

Since the PCs are supposed to prove themselves, the outcome can vary depending on their actions. Even if they fail and wipe (that last boss fight looks scary considering the PCs are near-naked and probably quite wounded) they could be revived and exonerated for a job well done, completing the mission and securing the Minotaurs’ help.

DMs Guild

The adventure includes a full map of the arena, with seven separate room images and one big dungeon map that connects them. The pictures look really great in an isometric style, but unfortunately that style isn’t really usable in a virtual tabletop like Roll20. You could still use the pictures as handouts, but you’d have to rebuild the dungeon. Thankfully it’s not very big or complex.

For a one-shot deathtrap dungeon “Minotaur’s Bargain” is serviceable, offering some interesting challenges and a neat feature with the arena crowd. But it’s quite short, and doesn’t fully utilize the Minotaurs themselves (there’s not even a maze!). The adventure is designed as part one of a trilogy of adventures on the DMs Guild, and I’m hoping the others do a better job of exploring Minotaurs from a more interesting role-playing and political perspective.

Pros:

  • The arena crowd is a neat feature with well-integrated mechanics.
  • Particularly amazing art on the cover and throughout the adventure. The isometric maps are also lovely.
  • Spiffy Foreward by fantasy author and Minotaur scribe Richard A. Knaak.

Cons:

  • Role-playing is limited to the very beginning, and the PCs are thrown into the arena regardless.
  • Challenge difficulty feels artificially enhanced due to stripping the PCs.
  • The traps and levers seem particularly susceptible to PC spellcasters.
  • Isometric maps aren’t really compatible with virtual tabletops like Roll20.

The Verdict: Minotaur’s Bargain offers some neat features in its deathtrap dungeon but fails to utilize minotaurs in a meaningful way.

A press copy of Minotaur’s Bargain was provided for the purposes of this review.

The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 4 “Some Guy” Recap

Thus far on The Walking Dead season eight we’ve been shifting around to multiple points of view throughout the war with the Saviors. This week we were treated to a much more focused, slow-paced, and emotional episode as we follow the one team that ended up drawing the short straw and suffering immense loss: King Ezekiel and the Kingdom.

Continue reading “The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 4 “Some Guy” Recap”

DMs Guild Review: Struggle in Three Horn Valley

A press copy of Struggle in Three Horn Valley was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

d&dDinosaurs and D&D are all the rage right now thanks to “Tomb of Annihilation,” the current ongoing story-line and campaign adventure for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. “Struggle in Three Horn Valley” provides even more lost island dino goodness, beginning with a shipwreck and ending in a full-blown Dino-Riders war zone.

“Struggle in Three Horn Valley” is a lost island adventure designed for a party of 3rd to 4th level characters. It’s about 40 pages long with a suggested play time of six hours. It’s set on an uncharted island called Selu, home to tribal warriors, dinosaurs, lizardfolk, and pirates. Continue reading “DMs Guild Review: Struggle in Three Horn Valley”

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 29 Recap

Guarding the second giant relic we encounter our most dangerous foe yet, then have to choose a side between a dragon and some dragonslayers.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

Note: recording was split due to technically difficulties with the live stream.

The zombie giant raised two massive fists into the air. Instead of bringing them down, electricity began gathering around him, swirling through the decaying holes throughout its body, like a macabre circulatory system. 

I could feel the hair on my body stand on end. Lightning exploded outward in a massive blast. Bryseis’s summoned rat was instantly vaporized. I reeled backward as a blast of energy surged through my body. My heart raced, and I could smell burning flesh and..burning wood? 

When the smoke cleared I looked over to see T.I.M., crumpled to the ground, a sickening popping sound echoing around us. I cried out and rushed over, empowering my hands with soothing life force while uncorking a small bottle at my belt and practically throwing it down his throat.

I coughed and spat blood on the ground nearby as I knelt over him. T.I.M.’s eyes slowly lit back up, and we both looked down at his shattered leg. I manifested my psi-glaive in my hands and stood up on shaky legs, infusing my weapon with psychic energy.

I turned to the gigantic monstrosity that towered over us and saw electricity begin to gather around its hands once more.

Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 29 Recap”

Arena of Valor Hero Guides – Thane, Taara, Mganga [AOV Stats]

Something I’ve been contributing to over the last month is writing hero guides for upcoming MOBA Arena of Valor. The new website, AOV Stats (by ZAM), just went live this week. You can see my work here, with three guides of mine up so far.

Arena of Valor is a mobile free-to-play MOBA that’s huge in China and Europe. It’s scheduled to release in the U.S. later this month.

It’s basically a slightly watered down, mobile-friendly version of League of Legends or DOTA 2. There’s ranked play, items, lanes, etc. It’s actually a lot of fun and I definitely don’t normally play mobile games.

I’m continuing to master more heroes and crank out guides. The website is still brand new and very much a work in progress. It’s eventually going to get fancy graphics, widgets, and videos. Keep this game on your radar if you enjoy MOBAs.

DMs Guild Review: Something Smells Fishy

A press copy of Something Smells Fishy was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

d&d“Something Smells Fishy” is a murder mystery adventure designed for players of 2nd – 4th level. It takes place in and around the small fishing town of Lartan near Waterdeep, though you could drop it into any coastal town, and concerns a missing shipment of fish that soon becomes deadly.

It’s 30 pages long, with a suggested runtime of 8 hours, and provides DM and player maps of both the town of Lartan and a mini cave-dungeon that represents the action-packed climax.

The story is divided up into four parts, which are supposed to take place over the course of two days. It’s heavily railroaded and designed to give players both clues and misdirection regarding a case of missing shipments of fish, the town’s primary export.

The DM will need to become familiar with several important NPCs, whom the PCs are designed to confront and interrogate at multiple times throughout the story. It’s a very role-playing heavy adventure with a simple but fun mystery plot and easy-to-run enemies and locations, making it a nice low-level, light combat adventure. Continue reading “DMs Guild Review: Something Smells Fishy”

The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 3 “Monsters” Recap

Where’s my Episode 2 recap? Turns out Polygon will not be running weekly Walking Dead recaps this year. This news came a bit late, which meant my recap for episode 2 had been submitted and even contracted, but probably won’t be published. I’ll be resuming weekly recaps here on my website, but alas episode 2’s recap will remain in limbo.

The Walking Dead continues with its all out war storyline, much to its benefit. We’re on the third episode and we’ve covered maybe only an hour, as we continue to see Rick’s offensive strategy play out in three different fronts.

Well, two fronts anyway. Once again the Kingdom group with Carol and King Ezekiel have little to show but stirring speeches from Ezekiel, along with a montage of mowing down saviors using obvious ambush tactics. They get there comeuppance at the end of the episode, and we’ll get to that in a bit. Continue reading “The Walking Dead Season 8 Episode 3 “Monsters” Recap”

Hand of Fate 2 Review [PC Gamer]

Read the full review at PC Gamer

My Fame score was too high. When I drew the Infamous card again, I was faced with a choice: fight my way out of an angry mob of peasants, or submit to a trial by fire. I opted for the latter and was presented with a rotating beam of light along a pendulum of moving blocks. When I failed to stop the marker on the right block, the Dealer cackled with glee. My heart sank as he drew Pain card after Pain card and my health dwindled into nothing. I should have murdered the damn peasants.

Hand of Fate 2 is, like the original, a world literally made of cards. The campaign is presented as a world map divided into 22 challenges, or levels. These challenges provide specific objectives, and rules, and dying fails the entire challenge. Each challenge places a series of cards facedown on the table, like a digital board game. You move your token from card to card with each one revealing a new encounter that could mean potential gold, food, loot, or combat.

Read the full review at PC Gamer

Ranking All 21 Games of the SNES Classic Edition [Pixelkin]

Read the full list at Pixelkin

In lieu of a traditional review I’m going to do something a bit different with the SNES Classic Edition. I’m going to rank all 21 games included in the retro 90s emulator.

The SNES Classic Edition is a great little product that nails the original design of the console and controllers. It’s not without flaws: the short cord range (about 5 ft) can be a big annoyance, and in order to change games and use the rewind and save-state features, you have to physically push a button on the console. But those features also add a lot of modern convenience to classic games, greatly improving accessibility.

As the front-runner for greatest console of all time, the Super Nintendo had some pretty good games. The SNES Classic Edition does a near-perfect job of drawing from a wide variety of genres and gameplay styles to represent some (though not all) of the best games of the era.

Read the full list at Pixelkin

D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 28 Recap

We let our fireballs do the talking when we descend upon a tribe of barbarians at Beorunna’s Well.

Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!

Previously on “Storm King’s Thunder”

Note: recording was split due to technically difficulties, and YouTube no longer has Video Editing.

We were almost within shouting distance when I noticed the barbarian shaman wasn’t just waving her arms – she was casting a spell. Before I could pull up on the hippogriff I saw blinding light all around me.

I waved my hands reflexively, nearly losing my grip on the flying mount. My eyes stung but the lights quickly evaporated. My hippogriff mount merely shook its bird-like head a few times.

I glanced over at T.I.M. who nodded back at me reassuringly, followed by some obvious gestures. Those barbarians were clearly not willing to talk.

We quickly flew down to the ground, but before we could close in on the barbarians, a bright beacon of light glowed in the night sky like a red sun. I glanced up and just made out Bryseis atop her hippogriff, aglow by the burgeoning ball of fire held between her hands, a wild grin on her face.

I could hear her cackling even from over 100 feet away. It was all I could do watch in stunned silence as the Fireball dropped like a rock onto the barbarian horde in front us.

I’ll never forget the shouts and screams, followed by the smell of vaporized snow and melting flesh. Through the haze I saw more than half of the tribe become enveloped in fire, reduced to puddles of ash and bone. The shaman’s screams echoed throughout the sunken chamber.

The cackling stopped suddenly. I looked back up to see Bryseis’ hippogriff, a shadowy flapping figure in the night sky, but no Bryseis. An object rolled off the beast’s back and began plummeting toward the ground.

It was a potted plant. Continue reading “D&D 5E “Storm King’s Thunder” Session 28 Recap”