Dungeons & Dragons: Princes of the Apocalypse

Moving right along with my summary of 5E Dungeons & Dragons releases, we have the third official adventure (and second campaign) released by WoTC: Princes of the Apocalypse.

This adventure is part of their “Elemental Evil” campaign. This might sound familiar to long time players… The “Temple of Elemental Evil” is a classic, heralded adventure from back in the 1E days. This release is a bit of a re-modernization of that classic adventure. But, rather than being a simple 1e-to-5e conversion, this release takes the basic premise of the original story and adapts it to Forgotten Realms setting. So, while the core concept is the same, the locations and situations are radically different. This makes for a new a refreshing experience, even for long time players are are familiar with the lore behind “elemental evil”.

This adventure is designed for players of level 3 and will take them all the way up to level 15. However, this book also contains a special section that includes a number of mini-adventures and sidequests, that can easily be adapted for level 1 players. These serve as the perfect buffer, allowing DMs to run their players through these scenarios – in order to toughen them up enough for the main quest. There’s even a hook provided in this book that ties in to the sample adventure included in the D&D Starter Set. So players who have cut their teeth on that adventure, will feel right at home with Princes of the Apocalypse.

In many ways, this release represents a step up from some of the errors and criticisms seen in the prior Tyranny of Dragons campaign. First, we have the entire storyline packed into one book, instead of being spread out between two separate releases. Also, it seems to dwell in the nice middle-ground between being an “on rails” campaign and a bit of a sandbox.  Something that is sort of a “best of both worlds” for all DMs.

This release also includes an appendix that features some new spells and a new optional playable race. However, it’s worthy to note that this is merely a condensed version of “Elemental Evil Player’s Companion” that was released online for free.

In a nutshell, Princes of the Apocalypse does a fantastic job of taking the modern version of D&D and giving it that classic old-school feel.  Personally, I’d have preferred to see this as the debut adventure for 5E. In my opinion, everything that’s great about D&D is represented right here.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set    –   Character Sheets   –  Dungeon Master’s Screens

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss  –   Storm King’s Thunder  – Curse of Strahd   –  Tales from the Yawning Portal

Star Wars: Guardians of the Whills

The week is here! In a mere two days Star Wars: The Last Jedi will finally be released in theaters across the world. So, to celebrate I’m posting my review of the final “Rogue One” novel; Guardians of Whills.

This novel focuses on the characters of Chirrut and Baze, two characters that I found particularly interesting from the film, Rogue One. As a result, I had really high hopes for this novel. Sadly, of the three Rogue One tie-ins, this novel was my least favorite. But that being said, it’s still a decent read overall- just not as good as Catalyst or Rebel Rising. Of all the “young readers” releases, this book is one of the few actually seems to feel aimed towards a younger audience. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But, I suppose I just expected to see these characters in a bit of a grittier setting and situation.

The novel itself is a quick read. It also does a pretty decent job of providing a little backstory to the world of Jedha as well as providing some interesting info into the Church of the Force. But again, I feel there is so much more content to be explored here that was left untouched. It’s a shame and I really hope that we see some more detail in the future regarding “The Whills” and just what role the Force plays outside of the Jedi and Sith. Who knows, maybe we’ll get some of our answers in a few days.

Story: Interesting. But there is so much untapped potential around these characters that remains largely ignored.

Recommended:  For hardcore fans and young children.

Nerd Fuel: Green Mountain – Costa Rica Paraiso (Single Origins)

Lately, I’ve noticed a few new additions to the coffee isle on my local store. In the last few weeks, they’ve started stocking several new coffees from Green Mountain’s “Single Origin” series. So, I decided to pick up a box of the Costa Rica Paraiso pods. Single Origin coffees are usually hit or miss for me. I tend to enjoy true Colombian coffee regardless of who makes it, but I’ve never had a single origin Costa Rican coffee.

The first thing I noticed was the earthy, nutty smell of the brew. But, earthy is a good way. The aroma was rich and complex, not burnt or dirty smelling like some coffees tend to be. I was intrigued from the scent alone.  That’s usually a good sign.

Upon sipping the coffee, I was surprised by the creamy, complex flavor. It was not something I was expecting after such a deep aroma during brewing. I found this coffee to be a near-perfect medium roast. It contained just the right amount of bitterness, but you can still taste the natural flavor of the beans. This is something that many coffees seem to have a problem with. Thankfully, this was not the case here.

The more I drank this, the more I found myself enjoying it. In fact, I’ve decided that it’s a darn near perfect cup of coffee. It’s excellent as an early morning kickstarter or even for a mid-day pick-me-up. This might just be one of my new favorites. I urge anyone with a Keurig machine to give this pod a spin. High marks for the Costa Rica Paraiso.

 

Score: 4 out of 4

Would buy again?:  Yes! One of my new favorites. I can’t say enough good things about this coffee. This is right up there with the fine coffees offered by Laughing Man and some of Green Mountain’s other top shelf offerings.

 

Dungeons & Dragons: The Rise of Tiamat

My next D&D post is here! My last entry was an overview of the introductory adventure for Fifth Edition, Hoard of the Dragon Queen. This time, I’m taking a look at the sequel to that acclaimed adventure: The Rise of Tiamat.

As mentioned above, this adventure is actually the second (and final) part of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. It is designed for characters level 8 and above and should end with them around level 14 or 15.

This chapter of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign is quite a bit different from the first half. First of all, the pacing of the adventure seems to be much more open. DMs will likely do a lot of flipping back and forth with this book. Being non-linear is a good thing, but it also means that rookie DMs will likely have a much tougher job than someone with a little more experience under their belt. Also, the scope of this adventure is epic. Regardless of the outcome, the consequences of this adventure will result in some MAJOR changes to the Forgotten Realms game world. So if you’re playing this with intentions of continuing your campaign beyond the 15th level, you’ll likely have to do some major customizing to whatever future adventure you’re likely to run.

Despite being a bit tough on the Dungeon Master, the contents of this book are a treasure trove. There are several excellent “dungeons” to be played within these pages. As well as some really great opportunities for entertaining role playing. I can already see a hundred different ways that this adventure could end up being something that players will talk about for years to come.

All in all, the module is very well written and really gives players a good look at much of the mythology of the Realms. Many famous locations and NPCs are present in this adventure. It seems Wizards of the Coast really wanted to start 5E off with a bang. This adventure manages to do just that.  – Just come prepared. This is especially true if you’re the DM. You will have your work cut out for you.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set    –   Character Sheets   –  Dungeon Master’s Screens

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss  –   Storm King’s Thunder  – Curse of Strahd   –  Tales from the Yawning Portal

Star Wars: Rebel Rising

December is here! And at the time of this writing, the new Star Wars movie is only two weeks away! My current goal is to get all caught up on “pre-Last Jedi” novels in time for the new film. That leaves me with two books to review between now and then. One of those books is this one, Rebel Rising.

To date, there’s been three main novels that tie-in directly to Rogue One. Catalyst, which I’ve already reviewed on this site, serves as a prequel.  Guardians of the Whills. (A novel I will be discussing next week). And finally, this book, Rebel Rising. This novel tells the backstory of Jyn Erso, the lead character from Rogue One.

I found this book to be much more interesting than I initially anticipated. It follow’s Jyn’s life from the moment she is rescued by Saw Gerrara to the very instant she is joins the Rebel Alliance. The author does a fantastic job of letting us peek into Jyn’s mind and thereby helping us better understand her character. In the film, Jyn’s persona appears very conflicted and complicated. In some ways, her motives felt contradictory. I had always suspected this was simply the result of the rumored last-minute script change and reshoots in Rogue One, and perhaps it is. But even if that’s the case, this book does a marvelous job of reconciling that, and really brings a level of depth to her character that, in my opinion, was badly needed.

Despite being marketed as a young-adult novel, I found this book to feel more like a piece of adult fiction. It’s very well written, and even touches on some very complex themes. So, if you’re concerned about the maturity level of this novel, don’t let that inhibit you. Rebel Rising is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon.

Story: Masterfully written, informative, and it helps improve upon one of the series newest characters. Very well done.

Recommended:  For all Star Wars fans, but especially those partial to Rogue One.

Dungeons & Dragons: Hoard of the Dragon Queen

As promised, I’m making my first post playing catch-up with the current line of D&D releases. So far, I’ve touched on all of the core rule books and even a couple of the supplements.  This will be my first post on an official “module” or adventure. Now, I want to state up front that this is not a review. But rather a summary of the product itself. In this case, I have actually played through this particular module. But I won’t be able to say that for many of the books I’ll be touching on in the near future.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen is the first adventure published for the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and it is the first chapter of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign. A few years ago, when I participated in an official sanctioned game, this was actually the storyline that we played through. This module takes place in the Forgotten Realms world (the official setting for 5th edition) and it is designed for players of first level. By the end of the adventure players are expected to reach 7th or 8th level. So it takes a character pretty far along in their career.

The module focuses on the Cult of the Dragon; an evil group working to summon the ancient demonic dragon Tiamat.  The main goal of the adventure focuses around the players uncovering and attempting to stop this evil plot.

This adventure features many classic D&D elements. It’s filled with classic monsters and locations. It’s got a little bit of everything. There’s good opportunity for role playing, NPC interactions, dungeon crawling, etc. However, many have expressed that the adventure seems very “firewalled”. Meaning, it really pushes players to follow a pre-set expectation. There’s an encounter early in the story with an extremely powerful monster. One that most players will realize there’s no way to reasonably defeat. Therefore, most players will rightfully assume that they have “story immunity” and as a result don’t take the encounter seriously. These types of encounters can certainly occur in any Dungeons & Dragons game, but it often requires a very skilled DM to be able to make the scenario seem believable. Otherwise, it comes across as being cheesy.

All in all, Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a pretty good opener to the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Its very epic in scope. Some argue it is perhaps a little too ambitious for an introduction to the hobby. I say that all depends on the skills of the individual hosting the game.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set    –   Character Sheets   –  Dungeon Master’s Screens

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss  –   Storm King’s Thunder  – Curse of Strahd   –  Tales from the Yawning Portal

Nerd Fuel: Kahlua Coffee – Original

For this Nerd Fuel post, I’m going to review a classic. In fact, I’m a bit surprised it took me this long to share my thoughts on one of the most popular flavored coffees out there: Kahlua.

Now, I will be up front and say that I’m not the biggest fan of Kahlua liquor. I enjoy it occasionally in mixed drinks. But to me, its flavor is so pungent that it can easily overpower a drink. I’ve known people to spike their coffee with it, and when doing so, a little goes a long way. So, I wasn’t sure just how well a Kahlua-flavored coffee would pan out. Let’s see.

The unique smell of Kahlua is very noticeable when brewing one of these pods. It’s strong, but pleasant. The coffee itself is mostly dominated by the Kahlua flavoring, but it’s not so strong as be a turn off. Interestingly enough, the coffee itself is a light roasted coffee. I suppose this was done to allow the Kahlua flavoring to take center-stage here. But in my opinion a darker coffee would have been a better compliment. In a nutshell, the flavor is nice. But dominating. It’s hard to taste the coffee.

This is one of the few K-Cups that I feel is better prepared as an iced coffee instead of being served hot. The flavor seems better chilled. When served warm, it just doesn’t have the same magic. Perhaps that’s simply because most Kahlua-based drinks are usually served cold, and that’s just what I’ve come to expect.

All in all, this is a decent flavored coffee. It’s a great representation of the Kahlua brand. But it’s not going to be for everyone.

Score: 3 out of 4

Would buy again?:  Maybe. Either you like Kahlua or you don’t. If the flavor of Kahlua is something you tend to enjoy in other drinks, then a good iced coffee made with this pod is certianly worth your attention. I don’t really recommend this as a standard warm cup.

Update: Dungeons & Dragons Plans

As the new year quickly approaches, I wanted to share my plans regarding D&D. If you read my D&D posts, you’ll know that my son and I spent a large portion of this year attending D&D games at a local hobby store. However, a change in my work schedule put an end to those outings. So, instead, I’ve been in the planning stages of starting a home-based campaign. My current goal in regards to D&D is catch up on my book reviews before the end of the year. Then, when we start our home campaign in 2018, I’ll make regular posts and updates on our progress.

Despite have a little 5E experience under my belt at this point, I’m still very much a greenhorn. My decades away from the game really took their toll on me, so it’s like learning all over again. I’ll start making some D&D related posts next week. So if you’re a follower with an interest in this subject, stay tuned!

DLC Review: Final Fantasy XV – Comrades (Multiplayer Expansion)

The long-promised multiplayer addon for Final Fantasy XV is finally here! It is called “Comrades” and well… it technically does add multiplayer elements to Final Fantasy XV. If that sound a little weird, it’s because it is. FFXV is very much a single player game. So when SE announced that a multiplayer expansion would be included as part of their season pass, many gamers (myself included) thought it seemed a little out of place.  So, now that it is here, how does it hold up? Let’s take a look.

First of all, let’s discuss how you can obtain the expansion. First, it is available as an individual purchase for $20.00. But, if you’re going to spend that much you might as well just buy the $25 season pass. As this expansion is included in the pass along with the other three DLC episodes. Personally, you’d be a fool not to shell out the extra $5.00, in my opinion.

Despite being a multiplayer expansion, Comrades does actually fit into the FFXV storyline. The contents of the expansion take place sometime after Chapter 12 of the main game. It focuses on the remaining Kingsglaive as they work to restore some level of stability to the now ravaged world.  For this scenario, you actually design a character and participate in missions to recover precious meteor shards, which are used to restore power to various towns and outposts.

Restoring power to new areas can unlock new assignments, NPCS, weapons, and other avatar customizations. All cosmetic items for your character are completely obtainable in-game, there are no micro-transactions in Comrades.

The game features a hub-style format. When logging on, you will start in town. From here you can interact with various NPCs to either purchase gear, upgrade weapons, customize your avatar, etc. The ultimate goal is to restore power all four major outposts. This is done by farming meteor shards and directing where to spend these resources on a special “power line” map. Shards are obtainable a number of ways, but the main way to earn them is to participate in missions. This is where the multiplayer element comes in.

Some missions are simple hunt quests. Others require you to escort an NPC to safety or defend an area from monster attacks. When you undertake a mission, you are grouped with up to four other players at random. You and your “comrades” work together to achieve whatever goal is specified by the mission you’ve undertaken.

On it’s face, the whole multiplayer aspect seems pretty simplistic. It’s a PVE style of multiplayer that tends to lose it’s luster rather quickly. Once players have completed the main goal of the expansion, there’s very little left to entice gamers to continue playing. For this reason, I predict that within a few months, Comrades might very much become a ghost town. Of course, SE may continue to add content or make some changes to recapture player’s attention. But honestly, I can’t see them spending much more time on what is really little more than an afterthought to a main game.

Thankfully, when undertaking missions if there are not enough real players logged in, you will be paired with AI comrades. Already, in the two weeks the expansion has been out I find myself seeing more and more AI characters in my parties than real ones. This is not a good sign for the longevity of the game. Alongside this concern, is the issue of server stability. On more than one occasion. I’ve found myself and my comrades just standing around doing nothing as the game seems to forget to spawn monsters from time to time. I’ve also found myself queued up for a particular mission, only to find myself placed in a party undertaking a completely different mission. Also, lag and timeout issues have reared their ugly head on more than one occasion.

Despite have a pretty simple presentation. The game is actually surprisingly complex. There’s a huge level of content packed into this little title. Even now having played the game for two weeks straight, I’m really only about half-way through the storyline. Comrades explores a part of the FFXV lore I didn’t expect to ever experience. So even if your “comrades” end up being AI controlled, you can still get a lot out of the game in terms of storyline. SE managed to sneak out a bit of surprise in this department with me.  To be completely honest, I didn’t have very high hopes for this expansion. I figured we would be given something that was thrown together, barely meeting the definition of a “multiplayer” experience just to make good on their promise.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a bit of interesting content.

Overall Impression:  Surprisingly well thought-out. Lots of content, but not enough to keep players playing long term. I fear a rapidly eroding playerbase will end up resulting in this expansion being more of a single player experience in the long term. You will need a PS Plus or Xbox Gold subscription to play on these consoles.

Value: Excellent value if purchased as part of the season pass. $20.00 for this expansion on it’s own seems a little steep.

Main Game:  Final Fantasy XV Review

Nerd Fuel: Starbuck’s – Toasted Graham

Ok. I’m going to give Starbucks’ a chance to redeem themselves. While I was not a big  fan of their Pumpkin Spice Cafe Latte, I did enjoy their 2017 Fall Blend, and  last year’s Holiday Blonde Roast was simply amazing. For this review, I picked up a box of their new Toasted Graham coffee. Let’s see how it turned out.

First of all, this is a medium roast with natural flavors. It smells absolutely divine as it brews. The aroma of graham cracker and coffee beans together are simply out of this world. I immediately had high hopes for this coffee. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. This coffee has a rich, delicious flavor. The graham cracker taste is front and center, complimented by a nice honey/cinnamon finish. There’s no phony aftertaste. I was shocked by how good this coffee was, to be honest. Usually, when I pick up a flavored coffee, I go in expecting a chemical or overly syrupy taste. That’s not the case with this coffee at all. This is a clean brew. Not too acidic and not too bitter.

This coffee is wonderful as a classic morning mug or even when prepped as an iced coffee. Starbucks’ really hit it out of the park with this release. I simply can’t say enough good things about this coffee. Plus, the flavor actually ends up being quite a compliment to this time of year. If you see this in your local store, you’d do well to treat yourself to a box.

This is one of my new favorites.

Score: 4 out of 4

Would buy again?:  YES! This coffee exceeded all my expectations. Rich, well balanced flavor. Quality flavored coffee. Everything is just right about this cup.