Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Life After People - Great Inspiration for Post Apocalyptic Games

I haven't played Rifts in a while, but watching Life After People has got me thinking about playing again. Of course, the show is about how Earth would look without any people and post apocalyptic RPGs like Rifts generally focus on a time period in which (only) most of us have been wiped out, but the imagery and the science are just plain cool.

 
 Personally, just watching this makes me want to play Rifts... right now. I'd say this show is a must see for anyone who calls himself a fan of post apocalyptic literature, movies, or games. I would like to share a full video here, but for some reason the embedding HTML is spitting errors back at me. Instead, I'm having to settle for a short clip.

If you want to see a full 88 minutes, click here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Favorite Deck: Skullclamp Rock (Extended)

Today, I'm enjoying the Alara Reborn prerelease. While I'm busy turning cards sideways (and most likely getting my behind handed to me by teenagers), I'll be sharing my favorite deck of all time with anyone who bothers to read the Magic: The Gathering posts on my site (which may not be anyone other than the handful of random search engine surfers who get lost and find themselves here). I never got to play this for anything more than Saturday morning tournaments at The Foul Line* in Lincolnton, NC. However, during the brief period of time that Skullclamp wasn't banned in extended, I had a blast with this deck:

Skullclamp Rock
Legal in Extended (when I was playing it)
Currently Legal in Vintage
Lands (20)
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Treetop Village
6 Forest
6 Swamp

Creatures (16)
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Ravenous Baloth

Spells (24)
4 Skullclamp
4 Rancor
4 Duress
3 Cabal Therapy
3 Chainer's Edict
3 Diabolic Edict
3 Pernicious Deed

This was the most tightly efficient deck I've ever played. I only played 20 lands, but with 8 mana producers for one green, I probably could have gotten away with less considering the average casting cost of cards in the deck was so low.

*The Foul Line no longer exists as far as I know. The owner nearly stopped selling sports memorabilia, completely stopped hosting card tournaments, and changed the name to R&W Carp Juice. They've always sold fishing supplies, but now they don't sell much else, so I don't have any reason to return to the store. At one point, I was there at least twice a week every week, and wouldn't buy Magic: The Gathering cards from anywhere else just out of loyalty to the store, but I guess my business wasn't profitable enough to continue.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ach! My files disappeared!

I just realized that many of the hyperlinks and images from my earlier posts are now dead links. Unfortunately, it appears that a site I once stored files on has disappeared and my files disappeared with it! The good news is that I haven't put anything new there in a while because I started using Google Sites for file storage, so none of my newer posts should be affected. The bad news is that maps were the most common files I stored there and now the ones that I didn't also upload elsewhere are now gone.

Although I did fix the first one I came across, I don't have the time or energy to go back and fix all of the broken links. So if anyone happens to be reading one of my older posts and stumbles upon a link to www.9ix.net, please comment on that post so I'll know to fix it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random Reactions to Recent D&D Website Updates

I would have actually played D&D last night if a FedEx driver hadn't gotten his truck stuck in the mud and kept half of my gaming group from getting to the game due to working unexpected overtime. Unfortunately, we didn't get to play, and I'm trying really hard not to write a blog post about how bummed I am that this is the third week in a row that we've had to cancel. Instead, I'm just going to express my reactions to some of the articles and features that have popped up on the official D&D website over the last few days.

On Ecology of the Deva
First of all, while I agree that the aasimar needed a new name and a new hook, I'm not a big fan of the way their new story and I think their (re)introduction to the game was horrendously timed regardless of how unintentional the timing might have been. The continual cycle of reincarnation is just a little too Hindu for me, and being reincarnated as a rakshasa if you don't behave? I don't know. It just doesn't feel right to me for some reason. The deva seems to me like a situation in which the "Rule of Cool" was a little forced and the final product just doesn't feel authentic. As for the timing, it really wouldn't have made much difference if WotC hadn't chosen deva as the new name. I can't help it, but every time I see it or hear it, I picture my students singing this song (listen if you're brave). Even though I know that WotC probably had no clue that the name of their reinvented goody-goody race would be so close to the title of Beyonce's most recent (and most annoying) hit single, I just can't see or hear the word deva without associating it with the word diva. Personally, I'd rather see all of the assimar misspellings and hear all of the assimar jokes than to hear a D&D race and immediately get "I'm a a diva, I'm a I'm a a diva, I'm a I'm a a diva, I'm a I'm a a diva, I'm a I'm a a deva, I'm a I'm a a deva, I'm a I'm a a deva" (repeat ad nauseum) stuck in my head. It makes me want to puke. Wizards, I know you didn't see this coming... but because of Beyonce, I don't think I'll ever be able to use the new name. My group will just stick with the ass jokes. Maybe I'm just clinging to the past and I'll get used to the new incarnation of the aasimar in time. On a more positive note, I have to admit that the new visual concept is astounding. At the very least, if I don't like the story or the name I can at least enjoy the artwork.

On the Arcane Power Art Gallery
Speaking of artwork... I've got a fairly decent collection of D&D books, but I'm nowhere close to being able to claim that I own them all. In fact, since the release of the Character Builder and the Compendium, I've found myself with fewer and fewer reasons to purchase many of the newer books (read my explanation here). However, with my modest D&D collection, I recognized six of the eight images in the first two rows of the Arcane Power Art Gallery as well as several others further down the list. There are quite a few other images that were new to me, but it made me wonder how many of those were also reused but were originally in books that I don't own. I guess my question is... what percentage of the art in Arcane Power was borrowed from Complete Arcane or another 3.5 supplement? Does it really hurt the bottom line that much to commission all new artwork for a new book? I'm not a publisher, so maybe it does. I just really enjoy the art of D&D and I'm more than a little disappointed every time I crack open a new book to find pictures I've already seen.

Well, I've gotten all of that off of my chest and haven't complained (much) about not getting to play D&D. I'd call that a great effort. Now, to begin working on the details of the Society of the Eye.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 24: Beholda' Gangsta's

After doing some extensive beholder research due to my lack of xp with the monster, I have to admit that I'm beginning to like them more and more and I'm feeling a bit of regret that I've yet to use them in one of my games. I guess late is better than never, as the saying goes.

First of all, I'm keeping in mind as I put this together that these beholders have an arcane theme ('cause that's the dice's story and I'm sticking to it). I'll probably stray from that theme before all is said and done, but I want it to at least have some impact on my decision making. I'll also be keeping in mind that at least one method these beholders use to achieve their goals is slavery.

Beholders were originally cast as lawful evil monsters back in the 1st edition Monster Manual, so I'm going to assume that they have a very orderly civilization (if you can call it that). The beholders will have a very strict hierarchy amongst themselves, and will reign over a cult. Normally, when I think of a cult, I think of a bunch of kooky religious nuts trying to usher in the end of the world with some cyanide and kool aid. But what if this particular cult isn't religious at all? What if it functions more like a well organized street gang? Those at the top can do and get away with almost anything as long as they maintain power. Those on the lower levels have a very strict code that they must follow or risk serious punishment from those in higher ranks. Aspiring members must prove themselves by "putting in work." So on and so forth.

Making the street gang comparison gives me lots of material to steal from the real world. I'll still refer to it as a cult and call it the Society of the Eye or some other mysterious and sinister name, but all of the trappings will be those of a street gang: a particular color (or colors) that is considered sacred, a number that is considered sacred, a nonverbal means of communication (whether it is "stacking" or something else), a ritual beating as the initiation ceremony, a love for tattoos, and many other street gang stereotypes that leap to mind. Designing this beholder organization will certainly be interesting...

Unfortunately, I'm running out of time to write, so I'm going to have to split this into two posts. Let's finish by reemphasizing the key points that I've established about this particular group of beholders:
  • Slavery plays a large part in their society.
  • They make use of arcane magic in some form.
  • They are very organized.
  • They lead a cult of humanoids who function as their agents in places where their influence wouldn't ordinarily be accepted/tolerated.
  • The cult functions like an organized street gang.
Hopefully I'll be able to get some quality writing time tonight or tomorrow and finish this up. This is turning out to be more interesting than I originally thought...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Alara Reborn Spoiler Update: Too Many Previews!

I've gotten behind today. A ton of new cards have been spoiled and I've barely had time to look at the list. I can say that there are a few cards that immediately caught my attention.

Dauntless Escort reminds me of a no-life-gaining Loxodon Hierarch. He makes things indestructible instead of regenerating them, but the idea is the same. He's also a big body for the cost.


Knotvine Paladin has a sort of super-Exalted ability. As long as he's attacking alone, you get to pretend that all of your creatures have Exalted, and any Exalted creatures you have count for double.

Behemoth Sledge is like a Loxodon Warhammer, but it actually forces you to use the colors that make sense for the abilities. Trample and life gain? Must be green and white. Other than the color requirements, it costs the same as everyone's favorite hammer, but it trades a point of power for two points of toughness. Honestly... I would usually rather have the extra power (and the easier mana cost). Either way, I doubt this will see much play in serious tournaments, but you can bet it'll make its way to many a multiplayer game.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Alara Reborn Cards Spoiled: Finest Hour, Ardent Plea, Cerodon Yearling, Sanity Gnawers, and Crystallization

Five new cards hit the MTG Salvation's Alara Reborn spoiler page yesterday. This batch is more interesting than Friday's, in my humble opinion. For one, three of the five are either green or fit into a deck that features green. That helps grab my attention. Unfortunately, only one of the five sports a picture, which means that the other four may or may not have been spoiled correctly. Ardent Plea, in particular, looks unfinished to me. As spoiled, it is an enchantment for 1UW that has Exalted and Cascade. I guess those two effects are enough, but it just seems too... simple. Perhaps this is an example of the elegant design that Mark Rosewater spoke of once upon a time.

The card that does include an image is quite intriguing. Finest Hour seems odd outside of red, as red has historically been the most likely to grant an extra attack phase. However, the flavor is just right. It features the Exalted mechanic, of which I'm a big fan, and it's an enchantment so it's not quite as fragile as a creature. I like it... admittedly not as much as I like Maelstrom Pulse, but that's a different matter entirely.

Total # of cards spoiled: 50/145

The Pen and Paper Inn - Play by Post Roleplaying on MTG Salvation.com

I've been spending quite a bit of time on MTG Salvation lately because I've drifted back into the collectible card game hobby with Magic: The Gathering. However, one of the forums I stumbled upon while I was there surprised me. They have a sub-forum devoted to play by post RPGs! I don't know if I'll ever take part, but I found it interesting, nonetheless.

Perhaps this will be the perfect location for my Shadow's Apex campaign to begin...

Anybody know other places to find decent play by post games? As our game night becomes less and less reliable, I'm finding the need for a gaming outlet. Computer RPGs are a quick fix, but don't satisfy me long-term.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Newfound Favorite: Goblins Comic

A while back, I discussed ignoring unnecessary rules like 4E's limit on the number of magic items you can use per day and Soul Existence asked in a comment if I read Goblins. At the time, I didn't. However, it has quickly become one of my favorite reads and I recommend it for anyone interested in a little D&D related humor.


The comic has been running since 2005 and now that I've read everything in their archives, I check back pretty regularly to see if they've updated. You can find the newest post just by going to www.goblinscomic.com, but I recommend you start at the beginning.

Super Spoiler Friday, It Seems

Quite a few cards showed up on MTG Salvation's spoiler page yesterday, including Qasali Pridemage, Madrush Cyclops, Sen Triplets, Filigree Angel, Bloodbraid Elf, Lich Lord of Unx, Glory of Warfare, and Mycoid Shepherd. The previews and spoilers appeared to be in overdrive, which is fine by me. I really enjoy them.

Unfortunately, the only one on the list that caught my eye was Qasali Pridemage. He's got a lot going for him, with great power/toughness to casting cost ratios, the exalted ability, some utility artifact/enchantment destruction, and the color green. I foresee this guy in my casual multiplayer decks for many years in the future at the very least, and quite possibly in my Bant deck if the metagame shifts in the right direction.

Current # of cards spoiled: 45
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Friday, April 17, 2009

Shadow's Apex Part 23: Beholders!

I presented a poll to my readership back in March that would determine what sort of creatures I would use for the arcane slaveholders that I randomly rolled while generating populations for the Shadow's Apex campaign. Although I didn't get many votes, there was a clear winner... beholders!

And now, I need to make a confession that may be considered blasphemy by long-time Dungeons & Dragons players. I have never, not once, used a beholder in one of my games. I have also never, not a single time, ever encountered a beholder as a player. Considering my near-twenty years of experience (which is quite a bit for a 25 year old, mind you), you would think I'd have used one at least once in all of that time... but I haven't. I do have some "sort of/almost used a beholder" moments, but I don't really feel like they count...
  • One of my favorite adventures from Dung Mag* is Shards of the Day from Issue #60. There is an encounter in that adventure in which a group of driders uses gas spores as fake beholders to confuse their opponents.
  • I played Eye of the Beholder on the Super Nintendo, but never actually fought the beholder at the end of the game.
  • I played Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance on the Playstation 2 and beat the snot out of Xantam the Beholder.
There are several reasons I never used beholders myself, but perhaps the most important was their sheer deadliness. I have never been a fan of monsters getting "save or die" abilities, and the beholder had not one but three (cause death, disintegrate, and flesh to stone). I can handle offing a PC with a critical hit or just rolling high for dragon's breath, but I've just never been able to hang a character's life on one die roll. Thus, I just never used them. Luckily, 4E has removed the "save or die" effects and beholders, while still deadly, at least won't kill you with just one bad die roll.

Because I have such a small amount of experience with beholders and because they are such an iconic D&D monster, I think earning a little xp on the subject is long past due. So it is decided... the arcane slaveholders in the Shadow's Apex campaign will be beholders... perhaps their leader will be a beholder lich?

Check back early next week for a more details on the beholders and the next step in creating the Shadow's Apex campaign.

*I've grown fond of calling the two most prominent D&D magazines Drag Mag and Dung Mag (pronounced like poop), so forgive my homegrown slang.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gridded Posters, a Cheap Miniatures Accessory

This post on Roleplaying Pro reminded me of a gaming tool/accessory that I discovered at the local Wal-Mart the other day. I purchased it, brought it home, and promptly forgot about it until John's post reminded me.

These posters are white but have a very lightly shaded 1/2 inch grid. The grid is easy to spot when you're close but much less noticable when at a distance, and the grid size is perfect for play with minis... each 2x2 section is a perfect one inch square.

I briefly flirted with the idea of creating a few unique battle maps for the last session of our shared game that I'll be running (at least for a while), and I still might. However, I might keep them clean and use them in tandem with Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation from the first edition DMG. Perhaps we can run a DM-less dungeon romp the next time we only have two people show up for game night...

Regardless of how I use them, I'll post as soon as I get a chance and let everyone know whether they're worth the money. Considering how cheap they were... my guess is that they will have been a worthwhile investment.

Maelstrom Pulse = Super Vindicate

Let's face it... Vindicate is awesome. I've like Vindicate since I first saw it, but it has been expensive enough (and not green enough) that I've always sold every copy I've gotten without playing it. Now what does Wizards do? They make a better Vindicate and put green in the mana cost!

One of today's Alara Reborn previews is Maelstrom Pulse. What makes Maelstrom Pulse better? In a word, potential. Most of the time, the cards will be functionally identical except for color. Pay three, kill something. Vindicate can kill lands and I guess that can be an advantage, but Maelstrom Pulse has the potential to create card advantage by destroying more than one permanent. That, I like. And it is green. I'm sold.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spoiler Alert! Three New Cards Leaked (Time Sieve, Thraximundar, and Blitz Hellion)

Three new cards were previewed today, not one of which I'm really all that interested in. Time Sieve is a little too Johnny for me, Thraximundar is interesting but I doubt I'd ever play it, and Blitz Hellion is seven damage for five mana that has to make it through the combat step. *YAWN* Maybe I'll be surprised by the usefulness of these cards, but even so, I doubt it will be me who is using them.

48 Hour Design Challenge Entry: High School Havoc

The last time I tried to "create" an RPG I was in elementary school, my 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons books had gotten away from me (I'll explain better some other time), and I was trying to recreate D&D from memory. However, Wild Die's 48 Hour RPG Challenge sparked my interest and I started thinking about what kind of RPG would be as far out of the box as I could get while still being moderately interesting.

I created High School Havoc with the intention of allowing older folks to reenact their favorite moments as teenagers and/or roleplay the crazy stunts they only dreamed of doing when they were teenagers. The rules are simple and the presentation is about as horrible as I can tolerate, but I just didn't manage to get as much accomplished as I intended. Either way, I present to you a new roleplaying game designed in 48 hours (actually, more like 3... but who's counting?):

High School Havoc (docx)
High School Havoc (pdf)

Table of Contents
  • Concept
  • Character Creation
  • Attributes
  • Roles
  • How to Play
  • Getting Started
  • Grades
  • Growing Up
  • Gaining Levels
  • Seniority
  • Losing
  • Game Master Section
  • Creating NPCs
  • Sample NPCs
  • Sample Plot Hooks
  • Nerd Plot Hooks
  • Athlete Plot Hooks
  • Social Scene Plot Hooks
  • Character Sheet
I hope you find this quickly-thrown-together game refreshing... it is definitely not your typical high fantasy or science fiction RPG.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Character Building: The Delusional "Half-Dragon"

Continuing the series covering favorite character concepts I've used, today we'll talk about Talon Ebonblade, a shadowdancer with an interesting quirk. Back when the 3rd edition Dungeon Masters Guide was released, I fell in love with a prestige class called the shadowdancer. When Tome and Blood was released, I loved the idea of a half-dragon prestige class (the dragon disciple). Unfortunately, the rules didn't cover either of my favorite dragons (shadow or deep). I usually shy away from adding my own material, so I almost dismissed the idea of a half-shadow-dragon character. But then it hit me... what if a character wasn't a half-dragon at all, but thought he was? It was then that I knew I had struck idea-gold.

Building the Delusional "Half-Dragon"
The Flavor:
This character has some natural characteristics that have caused others to compare him to creatures of shadow in the past. Perhaps he was particularly sneaky as a youth, a naturally stealthy scout, or perhaps his skin tone is just much darker than the norm for his family or race. Regardless of the cause, Talon has been compared to creatures of shadow so often that when he heard a rumor that a shadow dragon lurked somewhere in his family tree, he was immediately convinced that his own affinity for the shadows has been caused by a shadow dragon ancestor. Of course, no one actually believes him because there's nothing supernatural about his shadowy reputation. At least, not at first. When he is ridiculed for actually believing that he has a shadow dragon ancestor, he leaves home to prove his heritage, and returns later in his adventuring career a master of shadowy powers. Is this vindication? Or has his obsession turned him down an even darker path than his heritage?

The Crunch:
  • This character was inspired by 3rd edition mechanics, so I can quickly tell you that Talon was originally a half-elf ranger/shadowdancer. Of course, that was way back in 3E when not too many supplements had been released. If I had to recreate the character now, I think I'd create him as either a half-elf Ranger 6 / Shadowblade 4 / Shadowdancer 10 or Ranger 6 / Shadowdancer 4 / Shadowblade 10, depending on the campaign style. The shadowdancer-heavy build would be better suited to a roleplaying and skill-based campaign, while the shadowblade-heavy build is much better for hack 'n slash games. Shadowblade is a prestige class from Tome of Magic that gives some cool shadow flavored combat abilities.
  • Unfortunately, playing Talon in 4th edition with the mechanics supporting his flavor might be a little difficult. One aspect of 4th edition that was highly touted was the ability to play multiclass characters the way you want from the very beginning, but brainstorming shadow flavored powers is leaving me stuck on dark pact warlocks, and that isn't the direction I would want Talon to go (although realizing that his abilities actually come from an evil being from the Shadowfell instead of his shadow dragon heritage could be a great roleplaying opportunity).
  • First of all, I need a suitable replacement for the shadowdancer prestige class, and after a few quick searches in the D&D Compendium, I think I found my replacement: Shadow Captain from Manual of the Planes*. It keeps the shadow flavor going and several of the paragon path's abilities recreate the feel of the shadowdancer's shadow companion ability. It also forces me down the warlord path, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
  • I want Talon to stick to those "naturally stealthy" roots that I mentioned in the flavor section, so we'll stick with ranger as his base class. But I also need to make sure that he can take the shadow captain paragon path, so he'll need to pick up Student of Battle. I'm not sure if the power swap feats are needed, but because rangers and warlords share strength as a primary stat, it remains a viable option.
  • As for his epic destiny, the Darklord from Drag Mag #372 looks like a great fit, and shadow stride is perfect. I only wish I could have found some other type of shadow flavored teleportation power without having to multiclass into warlock.
For anyone who might consider giving this concept a spin, I can assure you that it is a pleasure. Playing the big dumb warrior with a big heavy weapon definitely has its perks, but playing a reasonably intelligent hero who is somewhat delusional is even more fun, in my humble opinion. You can click on one of these links to check out pdf character sheets of Talon at level one, at level eleven, and at level twenty one.  As I said before, I'd love to hear whether or not the community would like to see more posts like this in the future. All feedback is greatly appreciated!

* I don't actually own Manual of the Planes, but thanks to a D&D Insider subscription, I don't need it to use the class. I'm still convinced that if people realized how little you need books if you have an Insider subscription, book sales would suffer much more than from the circulation of illegal pdf documents.


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Monday, April 13, 2009

Meddling Mage Back in Alara Reborn?

I noticed that Meddling Mage has been added to the MTG Salvation spoiler. That's one of the most awesome and horrible things I've learned in a long time. Meddling Mage is just plain good, and I'm really excited considering I'm already playing blue and white. The only problem will be... will I be able to afford them?

The horrible part is that Meddling Mage is a real headache to play against. Sometimes they make the game just plain unfun. For the game as a whole, who wants to make the "unfun" experience more likely to happen to new players?

Oh well, here's to seeing an old favorite return, even if it might scare a few players away...

Familiar Musings (Mostly Just Poking Fun @ Familiars)

As I haven't bought Arcane Power (not sure that I will) and it hasn't made the jump to the D&D Compendium yet, I haven't developed any real opinions about the 4E familiar rules. However, I did read Get Familiar this morning and I couldn't help but think of how goofy I've always thought familiars were. Did I have one when I played a wizard? Yes. Did it feel goofy then too? Yes. In any case, I just want to share some random thoughts about familiars...
  • At one point, it was possible for a wizard to die from someone killing his familiar. Would you have a heart attack if someone stepped on your toad?
  • Where does the idea of the familiar come from other than witches and their black cats? I don't remember Merlin or Gandalf ever having familiars. If it wasn't for familiars going back to 1st edition, I'd blame it all on Harry Potter and little kids' obsessions with cute furry things...
  • Shouldn't the winner of The Apprentice get a familiar? If not, shouldn't they start doing the show right and teach those folks some magic tricks or something?
  • Did anybody ever use the Familiar's Belt from Complete Mage back in 3.5? Did it feel like having one of those pokemon balls on your belt?
  • Improved Familiars (and animal companions too, I guess)... are they familiars for tough guys who want more than a cute little gerbil to keep him company, or are they for wusses who can't hold their own in a fight?
  • Shouldn't pirates get familiars too? They have parrots... and Barbossa had that cool undead monkey...
Anyway, just a goofy little post...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Character Building: The Battle Bard

A modern depiction of a dwarfImage via Wikipedia
The release of the Players Handbook 2 has gotten me thinking about the bard again, and the bard's new niche of multiclassing better than anyone else pointed me in the direction of an old favorite character archetype: the battle bard. What is a battle bard? Well, quite simply, it is a bard who is good enough in melee combat to hold his own yet still draw on the versatility that the class offers outside of combat. This is just a collection of my ideas on how to build this type of character, and if this is popular I might turn this character exercise into a series of posts that covers a wide range of not-quite-so-cliche character builds. Ideas and feedback would be much appreciated.

Building the Battle Bard
The Flavor:
What would a battle bard look like? My favorite representation (which I might be borrowing from somewhere, but if so I can't remember the source) is that of a gruff dwarven warrior who we'll call Bofin Battlesinger. Bofin wades into battle singing epic ballads of his ancestors' brave deeds, knowing that his own will be added when the next generation bellows them out. The longer the battle goes on, the closer he gets to singing his father's tale, and woe betide any foes still standing when he recounts his father's death in that deep bass voice nearly cracking with long-suppressed sorrow.

As far as motivations, Bofin sees himself primarily as a protector. Not only is he a warrior and healer, his family's history, recorded in song, is his to safeguard. He feels a touch of guilt that he was not able to protect his father, but realizes that his own life will likely end similarly someday. He wishes to die honorably in battle, fighting for an honorably cause, and holding fast to his ideals to the last breath... but not until his son, heir to the wealth of knowledge and history he holds dear, is old enough to be taught the ballads.

Crunch:
I never played anything like this in 1st or 2nd edition and I'm so far removed from those systems that I wouldn't attempt to provide advice, but I have played it in 3.5 so we'll start there and then move on to some 4E ideas.
  • The simple, straightforward build approach would be to alternate back and forth between fighter and bard until you qualify for the war chanter prestige class (from Complete Warrior). War chanter was made for the fighter/bard combination and although it lacks in spellcasting, it maintains combat effectiveness and continues to improve your bardic music. By going this route, by 20th level you'll end up with Dwarf Bard 5 / Fighter 5 / War Chanter 10, which probably won't lag too far behind a straight fighter in power level.
  • A more optimized build might involve starting as a bard, then multiclassing into paladin and picking up the Devoted Performer feat from Complete Adventurer to mix the otherwise incompatible classes. The dwarf paragon class from Unearthed Arcana is pretty sweet too, and then finishing up with war chanter fits the theme perfectly. With this build (Bard 4 / Paladin 3 / Dwarf Paragon 3 / War Chanter 10), you hit 20th level with a +19 BAB, +14/+9/+9 for saves (plus the charisma bonus from divine grace), some minor spellcasting ability, great party pumping bardic music, and just slightly below average hp for a melee character (which the dwarf's constitution bonus should help out with). Man, it felt good to dig out the old 3.5 stuff again!
  • In 4E, I'd definitely start Bofin as a charisma-focused paladin and then use multiclass feats to pick up bard abilities. I like the idea of this guy being tough as nails, and anything less than a defender just wouldn't fit. The bard and paladin classes seem to compliment one another well, as both classes rely on charisma and the paladin slants a little toward the leader role already. When choosing bard powers, I'd try to stick to those that buff more than one ally at a time, which the paladin doesn't seem to do quite as well.
  • For the paragon path, Hospitaler seems to fit well in my mind. The flavor text at the beginning of the class ("I am... an inspiration to my allies and a fearful visage to my foes."), coupled with the fact that it gives the paladin more leader-like abilities, really makes the class feel like a good fit for Bofin. Although Voice of Thunder is tempting, it just doesn't quite fit the theme.
  • As for the epic destiny, I'm leaning toward the Chosen of Moradin from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide. There isn't too much difference between it and the Demigod epic destiny, but the Forge of Creation power just looks amazing.
  • For 4E a year from now... I have to admit I've found myself falling head over heels for the new hybrid rules. The more I read about them, the more I like them, even if I haven't actually had the chance to use them yet. Assuming the rules don't change drastically, a Paladin/Bard hybrid might not be half bad. We'll see how things change between now and the release of the Players Handbook 3.
And there we have it... a sample battle bard. You can click on one of these links to check out pdf character sheets of Bofin at level one, at level eleven, and at level twenty one.  As I said before, I'd love to hear whether or not the community would like to see more posts like this in the future. All feedback is greatly appreciated!
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MTGO: Losing With Dark Bant

With the cards I purchased at MTGO Traders, I threw together a half-decent version of the Dark Bant deck that Brian Robinson earned fourth place with at Pro Tour Kyoto. His version can be found here. This is my version:

Artifact Creatures
4 Tidehollow Sculler

Creatures
4 Birds Of Paradise
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Rhox War Monk
3 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers

Instants
4 Path To Exile

Legendary Creatures
4 Doran, The Siege Tower
3 Gaddock Teeg

Tribal Instants
4 Nameless Inversion

Basic Lands
1 Forest
1 Plains
1 Swamp

Lands
1 Adarkar Wastes
4 Ancient Ziggurat
2 Brushland
1 Caves Of Koilos
1 Llanowar Wastes
4 Murmuring Bosk
4 Treetop Village
2 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard
4 Guttural Response
4 Scattershot Archer
4 Oblivion Ring
3 Relic of Progenitus

To sum up the differences between his list and mine, I have:
  • Extra copies of Kitchen Finks, Path to Exile, Treetop Village, and Nameless Inversion
  • Added Gilt-leaf Cavaliers 
  • No Wilt-Leaf Liege, Loxodon Warhammer, or Rafiq of the Many
And that's about it. My version has a lower average mana cost but I'm definitely not as powerful card-for-card. Because I increased the counts of both Nameless Inversion and Path to Exile, my version is also a little more disruptive, but I think I'd go with better threats if I had the money to afford them.

I've logged seven full matches with the deck so far, and I'm leaving out matches in which people lost the connection or conceded randomly. One opponent conceded on the first turn when I played Yavimaya Coast and a Birds of Paradise! It isn't like I was burning up the casual room or anything... I was in the tournament practice room!

Enough of that, though. Let's get on to my shortcomings as a Magic: The Gathering writer. Unfortunately, I haven't kept very good records on the matches so this will consist of quick summaries. I didn't even record the user names of each of my opponents. That's pretty pathetic, especially considering the fact that I knew I'd be writing about it all.

Match #1: Faeries
Both games went the same way... he had chump blockers or counters for everything I threw at him, and each game ended with him at less than 10 life but mostly from his own Bitterblossom(s).

Match Record: 0-1

Match #2: Some kind of control deck?
I won this match pretty handily and I never actually got to see what he was playing other than a ton of vivid lands, some planeswalkers (Jace Beleren and Ajani Vengeant), and some spot removal. At least one win was purely due to Ajani Vengeant's inability to kill Treetop Villages (because they aren't creatures on his turn). He could only keep one tapped down while the other was swinging for the win.

Record: 1-1

Match #3: Elves!
I was really caught off guard the first game. Who knew how explosive Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinels can be? Actually, its probably pretty well known, but it was new to me and I got blown away in the first game. Once I realized which cards were most effective, winning the next two wasn't too difficult.

Record 2-1

Match #4: Blue/White Control
This guy's deck was a rogue deck, and I respect that. I used to take pride in my rogue creations back when I had the time to playtest all the time. Nowadays I just grab whatever list looks fun, tweak it, and run with it. I managed to get a second turn Gaddock Teeg in both games, and his deck full of Wrath of Gods and Cryptic Commands just couldn't hold him off. In the second game, I countered several attempts to remove Gaddock with Guttural Response (which is becoming one of my favorite sideboard cards).

Record: 3-1

Match #5: Mono Blue Decking Combo
Similar to the elf deck I played against earlier, I had no idea what this guy was doing until he hit me with Sanity Grindings and Twincasts. I don't know how many he pulled off, but I died on my draw step. Again, Guttural Response saved the day and I managed to win the match even though I was blown away in the first game.

Record: 4-1


Match #6: Cruel Ultimatum
Just when I was starting to gain some confidence, this Blue-Black-Red control deck swooped in and just hurt my feelings. In the first game, he had an answer for everything I threw at him and he won easily. The second game was closer, but came down to one of those "I managed to get him down to 2 life and he came back to win" scenarios that we all hate being on the losing side of.

Record: 4-2

Match #7 (2-man Que): Cruel Ultimatum
Despite the loss, I decided that it was time to test the waters in a little more competitive setting, so I loaded up a 2-man Que. And what do I face? The same freakin' deck that just beat me piloted by a different player. And what happened? Pretty much the same thing. I either got stomped, or just when I felt like I was about to win the tide would turn and I'd wind up losing. And I lost two tix in the process.

Practice Record: 4-2
"Real" Record: 0-1

Conclusions
I like the deck. It has potentially explosive starts that can be crippling. It has just enough disruption to be annoying to opponents but not so much that it starts to feel like I'm running a control deck. There are some things about the deck that I intend to change. For one, the Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers have got to go. My three mana spot is clogged (15 cards) and needs to be cut down to size. I also realized that since I cut Rafiq of the Many, I'm now splashing blue for only one card, Rhox War Monk, and I'm not sure he's good enough to warrant a splash. I need to either find more ways to use blue to my advantage or cut it altogether.

Friday, April 10, 2009

MTGO Traders Blesses Me With Great Customer Service

It didn't take me long to get tired of that Bant preconstructed mishmash that I threw together yesterday. I didn't think the Spike in me would come out so quickly. So I did something really out of character for me... I bought a bunch of cards without selling anything on eBay first. A while back, when I was much more in touch with the game, I vowed never to spend "new money" on Magic again. By new money, I meant money that I didn't gain as a perk to playing the game. And for a long time, I didn't spend anything on the hobby except for entry fees. Every new card I got was either given to me, traded for, or was purchased using money from selling cards on eBay. Unfortunately, when you haven't played competitively in years, getting back into the game and holding to that vow are nigh impossible. Actually, it probably isn't impossible, but I'm nowhere near patient enough to do it.

Purchasing from the WotC store is the simplest way to buy cards as long as you want booster or tournament packs, but the marketplace has much better deals and the infobot is a great resource. It was the infobot that led me to MTGO Traders, and I was highly impressed with both the MTGO Traders website and with the rapid response (and quality) of their customer service. I made the mistake of purchasing enough store credits for a play set of Doran, The Siege Tower but didn't notice that the inventory on their site showed that they were out of stock. Most Magic Online sellers that I've dealt with in the past would have just said, "Sorry, bud. Out of stock. Check the site before you buy next time." Honestly, that's what I expected. I really should have paid better attention to their site before I spent money. The fault was my own.

MTGO Traders, however, was gracious enough to find the cards for me and correct my mistake. How awesome is that? They've definitely earned my future business, and they have my highest recommendation. I know that most of my readers are much more into RPGs than card games, but if you ever decide to make the leap, check out MTGO Traders before you buy from anyone else.

Check out the MTGO Traders website by clicking here, or add them as a buddy in the Magic Online program by clicking the Add Buddy button on the right sidebar and typing in CardCaddy, CardWareHouse, MTGOTradersBot, or MTGOTradersBot2.

Now, I'm back to the deck editor to put those Dorans to good use. I'll post my decklist sometime soon...

Getting Back Online With Magic Online III

I haven't messed with Magic Online too much since they booted me out for having an indecent screen name (KikUSquaNtheNuts = kick you squa' in the nuts... from the Tooth Fairy Tats episode of South Park). I guess I didn't read the Terms & Conditions agreement closely enough. Oh well.

Nevertheless, I have decided to jump back into the game, so I started a new account yesterday. I grabbed two starter packs (the Bant starter pack from Shards of Alara and the Bant starter pack from Conflux), mashed the two together, pulled out all of the crap, and started playing. I ended up with this deck list:

Lands
4 Seaside Citadel
2 Bant Panorama
2 Terramorphic Expanse
8 Plains
4 Forest
4 Island


Creatures 
1 Battlegrace Angel
2 Aven Squire
1 Giltspire Avenger
2 Steward of Valeron
1 Deft Duelist
3 Rhox War Monk
1 Jhessian Balmgiver
2 Rhox Meditant
1 Knight-Captain of Eos
2 Rhox Bodyguard
1 Frontline Sage
2 Akrasan Squire
2 Guardians of Akrasa
2 Knight of the Skyward Eye
1 Waveskimmer Aven
1 Sigiled Paladin


Other
2 Gleam of Resistance
4 Pacifism1 Call to Heel
1 Bant Charm
1 Lapse of Certainty
2 Excommunicate


It just happens to be a really crude white weenie-ish aggro deck based on the new Exalted mechanic from Shards of Alara.

My first two games were really disappointing but for entirely different reasons. The first game never really got off of the ground. Neither of us had played anything but lands when my opponent lost his connection and (after waiting a few minutes to see if he would return) I had to find another game. The second was full of errors on my part due to lack of familiarity with both the cards and the interface. I did get started well, with a quick Akrasan Squire, Rhox War Monk, and Battlegrace Angel. But then I miscalculated combat damage twice, which resulted in me losing an attacker on both occasions. I also forgot to distribute combat damage once, which resulted in one blocker staying alive when I had enough damage on the board to off him. And then there were the numerous errors I'd rather not admit to making...

But to have played the game as little as I have recently (which is to say, not at all since early November) and to be learning the new Magic Online III interface, I don't think I did half bad. In fact, as much as I hate to lose (especially when those losses involve stupid errors on my part), I actually had a bit of fun. I think I'll play online a little more often. For anyone interested, my Magic Online screen name is theoutsyder83. Look me up!

In the meantime... I'll need to get rid of those Rhox Bodyguards... they cost too much for what they do.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Game Night Derailed Again (Many More Posts Like This and I'll Have Nothing to Write About)

It has now literally been months since I've played an RPG of any kind. Part of my absence has been my wife's health, but I never had a problem missing game night for her... she was worth it. The main problem has been all of the "real life" things that are necessary, but that (to me, at least) just aren't as important as gaming. In my utopia, work doesn't exist and everybody's lives revolve around God, girls, gaming, and basketball. (Its a shame I couldn't think of a word for basketball that started with a "G" to keep the alliteration going.) What I wouldn't do to live in that world...

In any case, game night didn't happen this week for several reasons. My brother's girlfriend drama was part of it, but I can't place the blame solely on him. We usually start game night around 7:00, so I decided to take a power nap around 4:30. That power nap lasted until after 8:00, so Matt was downstairs waiting on me to wake up and Eric was off trying to settle things with his girl and her friends. What a mess.

Hopefully next Tuesday will work out better. I had intended to post a play report today, but that's tough without actually playing. I did learn some interesting things on our game night gone awry:
  • Stouffer's Lasagna is pretty good freezer food, even when it has been sitting on the counter for 30 minutes because you slept through dinner.
  • The Departed is a pretty decent movie even if it does have Leo DeCrapio in it.
  • Having friends & family who are understanding is awesome. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

WotC Reusing Miniatures Sculpts

I noticed on the April and Beyond previews that one of the "new" miniatures in DDM Heroes (the Arcane 2 set) looks suspiciously like a miniature that I already have...

I realize that I am only looking at small jpeg files, but it looks like these are exactly the same except for the paint... and the older paint job (the red one) looks better! I actually don't have a big problem with reusing sculpts. I'm a huge fan of Magic: The Gathering and we see reprints for that game in almost every new set. But come on, Wizards. If you're going to reuse minis, at least make the new look better than the old!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tonight's Battle Maps

I know these aren't as original and cool as some of the others that have been shared on other RPG blogs, but I just picked up Caves of Carnage and I'm really impressed. I don't know how good it would be by itself, but Caves of Carnage adds a bunch of stuff that the Dungeon Tiles series really needed, such as transition pieces between differing tile sets.

I had a map put together that I intended to use, but this has just replaced it. In these pics, you can see caves/sewers and caves/wilderness transition pieces.

 
This is the sewers portion of the map... it will be populated by kobolds.
 
This is the cavernous portion of the map. A psionic white dragon will be lurking here.
 
This is the whole map at a glance.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hybrid Characters in 4th Edition

The "dual class characters" update posted to the WotC website today, and it is interesting. At first, it reminded me of 1st/2nd edition multiclassing, in which your character got the average hit points of your classes, but that isn't a fair comparison because you don't get stuck with a slower progression rate and you don't get all of the abilities of each class.

The system appears to be a lot cleaner than I'd expected. Basically, you just cut two classes in half (rounding down on everything) and add the results together. Fighters get 15 hp to start? Well, half of that rounded down is seven. Rogues get 12 hp to start? Half of that is 6. Therefore, a 1st level Fighter/Rogue will get 7+6=13 hp. You have 2 at-will powers, so half will be from Fighter and half will be from Rogue. Powers don't have to stay half and half throughout your career, though; you just have to have one from each class in each category (at will, encounter, daily, utility) at all times.

As far as class features, it appears that you get only the most important one(s) for each class to function, and the ones you get are preemptively nerfed so as not to be too easily abused. For example, the rogue can still sneak attack all he wants, but he can only do it with rogue powers, and he doesn't get the benefits of any other rogue class features. There is a workaround for the lack of class features, though. There's a nifty little catch-all feat in the article that basically says "Choose a class feature from one of your hybrid classes. You get it!"

My initial thoughts are that my group will largely ignore these rules. I'm the only one who runs multiclass characters. However, I really like the rules. Although my opinion may change once I actually use them, the rules appear simple and clear-cut, and because my characters will get less abilities that I constantly forget to use (like Prime Shot), I've got a feeling that my character sheets will actually feel less cluttered than they do now.

This may be the multiclassing fix/replacement that folks on the WotC message boards have been begging for. If the community response is as positive as mine, WotC may have satisfied a fairly large group of "4e multiclassing sucks!" complaints.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Updated List of Rifts Books

I intend to maintain an updated list of books for the Rifts Roleplaying Game (RPG).  I will be reviewing many of the books on the list, so each title that is hyperlinked has already been reviewed and those without hyperlinks I haven't gotten around to yet. 


Rifts Core Books
  • Rifts Roleplaying Game
  • Rifts Ultimate Edition
  • Rifts Game Master Guide
  • Rifts Book of Magic
  • Rifts Adventure Guide
Conversion Books
  • Rifts Conversion Book 1
  • Rifts Conversion Book 2: Pantheons of the Megaverse
  • Rifts Dark Conversions 
Dimension Books
  • Dimension Book 1: Wormwood
  • Dimension Book 2: Phase World
  • Dimension Book 3: Phase World Source Book
  • Dimension Book 4: Skraypers
  • Dimension Book 5: Anvil Galaxy
  • Dimension Book 6: Three Galaxies
  • Dimension Book 7: Megaverse Builder
  • Dimension Book 8: Naruni Wave Two
  • Dimension Book 9: United Worlds of Warlock (unreleased)
  • Dimension Book 10: Hades - Pits of Hell
  • Dimension Book 11: Dyval - Hell Unleashed
  • Dimension Book 12: Dimensional Outbreak
  • Dimension Book 13: Fleets of the Three Galaxies
  • Dimension Book 14: Thundercloud Galaxy
  • Rifts/Phase World: Heroes of the Megaverse
Sourcebooks and Adventures
  • Sourcebook 1
  • Sourcebook 1 - Revised and Expanded
  • Sourcebook 2: Mechanoids
  • Sourcebook 3: Mindwerks
  • Sourcebook 4: Coalition Navy
  • Rifts Shemarrian Nation
  • Rifts Bionics Sourcebook 
  • Rifts Mercenaries
  • Rifts Merctown
  • Rifts Merc Ops
  • Rifts Vampires Sourcebook (unreleased)
  • Rifts Adventure Sourcebook One: Chi-Town 'Burbs
  • Rifts Adventure Sourcebook Two: Tolkeen Crisis
  • Rifts Adventure Sourcebook Three: The Black Vault
  • Rifts Adventure Sourcebook Four: The Vanguard
  • Rifts Mercenary Adventures
World Books (And Coalition Wars Series)
  • World Book 1: Vampire Kingdom
  • World Book 2: Atlantis
  • World Book 3: England
  • World Book 4: Africa
  • World Book 5: Triax and the NGR
  • World Book 6: South America
  • World Book 7: Rifts Undersea
  • World Book 8: Japan
  • World Book 9: South America 2
  • World Book 10: The Juicer Uprisings
  • World Book 11: Coalition War Campaign
  • World Book 12: Psyscape
  • World Book 13: Lone Star
  • World Book 14: The New West
  • World Book 15: Spirit West
  • World Book 16: Federation of Magic
  • World Book 17: Warlords of Russia
  • World Book 18: Mystic Russia
  • World Book 19: Australia
  • World Book 20: Canada
  • World Book 21: Splynn Dimensional Market Place
  • World Book 22: Free Quebec
  • World Book 23: The Xiticix Invasion
  • World Book 24: China 1
  • World Book 25: China 2
  • World Book 26: Dinosaur Swamp
  • World Book 27: Adventures in Dinosaur Swamp
  • World Book 28: Arzno
  • World Book 29: Madhaven
  • World Book 30: D-Bees of North America
  • World Book 31: Triax Two
  • World Book 32?: Lemuria (unreleased)
  • Coalition Wars 1: Sedition
  • Coalition Wars 2: CS Overkill
  • Coalition Wars 3: The Sorceres Revenge
  • Coalition Wars 4: Cyber Knights
  • Coalition Wars 5: Shadows of Evil
  • Coalition Wars 6: The Final Siege
  • Rifts Aftermath
  • Rifts Megaverse in Flames (unreleased)
Please leave a comment if you notice an error or omission on this list. I have intentionally omitted the Chaos Earth series and several books that were written for other systems but with Rifts in mind, such as Aliens Unlimited.

7/19/2011 Update: I said back in April 2009 that I would review these, and I haven't reviewed one yet. I really would like to, but I just haven't had time. In any case, I felt the need to come back to this post and revise some things (in addition to just adding books). The biggest change here is that the organization of this list is now closer to the way Palladium Books organizes the books in their online store. I also linked each category to the corresponding page of the Palladium Books website.

D&D: Star Trek Voyager Style

I don't remember exactly when this thought process started, but I haven't been able to shake the idea since it hit me. I'm no hardcore Trekkie, but I do remember Star Trek Voyager having an interesting storyline. In a nutshell, a Federation ship encounters some space anomaly and gets sent an insane distance away from home. The show revolved around the crew's attempts to get back to Earth, detailing all the different obstacles and hardships between them and home.

While running a similar campaign in a space opera setting (such as Phase World or Star Wars) might be interesting, the settings just seem too similar for it to feel fresh and new. But how would it translate into an RPG like Dungeons and Dragons? I'm not quite sure, but I'm thinking about at least giving the idea a run through my preliminary campaign design brainstorming exercises. My initial thoughts involve an Underdark campaign. Sending the characters miles and miles straight down would be interesting, and the climb would certainly be hazardous!

Any thoughts?


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Friday, April 3, 2009

Updated: United States Map for the Rifts RPG

This is a low-res version of the map
in the link below.
Anyone who has ever picked up a Rifts supplement knows that the little black and white maps leave a lot to be desired. Fortunately, at least in a broad sense, the landforms are already familiar even if the settlements aren't. However, a detailed map of Rifts was always something that I thought I'd have to do myself... and I did make somewhat detailed maps on several occasions, usually by scanning a page from an atlas and then setting it as the background in a PowerPoint presentation before adding markers to designate points of interest.

However, I just stumbled on this map, which are much larger scale than anything I ever created, and appears to be accurate as far as I can tell. I've already downloaded it to my Campaign Maps folder on my laptop. I'm not sure when I'll play Rifts again (if ever), but it just feels good to know I've got maps that are much better than the Palladium published ones a mouse click away.

Update: Wow... just... wow... great maps on Quim's blog, Escamot Featherfall. Check them out! And check out his comment below for a few others. Thanks for the links, Quim.



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Dual Classing in 4E?

I just noticed that the April Editorial Calendar shows that a playtest of dual classing rules will be released on Monday and that the full version is scheduled to be released in Players Handbook 3. As an anti-human kind of guy (half-humans are okay), I must admit that I've never used dual classing rules in my gaming career. In fact, I had to go grab my copy of the 1st edition Players Handbook just to figure out how it worked originally. I know, I know, you could dual class in 2nd edition too... but I don't have 2nd edition books anymore. I only kept the 1st edition ones for nostalgia.

For the uninitiated (a category that I technically still belong in), dual classing was a variant of multiclassing that only humans could do. Instead of learning the abilities of several classes at the same time, dual classing allowed a character to essentially "quit" learning the abilities of one class and begin learning those of another.

I'm eager to see how WotC will implement dual classing in 4E. Because I've never used it, I don't have any positive or negative experiences with the original system to form opinions... but I'm a huge fan of multiclassing and a variant will be interesting to see, even if I'm pretty satisfied with the current multiclassing system.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rifts Character Sheets and Character Generator

One challenging aspect of Rifts is keeping up with such detailed player characters. Unfortunately, there is nothing as simple as D&D 4E's Character Builder to help out with character creation and upkeep. However, there are some decent character sheets online that aren't too difficult to locate:
As for an actual character generator, that is even more difficult to find (likely because of the complexity of the character creation process and the Rifts rules in general). However, you can find a demo (beta) Rifts character generator here. Screenshots of the program are available here.

Since you're here, you might want to check out my personal Rifts resources:

In any case, I certainly appreciate you stopping by!
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