Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Iron Edda WaRP: Kickstarter Stretch Goal Project!

Whee! I've been tapped to head up a stretch goal for Iron Edda:War of Metal and Bone; implementing it in the WaRP system, which I lerve from playing Over the Edge, as those who have read this blog for any length of time may know.  There's some interesting possibilities here, and the Kickstarter begins in January, so there will be some time before we know if this will actually happen, but if so, I'll be posting my thoughts and progress here.

Many thanks to Tracy Barnett of Sand and Steam for the awesome that is this project, which is set in the world of the extremely cool novel he kickstarted previous, Iron Edda: Sveidsdottir. Coz yeah!

Also, check out the other extremely cool system options for this setting, throughout the Sand and Steam blog.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Spells, Feats, and Advancement.

When I was a kid, I fell in love with my dad's collection of Dungeons and Dragon's handbooks, and most especially the lists of spells and things. Sure, they were presented kind of prosaically and weren't laid out in a way that was especially useful, but as little scraps of interest, they were incredibly cool to me, and hinted at the neatness of being a wizard... keeping a prop spellbook, and questing for arcane knowledge to grow in awesomeness and power.

When I was first able to roll up a character, then, I was extremely disappointed to learn that what I actually got was a tiny list of what was more-or-less available, with some obvious Best Choices, and of those, I could only cast a very few times a day, and had to decide how many times I thought I might cast a given thing. Which made the Best Choices at the beginning even more important.

What I thought I wanted, at the time, was a removal of the limits on how many spells I could know/keep in spellbook, and a different way of approaching how many spells I could cast in a given day. And to some extent, I am still in favor of some slotted spells, some at-will cantrips, and prepping the spells themselves, rather than individual castings of the spells. That said, having automatic access to everything in the spell-book at level still wasn't, and isn't, to my mind, especially interesting. The problem, at bottom, was that the way one typically gains the spells is hugely uninteresting: to wit, you level up, and then you (most of the time, some DMs vary) just get access to the spells for your level, within the bounds of your int.


I have two basic issues with these things: one which has to do with the way spells are handed out, and the other which has to do with the way one advances at all. We'll address the first to begin with, since it's actually applicable in D&D, and, some might argue, is the way the game ought to be run in the first place.

It boils down to, "treat spells as treasure." Fully, entrench the spells in the story, as items and artifacts that are a part of the world beyond their utility/combat effectiveness. Sure, it is important that a starting mage have spells they can use and have fun with, but couching that in story about how they learned said spells, and creating the expectation that yes, the players will and can uncover new spells over the course of play that can be added to said spell book (whether or not the user can cast them right at that moment) is kind of nifty. I'd like to remove the idea of gaining spells from the idea of "gaining a level," which also brings me to my second point.

The more I play games, the more I think I'm over the idea of levels as the primary form of advancement. Stands-In-Fire, at one point, suggested a system where you could learn one new skill/ability each session, and the more I think about it, the more I like that idea. I get, and I can pretty much be convinced that, for mages, it's important to limit capacity (ability to cast more powerful spells, and/or number of spells one can cast) in the early game and have that expand, just as I don't necessarily disagree with the argument that a fighter should get better at accuracy and damage as the game progresses. Doing something like that, however, would be antithetical enough to D&D that you might as well start building a new game system around that idea. Which is certainly fine by me. The main idea here, for mages in specific (though I really love the too-underutilized idea of training/specialties as treasure from 4e), is that what advances is now much and at what power you can cast, so the level that matters is the level of the spell. You get new spells through play/research, and pretty specifically through play/research, so it's not grubbing through the boring Player's Handbook pick lists. Importantly to me, though maybe not so interesting to other people, this also removes the desire to plan ahead with spells, because you don't actually know what you're going to find in the course of play, but must think of cool ways to use the spells you earn/learn/find as you go along. Personally, I am not a fan of playing the build game, and I would very much like advancement to be tied directly to what happens in the course of play, rather than planned out in advance based on what is in a rulebook.

But like I said, that could very well just be me.

Since I touched on training treasure above, I want to take a moment to talk about Feat Systems, and why I don't care for the ones I've seen from 3.x to the current iteration in Next (yes, this includes 4e). Largely, I think they encourage optimal combo combo building, which encourages deep system mastery at the expense of newcomers, less devoted to build-play players, and in some cases, the balance of the game itself. The habit of stacking customization in feats, and then handing those feats out at regular level intervals has the effect (once again, to me), of making non-feat levels basically boring stops on one's way to grind to get to the next set of feats.

I don't know what you like to play, but any tabletop game where it seems like a good and worthwhile use of time to grind high-xp monsters over and over to get closer to leveling has missed out on the thing I enjoy about playing a role-playing game: the figuring out of what one needs to go to achieve each individual goal. The goal in these situations is meta (more XP to get to the next level) and it's obvious what one needs to do (grind difficult monsters to get there). And yes, I'm not just talking about 4e-- this happened in 3.x games too. I prefer if the goal is less meta (one of the only times you'll see me say 'less meta' is desirable), more concrete, and more story oriented, for example, "we are seeking the monk who lives atop Forsaken Mountain that she might teach us the Awesome Ways of Awesome." Still, we're talking about advancement, but we're talking about something that's in the story.

And now, I admit that it isn't the feats themselves I mind, it's the way they're handed out, and how they're presented to the players as, essentially, a shopping list to handle at level. I would have no objection to treating them, once again, as treasure, earned through acts and adventuring on the part of the players... you could have tomes of Dwarven Lumberjacking (as a tropetastic example) which teach superior skill in axes, or a cool ability that allows one to do a nifty maneuver while wielding an axe. Or enchantments/blessings that one can temporarily add to weapons, or meditations that allow one to focus one's energy on repelling blows, and improve AC for a time. And these items could pretty easily map to feats as they're written in any of the aforementioned editions, tying their distribution to and through play, rather than to something so arbitrary as level.

To be completely fair, Arcana Evolved _did_ try to do this some with their spellcasting feats, by requiring ceremonies involving certain kinds of beings or creatures in order to obtain them, though the way they were presented was pretty much entirely though the rulebook, rather than being knowledge I think it would ever occur to anyone to organically acquire in play.

Anyway, I also get that, for the most part, this can be handled through the GM's style of game running, rather than needing to be ensconced in rules, unless one is modifying how advancement works, of course. And I imagine that there are already systems in place that do the things I'm talking about more naturally.

But huh, I'd also be open to running a gladiator/arena kind of game where the point was to build an optimal character from the beginning, and swap out pieces/choices between each session to tweak for effectiveness, as something of a crunchy 180 from my play-style, here. Hrm.

Keep it Classy, or the Paladin Problem.

My dear Harbinger has been doing the heavy listing on keeping track of D&D Next playtest reactions of late, and now the last public one is out. That said, Mearls and Co. are still making some extremely interesting Legends and Lore posts, and the most recent one has spurred me out of my complaisant atrophy to make some comments.

To begin with, I want to say that I am a huge fan of Four Core Classes, combine into neat-o concepts. This post addresses the former with the idea of Mage, Priest, Warrior, Trickster, but doesn't go into the latter at all, which is a bit disappointing. Trying to decide of the Monk is a Warrior or a Trickster (one or the other) is sort of silly IMHO; use the headers here as source types (which works for everyone except Trickster, really), and call a Monk a Trickster-Warrior (though I think of Monks as more Priesty-Warrior, like more-different flavored Paladins). Then you can have cool things like Magey-Priests, and Warrior-Mages, and so on.

The problem as I see it here is that they're kind of trying to re-create Defender, Striker, Leader, Controller without actually doing that, but they're using terms that don't exactly apply to the same things. It's kind of an un-developed idea in the post, but what will make or break it, I think, is how and whether they decide to handle overlap.

But then, I was a huge fan of Class/Background/Specialty, which sparked my imagination enough to create a Warlock with the priest background and a cool custom specialty of Harbinger's... which led to a neat story about an apostate priest who, not having been blessed with clerical powers, made a bargain with the Lords of the Fey, and belongs to an order who heals through bloodletting. I'm not saying that the current creation rules don't include things that will spark interesting story ideas (and a lot of the impetus for this idea came from the setting itself, to be fair), but in previous versions, I don't think it would have occurred to me to have a character who combined the divine and arcane, as there was really no good, supported way of expressing that idea mechanically. And the Priest Background kept it nicely limited. Personally (and while yes, I realise that there's a lot of mechanical variation and stuff they've done to legitimise it as a class), I'd have liked to see Paladins expressed solely as Fighters with the Priest background, or Clerics with the Warrior/Mercenary background (and related specialties), depending on their focus.

It should now not surprise you that I don't care for a whole lot of additional classes, on the whole. I think that the impetus to come up with a bunch of mechanics for said classes tends to result in those classes being Just Better than anything basic... as the Paladin is in the most current playtest packet. A traditional Paladin problem. Which then results in everyone's favorite game: Nerf the Pally. It's an unfortunate cycle.

Now, the chance of me running anything at all in the next... anytime soon is incredibly slim, but were I to do so, I would probably run out of some of those earlier packets, and keep the systems I like. Which is a definite advantage of the way the playtest has been run up to this point... we effectively have several partial, but playable games with a lot of different mechanics to pick, choose, and monkey around with. Which is awesome to me on a lot of levels, the most immediate of which is that I wouldn't ever run the current playtest as written-- I am sick to death of, "just start at 3rd level if you want to have fun" games, and that is very much where they've gone here.

I have some additional thoughts on the first part of the post-- spells, spell lists, and the like, but that is a topic for another post, if I can rouse myself enough to make one later.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oh ya, Ouya.

So, I haz an Ouya! I've actually had it for a while, but only got to turn it on once before we were caught up in moving and other boring, life-ly stuff. Now that stuff is more settled, here's my general impressions of the system.

I want to like it, you see, I really want to like it. But every time I turn it on, it's one hassle after another... the controller won't connect, the wireless won't connect, there's only 6GB of space... I don't think I've seen an android phone with that little space. And the games I like so far are all a gig or so in size, which is just too bad.

Speaking of games, it's a little like any indie website with a bunch of homebrewed games, except you have to download them on to your sad, tiny hard-drive, and the external storage hasn't had the kinks worked out yet. Either way, I'll be very happy when I can, say, hook up external storage and get it to work without having to look up a bunch of tutorials online.

So far, of the games I've played, I'm enjoying 'Rose', 'Dub Wars' and 'Final Fantasy III' the best, as the latter is much more fun on a console than on my DS. 'Rose' is a point and click puzzle adventure which is dark and creepy, and by far the biggest game on my oyua, at 2.5GB or so. Ugh. Which is a shame, as it's my favorite.

'Dub Wars' is a pretty neat Galaga-ish game, where the music controls your weapon systems and you fly around avoiding bad guys with your ship while trying to hit them with whatever weapons you happen to have at the moment. But the music is very good, and has helped make some progress in getting Shieldhaven to appreciate Dubstep. :D

I've also played "Pinball Arcade", but can't recommend it for the Ouya, as the controller triggers are too sticky and laggy to be good flippers. Also, I've already purchased most of the tables I want for the ipad-- which has considerably more space-- and have no desire to pay for them again to play on a less responsive platform. Which is really sad, as I like the big screen, but eh.

Either way, I still believe in what they're doing and want to give their SDK a spin at some point, so I'm holding out hope for improvements down the line.

And that's the news from the indy console front.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For Love or Consoles

Like everyone else who cares about console gaming, I've been following the news from E3 about the Xbox One and the PS4 with great interest, and a lot of schadenfreude. And it is my responsibility (or some junk) to appraise you, the gaming public (or my tiny fraction thereof) of my thoughts.

The short version: I won't be buying an Xbox One; I will be buying a PS4.

The whys are pretty straightforward: the xbox 360 was a fair success, and I have a lot of money sunk into those games-- both from the xbox store, and in disc form. If they're not supporting that anymore, and all that money becomes so much vapor in the face of the new console? I have no reason to go for the new console. It is likely that anything new I want to play that they could offer will have a Steam version, or a PS4 version, and the listed exclusive games so far? I only kind of care about Project Spark, and if Little Big Planet wasn't enough to get me to buy a PS3, I doubt the same will be true in reverse here. Also, the always-on internet brings up shades of EA and Origins, which rubs me eternally the wrong way. Being published by EA is kind of a strike against any game, to me, unless it's name is "The Sims".

On the other side, the PS4's announcement that they'll still support disc play where you can resell/share said discs with whomever you want is a big moral victory for them. On top of that, the $399 price tag undercuts Xbox One's $499 price tag, although it's still stupid high.

On the tippy top of that, there's the fact that, as I indicated above, I don't have a PS3, and so have no investment in their previous catalogue of games. So for those for whom that's a concern... well, fair enough. They do seem to be invested in making their game backlog available digitally, though it would annoy me to have to re-pay for everything in a format that's going to eat HD space.

Anyway, it amuses me (and I think this was the case in the last console generation switch), that Sony is kind of in a better position precisely because the PS3 was dominated by the Xbox 360. I've already held onto my PS2 this long; it's no skin off me to keep it, and it's not worth enough to trade in anyway. Also, I'm kind of hoping that Microsoft's shitty, uncool business practices and limitations will prove it's monetary downfall in this cycle, that the initial launch of the Xbox One will be a failure (and anything running on a full server model always has the best launch evar amirite?), and they'll have to revamp their strategy based on what folks actually want.

In the meantime, I am still waiting for my damn Ouya to arrive.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Schrodinger's Bioshock Part 3: on Disappointment and Deus Ex.

Because I can't leave well enough alone, I realise I still have things to say about Bioshock: Infinite, somehow, someway. This is because, the further I get from it, the more lingeringly disappointed I am in how it played. And I realised during one of my habitual Long Ass Road Trips with Shieldhaven, that part of why is because I've played (and still need to finish) Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Bizarrely, rather than wanting to continue in the mechanical legacy of its predecessors, it felt very strongly as though Infinite really wanted to be like Deus Ex-- but failed. That is to say: It wanted a Pacifist Playthrough option.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Schrodinger's Bioshock Part 2: The One About Story (They're All About Story)

So, now that I've taken some time away from it, let's talk about the story of Bioshock: Infinite. You know, the most interesting things about it. Many, many spoilers to follow, but for those of who who haven't played it yet, I'll begin with First Principles: where it succeeds, it succeeds admirably; where it fails, it provides a sort of meta context on inadequacy and a fundamental misunderstanding of it's medium. And there I leave you, because admittedly, if you haven't played it, what follows will not make much sense.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Podcast like a boss.

In which Shieldhaven and I are interviewed for a podcast by the marvelous Regina and Rhonda of Game on Girl. We talk LARP, character types, and more. Hooray!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Information Presentation: D&D Next and Fight Building.

Shieldhaven having sent me the latest Legends and Lore post, I was struck by the following portion:

Is a monster having immunity to non-magical weapons negating the concept of not strictly needing magic items?  Or is the intent to force players to get creative when facing such monsters?
We believe that not all monsters need to be able to be defeated in a straight, head-on fight. Some monsters should require players characters to either have the right tools for the job (in this case, magic items), or be creative in how they deal with them. We don’t want the answer to every monster problem to automatically be “stab it until it dies,” and that goes for spellcasting, too; there may well be monsters that end up in the game that cannot be harmed by spells. We think this is good for two reasons: one, it makes having the right tool for the job (and the tool itself) much more special and valuable, and makes the player feel good for having it; and two, it adds texture and problem-solving to adventures rather than encouraging players to simply barrel through every adventure using violence as the only solution.
All that having been said, any time we deal with something as impactful as immunity to spells or immunity to nonmagical weapons, we have to be sparing with how often we sprinkle it throughout the game. We don’t want to end up in a situation where those monsters that provide that texture become the standard, creating a reversal where players are frequently frustrated by having to constantly deal with monsters that cannot be harmed by traditional means. Like all things that present a non-traditional challenge to the players, we need to be judicious in their use so that they retain their value as an exceptional thing that provides texture, not a constant source of frustration.

All good points on the part of Rodney Thompson (thanks to Haven for the edit. :P), but what doesn't get addressed here is how to use them as a GM. "We" here doesn't seem to imply the GM, after all, but the overall design. And that's fair; they're clearly aware that giving even a significant portion of the monsters huge, sweeping immunities could easily lead to a lot of player frustration. What they don't get into, and what I'd really like to see in a DMG 1, are some basic uses for monsters with weapon/magic immunities, and how to make them fun.

For starters, don't have that be the only kind of monster in a given battle.

This could actually be a very general statement: where possible, include monsters of different types, with different strengths and weaknesses. The NPC roles of 4e were very useful for this, as having a controller, a couple soldiers, and a bunch of minions with complementary abilities often made for complex and engaging fights with a lot of layers. The magic or weapon immune monster could be likewise interesting, but the trick is providing enough stuff for the characters whose go-tos are obsolete something to do.

Thus, my next suggestion is, where possible, include manipulable elements in the combat location, and make sure that the excludes players can use them. In a battle where the big bad is immune to spells, don't have a lot of strength-check challenges, but structural items that spells can weaken and knock into the monster? Pretty awesome. In one where the monster is immune to non-magical weaponry, having a lot of mundane adds, or say... having something like a giant fire-pit where the fighters can temporarily gain a swing or two of enchant, but have to do something to keep it going? Very cool, and gives everyone something to think about while the combat is going on. If you can't tell, I was madly in love with terrain powers, zones, swarms, and special terrain in 4e, and I very much hope to see those come back in D&D next.

I think in general, a basic ideas guide in the main released DMG on how to stat fights for this edition, and how to set up the fights to be entertaining would go a long way in helping everyone at the table have fun with it. At this point, most people playing/testing Next have a lot of expectations and habits built up from previous editions. A little bit of guidance in how to make the most of this one, and how to realise what the designers had in mind for combat structure, would be a very good jumping off place for making it their own.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A note.

Just so it is Written:

I am currently playing Planescape: Torment for the first time.

Holy shitballs, why did I not play this ten years ago!?

(And I'm still in the !&@^!&%@$! Hive. :P )


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Schrodinger's Bioshock.

So, yeah, I played it, I beat it, and you know what? I'm not going to talk about the story. Not right now, anyway. Or maybe I will, and maybe I won't. I guess you'll see at the end of the post.

What I want to talk about tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is gameplay. To begin with, Devin's side of this review pretty much sums up everything I thought about actually playing the game. Combat, as it starts, mostly felt grafted on, clunky, and in the way of getting to the next part of the drama I am here to see. Which makes it a real shame that the presence of the combat is the only thing that actually makes this a game.

(Are there spoilers under the cut? The only way to know is observation.)