Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Side Quests - The Old Republic's May 4th Celebration

I try not to shill too hard for these kinds of things but I've been getting back into SWTOR and they do have a nice set of bonuses going on right now:
  • Free droid pet - you'll have a collection of these fairly quick if you play regularly but one more isn't a bad thing
  • Double XP:  May 3rd through May 10th, then again from May 27th through May 30th.
  • Free level 60 character: Apparently if you start a free trial by May 30th you get an insta-60 to run through the current (and expanding) Knights of the Fallen Empire story. That's pretty nice.
Based on those perks, if you're at all interested in some Star Wars computer RPG action it's a great game with a great story for each of the 8 classes and it is completely playable as a free player. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

40K Friday - Eldar Expansion

While building this new army I have tried to take a modular approach. By that I mean this: acquiring, building, and painting specific chunks of an army small enough to get painted in a reasonable amount of time and that make up a single unit or formation. In the end it's all stuff that goes into the mix but it feels more organized for now.

For example I started with a farseer, some dire avengers, and some rangers - the basic HQ + 2 Troops that everyone loves for the core of a combined arms detachment. Next up was the wraith host which is also a separate formation so I could play one or the other or both or add some of the pieces of the host in as elites and heavy support to the CAD. A Falcon and a squad of fire dragons adds more options under the CAD, together or separately. A squad of striking scorpions, some swooping hawks,  and some more dire avengers open up some additional options beyond their normal CAD role via the Aspect Host or Dire Avenger Shrine formations. For Apprentice Blaster I tried to stick to the same concept in helping him get his Eldar going by making sure he had a pair of jetbike squadrons and a jetbike farseer to form a new core of his force. It's not just picking up a squad here or a vehicle there, it's trying to add a discrete element of the army as a whole piece. This is my attempt to follow an orderly approach.

A fair amount of this stuff is already painted so I can field a decent looking force, but I am always thinking about the next set of units to add. The triple dark reaper squads are present but unpainted and are high on the to-be-painted list because I plan on using them a lot. The swoops are up there too as I like to take at least one squad in most battles. I did recently realize that I had been heavily focused on aspect warriors and wraith units (I knew about those) but I really had not come up with a plan for the guardian units - defender squads, vypers, war walkers, etc. I have a bunch of them but I haven't done any work on them. This is supposed to be an Iyanden force as far as themes go but I would also like it to be my "everything eldar" army so building a Guardian Host formation makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure how much I will field it (I'm more a fan of the wraiths+ aspects right now) but for those really big battles it's a nice option to have.

After deciding to plan this out the one unit I did not have that the formation requires was a support battery. This is partly because in prior editions I didn't care for them all that much and lately they've been hard to find and expensive when you do. Eventually I found a full set of the prior metal models at a price I could stand and bit the bullet. They are the mini's in the picture at the top. I think they should be fairly quick to paint and I'll probably field them as a heavy support option in the CAD before I ever field a Guardian Host. I'm going to build them with the vibro cannon barrels as shown above because I think they look the coolest but I'll be fielding them as D-Cannons because I like those the best in-play. Eldar can be tricky you know. People do seem to be having some success with them and if I'm not fielding the wraith units for some reason it's another way to get some d-weapons on the table. They only have a 24" range but that's a 24" box where no one really wants to be. I'm pretty sure I'm going to give them a warlock babysitter as well to try and keep them around a little longer.

Up next for painting as of late April: Wraithknight, Dark Reapers, Swooping Hawks, and gun batteries

Building as of late April: Vypers, War Walkers, Dark Eldar (more on that next week)

Ah, the good old days
So what's next? Vehicles, namely transports.  I have one painted falcon and two unpainted wave serpents. I'm fine with my eventual guardian host being ground pounders, while the dragons ride in the falcon, the scorpions infiltrate, and the reapers are foot units for sure. I'd like the wraithguard to have rides and my two current wave serpents are probably destined for that duty. Beyond that I do have a vision of a fully-manned, fully-mechanized Avenger Shrine with 30 of them in 3 serpents zooming across the board, disembarking, and unleashing massive shuriken death on some unfortunate souls. It would probably have to be instead of the reapers or the wraith host in any normal-sized battle but a man can dream. After that and once the massed guardians are finished, I think the army is done except for some fine tuning.

Next week: progress on the Dark Eldar allies.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The FLGS Part 2 - The Future

GenerationX - My FLGS of choice

I talked about my personal experience with game stores in an earlier post - but what does the future hold? What will be the ultimate fate of the FLGS?

Let me take a side step and bring in a semi-related topic: computer games. I used to buy computer games in dedicated computer stores, in more general electronics stores, and even in used book stores. Today they are like almost all of my music and some of my movies: mostly purchased online and downloaded from Steam or GOG. Remember when people were afraid to download things from the internet? When it seemed very impermanent? I think the last computer game I bought in a store was Starcraft II a few years back when Target had a really good deal. I used to enjoy browsing the PC game section at Half Price Books because you could find older games there, but now GOG (and Steam too) handles that, in addition to making sure they work on modern systems and removing all worries of a scratched or broken disk. Sure, I miss the big box with a real printed manual, a map, and maybe some extra doodad in it, but nobody does that anymore. Time, technology, and changing tastes can shatter any business and warp any hobby.

The FLGS is in a slightly better position because they're not selling a digital product - they're selling physical, tactile games:

  • Card games tend to be the bread and butter and I don't see that changing any time soon. I don't think printing your own cards at home will become a thing anytime soon as there are too many ways to cheat and it destroys the whole concept of collectibility. 
  • I think the boardgame revival of say the last 5-10 years came along at a great time as it extends the life of the FLGS both as a place to buy a boardgame and a place to play them. One of the elements of that revival has been "nicer" games with fancier components and miniature-like pieces and I don't see that being a homemade option for years either.
  • Miniature games are less of a sure thing for me. There's a lot of cool stuff out there now but home 3D printers are rapidly getting better and cheaper. There was a time when we had to go find a copy machine to print sheets for Battletech, Star Fleet Battles, and D&D. I haven't done that in maybe two decades. If you don't believe me take a look at this - it's #5 on DTRPG's hot sellers list as I write this. If you're going to have to paint them at home, why not make them at home - legally! Once the miniatures are all about the pattern and not the physical item, all that's left are the rulebooks and  - well, see below.
  • RPG's are also an uncertain commodity for me. They're mainly sold in book form, and there are two problems there: Drive-Thru RPG and Amazon. In my experience gamers tend to be cheap as money is tight when you're young and have the time to play all of those games that are out there. Older gamers tend to stick to games they already know (in general - not everyone all the time) and while they will lay out $150 for the leather-covered-gilt-edged hardback version of  Runequest 1979 edition on a Kickstarter that's not really helping the FLGS keep the lights on. I'm just not sure RPG's are all that much a part of the future.

I'm not sure that just selling games is enough to have a bright future. Space to play is a common feature today and a lot of stores sell snacks and drinks to take advantage of that - more power to them I say, especially if that really adds to the bottom line. I've seen some opinions online that a future FLGS could charge to play, either by time or by space and maybe that's an option but I don't really see it as viable. This is probably where I should talk about my personal experience again:

I've never played an RPG in a store, gaming or otherwise. In junior high and high school we played at someone's house. In college we played in someone's house, dorm, or apartment or in a common area in the student center. Once I was past the school years we again played in someone's house or apartment. I know my experience is not universal, and I am probably not the primary target anymore,  but I don't think I am that unusual of a case. A game store is a terrible environment to try and run a game in my opinion. It's noisy and it's as full of distractions for gamers as any place on earth. Add in some passerby conversation and it's never going to look as good to me as almost anywhere else. With local RPG groups on social media and more and more ways to play online there will be an ever-shrinking need to go to the store to find a game.

In contrast I have played card games, I have played boardgames, and I've played quite a few miniature games in stores and they work fine. Why? Well, most of the time it's a two-player game, it's competitive (there's a winner and a loser), and they are shorter than a typical RPG session. All of these things mitigate the downsides (to me) of playing in a store. In addition the individual components of card games and games like X-Wing tend to be far less expensive and have far less of a discount online - 20% off a $50 book is a lot more noticeable than 20% off of a $14 Tie Fighter or a $10 pack of cards.  Also, RPG's tend to be played with a group of people you know to build a campaign over time while the more competitive games can be enjoyed with total strangers as a one-off experience. Sure, there are one-shot convention type modules but I would argue that those are unusual ways to play an RPG whereas they are the standard way to play a lot of the other types of games.

Now that I've given my experiences you can understand why I think trying to charge RPG players for space to play will never be a great source of revenue - because there is always somewhere else you can play for free, and it's probably a better environment anyway. try charging people to play and you lose the potential for impulse buys of games and of snacks and drinks and the cross-pollination effect of having games in action in the store getting noticed by other people.

The local Cinemark - my movie viewing establishment of choice
I've seen some suggestions to take this concept to the extreme and open a "gaming cafe" establishment that mainly sells space, food, and drinks. I think that's a terrible idea as I don't think there are enough gamers out there willing to spend enough time and money at that kind of place to keep the doors open. Plus, calling it a "gamer cafe" or a "gamer tavern" pretty much tells the other 90% of the population to walk on by. I can see it maybe working in a college town, close to the college, but even then I think you'd have to have a pretty solid business plan. In some way it has to be "better" than playing at home for it to work and that's a tall order. I've seen it compared to movies out versus movies at home and that's not a great example - sure, I have a nice TV, a fast internet connection, movie channels, and a pile of DVD's and Blu-Ray's, but I don't have a building-sized screen and the newest movies - if I want those I have to go out! What's the comparable "gotta have" thing that a game store/gaming cafe has over my game room at home? I've yet to hear a strong answer to this.

I know a lot of British gaming clubs have dues and use the money to keep a playing space - that makes more sense to me than trying to turn it into a business but that doesn't help the FLGS.

RPGs aside stores do charge people to play in card and mini tournaments and they seem to do just fine and I wouldn't expect that to change anytime soon - they're competitive events so the cost to enter is offset by both the experience and the chance that you will win! It's a totally different type of experience than a typical RPG and that's why it works.

These things drive my prognostications directly. I think that Magic and other card games and their associated events will continue to be a major factor in keeping the FLGS alive. There are two generations who see this as a "normal" thing when it comes to playing  these kinds of games. Miniatures games, especially pre-painted simpler ones like X-Wing, will be the next biggest factor. Traditional miniature games will decline but not die off completely for another 5-10 years and the events associated with them will still play a role as well. Boardgames will be a player too but I don't see them jumping to the top of the heap in most places. RPGs will continue to decline to where the RPG section in the game store looks like the PC game section at Best Buy these days.

A new type of RPGer will become increasingly common, one who meets people online, buys their books online, and meets up to play at a school or house or apartment or dorm without ever setting foot in a game store. I'm sure they will eventually go to one, maybe to play with an existing group or in some organized play event, but they won't be going to buy games as their primary purpose.

That's about as far as I can see. If anything ever happened to Magic I could see stores crashing all over but as long as it's there, or if something even bigger comes along (something like X-wing) then they have a chance.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pathfinder Wrath of the Righteous Campaign Update

I realized recently that I haven't spent much time talking about D&D/Pathfinder. This is a little strange because that's both where I started in RPGs and the one I am playing and running more than any other right now. Some of that is because I gave up trying to post session recaps of the campaign I am running and I decided not to talk too much about the campaign I am playing. That seems like a huge miss for my own blog. I'm still not sure I'm going to say much about the Kingmaker campaign and I'm not sure how soon the recapping will re-start, but I can at least talk about where things stand in the Worldwound.

Wrath of the Righteous just finished session #35. I would say we are about halfway done with book 3 out of 6 - it's a Pathfinder Adventure Path and that's how they come. We started in late 2013 and have had numerous interruptions that make our original plan for twice a month work out to more like once a month on average. Considering I stopped recapping with session #6 I have a lot of write-ups in the backlog. I know some people like reading them and I do like having a record of the game available on line so I will see what I can do about attacking that. In the meantime I can talk about the game system in general and this AP in particular.

The party is up to 9th level and 3rd tier Mythic. Most of the published adventure paths peter out about level 15 but Wrath of the Righteous was designed and sold as the "Maximum" campaign - characters will hit 20th level and 10th tier Mythic before the end. This is Pathfinder set on 11 and I am already feeling the effects. "Normal" Pathfinder starts to get crazy in the teens according to what other people have reported. Mythic lets people break the standard assumptions of Pathfinder in many ways and 3rd tier is where this really starts to show.  In fact, this book is where a lot of WOTR campaigns break and are ended by frustrated DM's, at least according to what I am seeing on the Paizo boards and in other places. I'm determined not to let that happen but I can certainly see why.

A big chunk of this adventure is wilderness exploration. Anyone who's run that kind of game in 3E, 4E, or PF knows what that means: novas. A lot of wilderness exploration ends up running about one encounter per day, and one encounter per day means a player can unleash his character's most powerful abilities without the controlling factor of "but I might need them later", and Mythic power only exacerbates this problem. With a Mythic boost the ranger can fire off a ridiculous number of arrows in one round, the wizard can recall and recast almost any spell when needed, and the cleric is extremely unlikely to run out of healing. Going through a smaller-scale encounter area like a dungeon or hostile city puts at least some consideration for what might be next in their heads. Losing that removes most of the constraints so that foes of what would be an appropriate level in a normal PF game melt in a round or less. One guideline I've seen is that a CR equivalent to level + mythic tier makes for a better encounter but I'm not sure about that either.

I made this problem worse on my own by allowing each of my three players to run two characters. In general I trust them to do this right and the reasoning was that 3 characters was pretty limiting, especially if someone didn't show up. The base assumption for Pathfinder adventures is that they are aimed at a party of four. For a long time I only had 2 players so dual characters was a necessity but then when my third became a regular attendee it was a little awkward to keep him at 1 pc while the others had 2. By itself I could easily manage a larger party but adding the complications of Mythic characters on top of the 50% larger party  ... it's tricky. Max enemy hit points is an easy bump. Adding more foes to each encounter does help but it also increases the complexity of the fight and that has some problems of its own. Adding Mythic levels to the opposition does make a difference but everything can't be Mythic, nor should it be. Even with Mythic, I'm pretty sure my party could take on the most powerful villains in the current book right now, several levels below where they are supposed to be.

Oh Templars of the Ivory labyrinth, how many suits of full plate will my party loot from you before we are done?
The other issue that does reduce the fun to some degree (which makes it a significant problem) is combat. At low levels PF combat was fast - especially compared to 4th edition which was our previous game. Five rounds was a long combat and even then it only took a few minutes to slice through it most of the time. As the levels go up though, characters have more and more options. Mythic increases those options. On top of that my players have two characters each to run so it's difficult to determine your plan and stick to it through a fight as you have to split your focus during each round. This also means they are not as good at knowing what their character can and should do in any given situation because there are so many options floating out there.  This means combat can take a long time sometimes. Not because it's grindy and there are more hit points to chew through, but because there are so many different ways they could go in a fight. A fight might still only last five rounds, but those five rounds might take us an hour now, instead of the ten minutes they took at level 3. We are easily back up to the same rough time as a 4E combat or a Champions combat so "speed of play" is not really the solid feature that it was early on.

I knew from the beginning that it would happen at some point and we are now at that transition: I am effectively running a superhero game. They don't really fly yet but they can make full moves and do full attacks and that's before they are blessed, stoneskinned, and hasted and those are the lower-level powers at their disposal.  Sudden Block is one of those irritating powers that the paladin uses regularly: I manage to score a hit, he uses sudden block, which means I need to re-roll at a penalty, take the lower of the two, then if I miss he gets to make an attack of his own in response on my bad guys turn! Oh - and he can do this to protect someone else to! This kind of option was common in 4E but it was less painful because everybody had interesting moves or tricks in that game - in PF that is not the case. That's just one example.  So while we're not quite halfway through the game is already shifting from a typical D&D style game. I'm not sure how I'm going to manage it but I am going to try. I don't want to cut them back down to one character each because that changes the dynamic of the party considerably. I don't want to just remove Mythic as that dramatically changes each character and I'd like to see just how ridiculous it can get. If you're a fellow DM looking for a "how?", well, I don't know yet. I've run plenty of superhero games before, just not with this set of rules. If I can make the shift in mindset then I think the mechanics will follow.

So what would I do if I was starting the AP over again? As much as I like the idea, I would probably skip Mythic Power for the PC's and use the Hero Point system from the Advanced Player's Guide. I think it gives players enough extra oomph to feel extra heroic without breaking the game the way Mythic does. I think that version of the campaign would still be a step up to "Mighty" without going all the way to "Deity".

That's where the campaign stands right now. There are definitely challenges but they are largely system challenges. My players are having a good time, I am having a good time, the story/plot/setting/background of the campaign are epic and cool and exactly what my guys have wanted to do for a long time. If I can figure out the mechanics to a satisfying degree then this will be a campaign they will remember for a long time.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Meme-tastic Monday

I ended the Motivational Monday thing a while back because I felt like it was played out. I don't regret doing it but I do miss having something funny on the blog so I'm going to do something totally and completely different : Meme-tastic Monday! No coherent theme beyond "things that make me chuckle." Here's the first one:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The FLGS, Part1 - The Old Days

There was a discussion topic  on EN World recently about the future of gaming stores and coming out of that I thought it was worth discussing here. I've seen definite changes since I got into this whole thing and I am curious about where things will go next.

When I started getting interested at the end of the 70's I don't recall any dedicated game stores. There were Hobby Shops, usually located in a mall, and they carried a lot of different things (models, model rockets, RC cars, model trains) including those early D&D books and modules. There were also mall toy stores and they too tended to have a grown-up games isle that included D&D and Avalon Hill titles like Panzerblitz and Squad Leader. You could occasionally find game stuff in other places - I bought my first D&D Basic Set at a Kmart - but it was mainly smaller mall type stores in my experience. During this time I moved from Tennessee to Florida and found the same thing there - toy stores and hobby shops were the main venue for finding new games. I also spent time in San Antonio and we soon moved to D/FW. In the early 80's in Texas this was still mostly the same state of affairs but the new wrinkle was that you could find a lot of TSR products in Toys R Us and Target.

Throughout the 80's the mall hobby shop ("Hobbies for Dad and Lad") was my main FLGS though we did start to see comic book shops popping up (Lone Star Comics, Fantastic Worlds, others) in shopping centers and those started to add a game section too. They were still branded as comic book shops but the game angle kept growing. Local comic/sci-fi/fantasy conventions started adding more game events too and that drew the comic book shops in even more. One big difference vs. today was that I never saw people playing in a store in the early days - you might talk to people and hang out for a while, but nobody was playing in the stores and there wasn't space dedicated to it. There were occasional demo days where a company would bring in someone to show a game in the store, but there were not groups of people playing on their own. I remember Yaquinto bringing in a bunch of games to the hobby shop above and getting a lot of interest, but the big showy stuff and tournaments were left for the conventions.

The first game I remember making a splash in local stores was Battletech. It looked like a lot of early anime shows that were getting popular, it was smaller scale but had a lot of visual appeal with stand-up figures (and later miniatures) and the boxed game gave a lot of room to expand by having construction rules in the book. Stores started showing it with demo games in the storeand also started  running tournaments for it at local cons and it was really the first popular "everybody plays that" game that I was aware of, much like X-Wing today.

By the 90's I started to see dedicated game stores opening up (Heroes, Games Plus, Game Chest) and even stores with a more comic book focus (Generation X) started to set aside play space for gamers. In the Time Before Magic this was mainly miniatures games like 40K, Space Marine, Star Fleet Battles, and Battletech. I saw a few RPG's played in a store, but they never seemed to be the bulk of the action. Then in the mid-90's Magic took over, with an assist from Pokemon, and it was card game tournaments, card game new releases, card game expansions, and a lot of the other games were squeezed into a corner or out of the playing space altogether. There might still be a D&D night but it was on a set night when it wouldn't interfere with the new hotness. It makes sense - someone might buy a new D&D book once a month, but kids were in there buying cards damn near every day. I also found that during the 90's most of the mall stores moved out of the malls or just died off, maybe because of the new wave of dedicated game stores.

Game Chest in Valley View Mall - the store has been gone for a few years now and the mall itself isn't far behind ...

The turn of the millennium and the release of D&D 3E was when I saw noticeable jump in the number of RPG's being played at stores. Magic had calmed down a bit, miniatures had a steady place in stores once again, and there was enough interest and excitement to set aside some D&D time. Other games started to creep in too but D&D was the one I saw most, maybe because of the organized play efforts with Living Greyhawk.

That's sort of where I see things today - a mix of dedicated game stores and comic book shops, usually in a shopping center, almost all with some playing space, and for most card games (mainly Magic) are the lifeblood product. It's been a fun run, but what does the future hold?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rifts for Savage Worlds - We have a date!

Two Weeks!

I have to say I'm pretty happy to see that logo and that image combined. I think we will get to pay more attention to the setting with a decent system that's a lot less tied up in mechanics and one that plays a lot faster than what we've had for the last 26 years. It's definitely a chocolate meets peanut butter kind of development for me.

I'm slightly less happy to see that it's another Kickstarter but Pinnacle has delivered on every single one and they've run quite a few these last few years. For some reason I was thinking this would be a traditional release which they still do occasionally. The kickstarter will get plenty of attention and probably let them do more with it than the traditional approach but it means a month of escalating hype and stretch goals and I don't get quite as excited about that as I used to.

Anyway I'll be getting on board for this one and I'm looking forward to seeing what Savage Worlds can do with the Megaverse.

Monday, April 11, 2016