Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back at 2014

A year ago tonight I was here ...

Alright, rants over, let's talk about the good stuff.

RPG Stuff
  • I ran 19 sessions of Pathfinder this year in our Wrath of the Righteous campaign. Things slowed down in December as they always seem to do. This is going pretty well though as they are past the halfway point of Adventure #2. 
  • I played in 9 of the 11 sessions of my friend Steve's Kingmaker (also Pathfinder) campaign. That's the first sustained campaign I've played in for quite some time. It's a once a month game that started in February so consistency has been achieved and we're all having a good time. 
  • I ran 2 sessions of our 4th Edition D&D game and it just fell apart after that. We had a break for several months at the end of 2013, picked it up for 2 sessions early in 2014, and then never could put it back together again. Schedule conflicts, varying interest levels, and what seemed like declining interest among part of the group has put this one on long-term hold for now. I'd really like to finish it, and I had definite plans for Paragon and some sketched out ideas for Epic, but now I don't know if we will ever get to those. 
  • I ran a couple of sessions of Deadlands, our only Savage Worlds action this year. We need to do more.
  • I ran one and played one session of 5th edition D&D. It's just not pushing the buttons and I am very happy with Pathfinder for my fantasy fix. 
  • I picked up a fair number of older games, Pathfinder stuff, and some Savage Worlds stuff, but here at the end of the year I managed to finally get a hard copy of FATE Core and FATE Accelerated and I'm actually reading through them front to back. Nothing refreshes like a whole new system.
Miniatures & Boardgames
  • We got into Star Trek Attack Wing and we're still playing it every once in a while. Blaster got a Scimitar for Xmas so I'm sure my Federation fleet is in for a pounding once he gets to throw that on the table.
  • We played a few games of Memoir 44 - I still like it a lot, it's just a question of time and priorities.
  • Continuing the WW2 theme, we also got into Bolt Action. Knowing it will always be the #2 game at best I'm keeping it on a limited budget by using 1/72 plastic kits found in every hobby shop rather than 28mm official stuff. So far it hasn't been a problem. We have nice German and American forces  and I suspect they will be joined by the Russians fairly soon.
  • Munchkin is still played at least a few times a year and is still fun.
  • The boys are still into Magic though not quite as much as a year ago. They quickly realized what a grind the "new year = new card set" cycle can be and now mostly play the rules that allow a lot of older cards. 
  • End of the year surprise #1: I finally managed to pick up a copy of Space Hulk! I loved the first edition of the game and can't wait to play the newer version with the crew  
  • End of the year surprise #2: Apprentice Red is home for winter break and asks me "So, I'm thinking about getting a Wood Elf army - you used to play Warhammer, right?' I felt like Ben Kenobi being asked about the Clone Wars - "Oh that was a long time ago, before you were born" etc. In the last week he's managed to acquire the army book and 1500+ points of the things (dirt cheap too) and it looks like I'm going to have to dust off the old chaos army and re-learn some rules.
  • 40K started out quiet, ramped up with 7th edition's release, then quieted down again, but it's been picking up lately. Then today, this arrived, setting the tone for the new army of 2015:

TV etc:

  • Over:
    • True Blood ended - that was the first thing Lady Blacksteel and I watched together regularly, so it was a thing. It was probably time for it to wrap but it's goign to be a little weird without it to watch next summer.
    • Boardwalk Empire ended - a better show than I thought it would be when it started
  • Ongoing:
    • The Walking Dead continues to be really good
    • Game of Thrones continues to be pretty good
    • Mad Men is almost done - it was a pretty good run
  • New:
    • Penny Dreadful was pretty cool
    • Black Sails was better than I expected
    • The Flash is way better than anyone expected and has me looking forward to the rest of the season
  • Movies - not a ton to say here but at least a) the new Godzilla was decent and b) we're done with the Hobbit remakes, both of which make me very happy.
Other Stuff
  • Our Year-End outing was actually last night with a concert at Billy Bob's Texas - yes it's a real place and yes I wore boots.
  • Because of that and incoming possibly maybe icy weather we're staying in tonight - no kids, no other obligations. That's a rare thing for us and I intend to get right back to it after I finish this post.
  • As of this morning Apprentice Twilight is a Licensed Driver. Another of life's little milestones passed. 
  • 2013 ended and 2014 began with my first trip to Disney World in 25 years and the rest of the family's first trip ever. Now 2014 ends and 2015 begins with a quiet night at home. Next year I suspect it will be neither of those and that's just kind of how we do things here.
Wrapping Up: 

Happy New Year to all! May it be the best year yet for you and yours! May you rediscover something old and familiar and may you discover something completely new as well!


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 End of the Year Rant: 40K - "Earning Back Your Points"

Refitting my armies for 7th edition has led me through a ton of internet tactics articles and forums for various factions and one thing I still see regularly when discussing a particular unit is "making their points back". This is a ridiculously outdated concept that needs to disappear.The real way to judge a unit's effectiveness is to look at how you win the game and determine how a unit can contribute to achieving this goal.

For a long time, most 40K games were "kill point" games - points were scored by eliminating units. Doing this faster made gave you a points lead and made it harder for your opponent to score points of his own. Every unit needed to contribute to this goal. If a unit could "make its points back" then it was breaking even in the game and any additional points it scored were contributing to your win. Units that could directly remove enemy models from the table were clearly achieving this.That was a worthy measure for that kind of game.

Unfortunately that pretty much died out with 5th edition's demise in 2012.

Beginning in 6th and now fully formed in 7th edition, the standard game pretty much revolves around objectives. You still score points to win but those points do not come from killing enemy units, they come from controlling certain locations on the battlefield.
  • For 6th only troops were "scoring". Now with 7th everything is scoring but most troop units score better than everything else so there is still some extra benefit there.
  • With 7th there are typically six objectives in play - older editions usually had fewer - so there is an increased number of places to cover.
  • Also with 7th points are no longer scored once per game at the end. Now points are scored every turn. Before in a typical 5 turn game if you held an objective for 4 turns and lost it on turn 5 then you saw no points for that effort. Now every turn counts. 
  • On each turn the available scoring options may change as well. This turn Objective #4 might be in play, while next turn it might be Objective #2
  • Since my opponent and I have different sets of objectives in most games it's not just about where I need to be to score - it's also about where I need to be to deny his scoring. If I get points this turn for Obj #4 and he gets points for Obj #6, then the ideal situation would be to get scoring units onto both.
To cover more objectives over more turns mobility is a major asset. Offensive power is important, sure, but it is not the only, nor is it even the primary, consideration anymore. The ability to get to an objective in one turn, and the ability to hold that objective, is at least as important as offense today.

Example: Space Wolf Grey Hunters were considered the best basic troop type in the game at one time, due to their combat power, cost, and all-around capability. Now I'd say Eldar Jet Bikes are the best, but not because they can beat an equal number of points of Grey Hunters - I'm not sure they can. It's because they are the fastest basic troops in the game yet tough enough to take some punishment. Offensively I'd call them middle of the pack at best. 

The same environment has led to space marine bike armies becoming ever more popular - once they become troops their increased mobility and enhanced scoring options along with better toughness makes them a preferred option for many players. Their ability to carry interesting weapon choices didn't change - their ability to win games did. 

The increase in drop pod armies is following the same trend. Why walk or ride a conventional transport vehicle across the table when I can drop an objective secured vehicle AND an objective secured squad right onto the objective - on turn 1!

Now offense does still have a role. For one, I need to protect my own units and the best way to do that is to blow the enemy units off of the table. Also, I need to remove enemy units from objectives. This still does not justify the "making their points back" attitude I see though. 
  • If a unit of assault marines clears the enemy fire warriors off of an objective, scores a VP or three for holding it,  then dies to supporting fire the next turn I don't care about the relative points cost of either unit - I care that I scored those VP's. 
  • If a vindicator trundling up the middle of the field draws enough fire that my 5-man tac squad gets to sit on an objective for another turn and score another VP or two then I don't care that it never fired a shot - it contributed to my win, even if it was not by blowing a unit off of the table. 
  • If a sternguard squad comes down on an objective in a drop pod for a VP, moves out, guns down a unit of fire dragons to preserve the pod for another turn, incidentally killing a warlock for a "kill the psyker" VP, and also has moved into the enemy deployment zone achieving "linebreaker" for another VP, then sure that's great and that's where offense can still make a difference. Note that none of it is tied up in relative point costs though.

Hopefully, in 2015 the whole concept of "earning its points back" will finally die out and a focus on how the game is actually won will return. Remember in a Tactical Objectives game 24 of the 36 entries (and Linebreaker) are tied to objectives and positioning, not killing other units. Instead of focusing on points ask your self this:
  • How quickly can this unit get to it's first objective? (i.e. can it score points on turn 1? Drop pods are great for this.)
  • How quickly can it get to a different objective? (i.e. when I draw a new card on turn 2 can it shift to that new objective in one movement phase? Eldar jetbikes are the kings of this while drop pods are a bit less effective.)
  • How well can it hold an objective through an enemy turn? (Usually some combo of toughness 4+, armor save 3+, stealth/shrouded/cover save bonuses or a jink option all are good here)
  • How quickly can it kill other enemy units? (A 5-man tactical squad with a flamer is not great in this regard. A vindicator is slow and vulnerable to side and rear shots, but it can blow a squad off of the table in one shot. That's a useful ability to have somewhere in your army.)
  • Does taking this unit prevent me (though point costs or force org slots) from taking another unit that is more likely to help me win the game? (A 3-man unit of jetbikes is great at taking an unoccupied objective, but has trouble taking one from a 20-man unit of ork shoota boys. Spamming 6 of them is going to leave you some weaknesses like this.  A unit of d-scythe wraithguard hopping out of a wave serpent can clean that right up, possible in two different locations on the same turn - serpent on one, wraithguard on the other.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 End of the Year Rant: Watching RPG's

This year, more than I recall seeing previously, I keep seeing "watch/listen to these celebrity gamers play an RPG" coming up in ads for podcasts, new supplements or adventures, and various other you tube videos.

I don't get it. There are two components here and I don't get or like either one of them.

I know there's a big celebrity/watch this thing with videogames and e-sports, but those tend to be either how-to type videos (even for non-competitive things like Minecraft), strategies for how to beat a particular opponent, combo, or level, or replays of a competitive match that show how player X defeated player Y.

I get that.

We even see it with some tabletop games, from boardgames to Magic, to 40K and other miniature games. Heck, I watch 40K battle reports fairly often myself to see how other people use certain units, fight certain opponents, or just how they paint their minis and do their terrain. It also helps stay in touch with what other people are doing in the game as new units or expansions arrive.

I watch because of the what and possibly the how. I do not care about "celebrity" though - I can't say I've ever watched a game because of who was playing it.

I just do not see the attraction of "watch game designer A, podcast host B, web comic artist C, and D-List celebrity D, and RPG blogger E play the newest D&D adventure". If I knew any of them personally, well, sure, that might be fun so when we talk again I know what went on - but typically I do not. Additionally, these tend to be one-offs so you're not likely to see ongoing development of the group, the characters, or the story.

Audio podcasts with actual play - well, a lot of those are not great either but if you find one you like you can at least listen to it in the car, and very few of them seem to be fame-driven. They tend more to be a regular group that decides to put their regular sessions out on the web. That doesn't push the same button for me.

Also, RPG sessions tend to make for incredibly boring video - there is not a lot of visual action. It's all in the mind and in the conversation - that actually works better in an audio-only format in my opinion than with video.

An example:
  • It's interesting to me that Vin Diesel used to play D&D - cool
  • I might be interested in playing D&D with Vin Diesel sometime if the opportunity was there
  • I have little interest in watching a video of Vin Diesel playing D&D with, say, Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day
RPG's tend to be far less concerned with rules and strategies (unlike video games or board/miniature games) so watching or listening to an RPG session is more about how that group approaches a scenario - you're not likely to learn a "strategy" that you can apply in your own game. You may find you enjoy the interaction, the characters, and the story that's coming out of the game and that's completely cool - it's why I listen to the Critical Hit podcast, though I am years behind their current casts.

To use videogame terms, every single campaign is effectively a "mod". My 5th edition Greyhawk campaign is a D&D "mod" that only my group will ever play. Even if another DM takes my notes and runs some of the same material they will probably use some different rules and with a different mix of players their campaign is their own "mod". No one else will ever play exactly the same game. Compare this to a videogame, where everyone else will play exactly the same game. To me this is a fundamental difference and truly changes why someone would watch or listen to an RPG cast of some kind. Attempts to follow the same video play model as videogames and competitive tabletop games  just demonstrates a significant misunderstanding of what RPG are.

(Note: I am not actually running a 5th edition Greyhawk campaign. It's just an example.)

Finally, the whole point of RPG's is to play them. Watching a good player in a sport you can appreciate the skill or talent that goes into doing what they do, or the thrill of the contest as one challenges another. RPG's just don't work in that way - watching or listening to a video is unlikely to spark the interest of someone who has never played one. Put them in a room with an engaged and enthusiastic group and they are very likely to be drawn in as it's happening right now in front of them! The "watch the other people play" trend represents a more passive approach and that's not really what they are about. Those people are not any more qualified than you are to play the game. Lots of people watch sports or other competitions for entertainment and also because they cannot physically play them regularly. You don't need any special physical or mental talent to play RPG's! You don't need even a minor level of fame. You don't need to be a game designer. You need some basic social skills and an interest in the subject - that's it! With the advent of online play there are even fewer barriers to finding a game now than ever before.

I need more traffic cones around my DM chair
Wrapping up: Watching is fine, whatever the reason. But don't let watching get in the way of doing! Don't assume that other people are doing it "better" and need to be copied. Don't assume that because you've heard someone's name before that they are worth watching or listening to - the only way to become an experienced RPG'er is to do it! RPG's are just about the most level playing field I can think of. Sure, experience can polish off some rough edges, and reading about how someone handled situation X might be good to know if it ever arises, but you can have a ton of fun with a group of people who have no experience at all. Overall I'd like to see less watching and more playing in 2015.

Motivational Monday - Finale!

Friday, December 12, 2014

40K Friday - Chaos & Eldar Updates

Slow but steady progress on two armies:

The Iyanden Eldar are waiting to be assembled or painted. The holdup at the moment is basing, as in "I'm trying to decide how to base them".Simple grass or turf (or snow) gets them done faster and doesn't require any new acquisitions but there are a lot of nice custom ruin bases out there that seem appropriate for an Eldar force. A smaller force like this makes it easier to do, though potential future expansion would mean I would need more of the bases too. I am undecided for now.

For the Chaos Marines, I have two units in-progress:

The Havocs are coming along. That gray color will be white when I am finished, with green as an accent color. I'm going for a pre-heresy Death Guard look for these, with different units of the army in different stages of corruption. These guys, while clearly being altered in that interesting Rogue Trader Chaos way, are going to be fairly pure in a color sense. contrasting with the plague marines and the possessed who are way gone. I started going for a bone look on the missile launchers but I'm switching that to green to keep the look more uniform.

These are my future Chaos Spawn, the "Malborn Croc" miniature from the "Dreamblade" game WOTC put out a few years ago. The GW spawn mini's look like spindly tentacle monsters and that's fine for some things but I wanted a different look (more power, less tentacle) and these look like a twisted mass of animal muscle that's ready to punch in the side of a tank. They look like something that might have been locked away in the bowels of a drifting space hulk, right? Some inks and new bases and they should be a pretty easy conversion.

That's the update for this week. After these two units it's time to get the plague marine squads in shape.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Overreaction Wednesday: Star Wars

Yes, I watched the new trailer last week. Yes I thought it looked pretty good. It was a strange feeling to see some of the familiar places and things back on screen in something new that isn't an animated special. The falcon swooping up as the music kicks in ... yeah. If this new wave of films can really recapture the spirit of the originals then I think it's going to be an amazing run. Think about a potential next decade of revitalized Star Wars films -and- decent, interconnected superhero movies. My inner 8-year old is going to lose his mind.

Now it could still fall flat. Remember when we (well, some of us at least) thought the awesomeness of the Lord of the Rings movies would bring a new wave of well-done, CGI-enhanced fantasy movies? I'm still waiting. Bonus: we get the terrible Hobbit movies ten years after the great LOTR movies. A great book stretched out to three movies by a director that is out of control. My dislike of the Hobbit movies is similar to Barking Alien's dislike of the new Trek movies and many fans dislike of the Star Wars prequels. So much wasted potential...

Of course in the internet age we have to have uber-geek overkill analysis of every single little thing in the trailer. I'm glad they announced ahead of time the Expanded Universe was No Longer Canon or it would be even worse as people tried to match 88 seconds of video up with 20-odd years of novels and comic books. My advice: ignore the internet on this one other than trailers and maybe inevitable occasional interviews with people who worked on it and go into the theater in a year and see for yourself.

Hopefully we avoid the negative scenarios completely. With Star Wars being a part of Disney now I suspect they will go with the Marvel model and put out some individual movies then begin to cross-connect them with each other down the road. If JJ Abrams and the other people in charge of the universe now can keep a steady hand on it then it's going to be a lot of fun for the next few years.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Blog Status Check & Future Planning

After some time off, a few thoughts on the future of the blog:

  • After 4+ years I think the Motivational Poster thing has run its course for me, so for next year I'm going to let that go. I'll probably come up with some other regular funny thing but it won't be this.
  • January's theme will be catching up on Wrath of the Righteous. It's the one campaign I'm running consistently these days so I ought to be able to do session summaries for it. January is when I will post all of them to date, which will be twenty-something by then. 
  • I want to make 40K Friday a reliable thing. With some gaps here in our playing & painting it was not a regular thing in 2014 but I aim to change that for 2015. I intend to make miniatures games a more regular thing here in general with some interest in Bolt Action and a possible foray into Dropzone Commander next year. I expect 40K to remain the main game and hopefully that will keep the Friday updates rolling along.   

Monday, December 1, 2014

City of Heroes - Second Anniversary of the End of Paragon City

Yesterday was the 2nd anniversary of the shutdown of City of Heroes. It was not a happy event, and a lot of players still miss it. Around here we still have the occasional "that's my next City of Heroes character" moments when something cool or funny crosses our path, but not as many as before.

I won't go on about it - I said my piece back before and after it happened. The most relevant post today is probably this one. As even tabletop games bring in more and more technology the specter of obsolescence in a far bigger sense than "hey there's a new edition" continues to creep in.

City of Titans continues.

Valiance Online continues.

Heroes and Villains continues.

Even the Hail Mary continues.

 Someday, we'll get a game that's as good as CoH even if it has some differences. There are too many people that loved it and want something like it for it not to happen. It may take a while - it has taken a while - but it will happen.

Motivational Monday

Friday, November 28, 2014

40K Friday: Return of the Eldar - NONGUARDIANS!

With some time off I've been digging through the 40K stuff. I needed to, as in a recent rearranging of the game room and the garage a lot of things were "temporarily" tossed into boxes and drawers to get the larger task accomplished.

After finding a home for ... almost everything ... I started looking over my Eldar. A year ago I was all fired up to build a wraith-heavy force using the Iyanden supplement. Then earlier this year I mentioned I was thinking that it would be smarter to instead just build out my existing instead of building two Eldar armies. More recently, given the number of 40K armies I have* vs. the number of times we play in a year I was thinking about dropping them entirely and focusing down to marines, orks, and chaos. I've worked out an answer I can live with this week so I thought I would share.

My old "alien" Eldar are going back in the box for now, The newer stuff will be painted up as an Iyanden force of 1000-1500 points using what I already have with dual themes of "wraith units as core" and "no guardians". This is the list as of right now:

Iyanden Army

1 Wraithlord (Heavy Support) @ 165 Pts
Monstrous Creature (Character); Ancient Doom; Fearless; Ghostglaive; Flamer (x2); Bright Lance (x2); Warlord

1 Spiritseer #1 (Spiritseer) @ 140 Pts
Infantry; (character); Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet; Independent Character; Psyker (Mastery Level 2); Spirit Mark; Rune Armour; Shuriken Pistol; Witch Staff

1 Spiritseer #2 (Spiritseer) @ [70] Pts
Infantry; (character); Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet;Independent
Character; Psyker (Mastery Level 2); Spirit Mark; Rune Armour; Shuriken Pistol; Witch Staff

5 Fire Dragons (Elites) @ 110 Pts
Infantry; Ancient Doom; Battle Focus; Fleet; Heavy Aspect Armour; Fusion Gun; Melta Bombs

7 Harlequin Troupe (Elites) @ 268 Pts
Close Combat Weapon (x5); Harlequin's Kiss (x2); Shuriken Pistol (x5);Fusion Pistol (x2); Flip Belt; Holo-suit

   1 Death Jester @ [28] Pts
   CC Weapon; Shrieker Cannon; Shuriken Pistol; Flip Belt; Holo-suit

   1 Shadowseer @ [48] Pts
   #Veil of Tears; CC Weapon; Shuriken Pistol; Hallucinogen Grenades; Flip Belt; Holo-suit

   1 Troupe Master @ [38] Pts
   Power Weapon; Shuriken Pistol; Flip Belt; Holo-suit

5 Wraithblades (Troops) @ 160 Pts
     Infantry; Ancient Doom; Bulky; Fearless; Force Axe & Forceshield

5 Wraithguard (Troops) @ 160 Pts
Infantry; Ancient Doom; Bulky; Fearless; Wraithcannon

5 Dark Reapers (Heavy Support) @ 150 Pts
Infantry; Ancient Doom; Slow and Purposeful; Heavy Aspect Armour; Reaper Launcher; Reaper Rangefinder

1 Falcon (Heavy Support) @ 135 Pts
Vehicle (Fast, Skimmer, Tank); Capacity: 6; Spirit Stones; TL Shuriken Catapults; Shuriken Cannon; Pulse Laser

Models in Army: 34

Total Army Cost: 1288

Dropping the Harlequins takes me down to around 1000; Adding a wraithknight or another guard/seer combo squad takes me towards 1750/1850. Keeping it to one CAD makes it easy to ally them in with another force. I know this is not a tournament army but that's not really a consideration here. I will probably look at some wave serpents down the road to add some mobility.

Another upside is that around half of this force is already painted, leaving me fewer than 20 figures to paint to call it "done." Going with a common Eldar paint scheme makes it easy to pick up a painted unit if I see something interesting, avoiding an increase in the backlog.

The general approach is that the Reapers sit somewhere and shoot at range, the Fire Dragons jump in the Falcon and travel where needed, while the seers join the Wraithguard units and march across the table with the Wraithlord and Harlies. It's not a fast army but they are fairly tough. Performance will determine future expansion.

Anyway, that's the latest on the Eldar. I've been working on the Dark Angels and the Chaos Marines so I'll have more to share on those down the road.

*I have ten armies right now of say 1500 or more points. Some of you are saying "wow", some of you are saying "that's all?" but regardless of where that sits on your personal scale they take up a fair amount of space (especially if you want them out where you can see them) and if I'm only playing twice a month, that not even 3 games a year with each army. You're never really going to get to know your army if you play 3 games a year with it, so my thinking has been to focus in on fewer armies and using them in more games.

Friday, November 21, 2014

40K Friday: Star Trek Joins Warhammer 40,000

Shown here: Andorian Captain in Artificer Armor with Power Sword.

(I love Star Trek Online but sometimes they do push far beyond the boundaries of the source material)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kingmaker Update

The adventures of Sir Ivan Zhukov and friends continue - we have completed Part 1 of 6 of the Kingmaker Adventure Path! I mentioned this back when we started in February and we've kept at it all year. We play once a month for 7-8 hours and we've completed ten sessions now. This is my longest campaign as a player in years and it's been a lot of fun.

One of the interesting things is that we're only about 3rd level and that doesn't seem to be a problem for anyone. We're all experienced RPG'ers with varying degrees of Pathfinder experience and we tend to have a pretty relaxed attitude about the game while still wanting to make progress clearing out "our" land.The open structure of the campaign definitely has a sandbox feel to it, with a dash of "mission" to give some direction to those who need it.

It's also fun to watch personalities take shape over an extended time from the player side of the table. It just reinforces my belief that actual play is a much better forge of personalities and backstory then the pre-written novella for most games. Different strokes, I know, but it is definitely my own preference as all too often what a player says about their character beforehand is quite different from how they play their character when the hammer comes down. Although that cam be fun to point out too.

Personal Note: Cavaliers are awesome in this campaign. Given room to run (i.e. Charge!) they are a blast to play both mechanically and attitudinally. It's not overconfidence if you can back it up, right?

I don't want to get into too many specifics as I don't want to spoil things for anyone who hasn't played it yet, but yes, it does live up to the hype, at leas through the first part. As always, your group and your DM will make a big difference. If you can find a DM that wants to run this one for you I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Review of "Save Game" for FATE

So, this is the first campaign/adventure for FATE that I've sat down and read with some idea that I might run it in the near future. It's a cool concept that I thought fell a little bit short when it came to execution.

The concept is what drew me in. I mentioned it in an earlier post but here it is again:

A vicious computer virus threatens to corrupt the entire internet, and the only ones standing in its way are the characters from your video games.

8-bit heroes battle monsters and corrupted files—it's Wreck-It Ralph meets Lord of the Rings in a fight for the fate of the world! 

That sounds like a lot of fun, and reading through the first part of the game had me even more interested as the basics of the world and the threat are explained. The additional information in the book is that many of the famous video game heroes already fought The Glitch (that's the virus threat) and lost. They were corrupted and now stand as the first obstacles the player characters will have to overcome, That seems incredibly appropriate for a video-game type of campaign.

Another twist is that while most characters have a set of defined powers some have Hax, which is the ability to go beyond their own abilities and alter the world around them - it's magic, or seeing the Matrix, or whatever you want to call it. There also some feeling that it's related to the Glitch so those who practice Hax are not always welcomed in normal society - well, normal video game society. It is useful in battling the glitch but can lead to problems, a very angsty modern element (potentially) in an otherwise 8-bit videogame type of ... game.

There are some mechanical tweaks from normal FATE.Coins take the place of fate points, stress is tracked in "hearts", and characters lose lives when bad things happen. Skills have certain unlockables that can be acquired during the game. There is a shop which appears identically in each section of the island that sells power ups and recovery items. It really contributes to the atmosphere when the mechanics reflect the world this closely. Just as an example, here's the character sheet:

Once characters are made and the starting situation is explained, the campaign can get going. There are five different areas of the local island that need to be cleared of the Glitch to make your home safe again. Each is ruled by a corrupted former hero and their minions, which may have been enemies or may have been allies in the past, but all are tainted now. The basic structure is pretty entertaining to read and I think a GM with some knowledge of the games referenced could enhance them on the fly and drop easter eggs the players might appreciate. Similarly, the players are going to enjoy this a lot more if they are familiar with all of the games.

The rest of the book is the actual campaign, and this is where I felt a little bit of a letdown. Each area is covered in 5-6 pages, about half of which is character stats and pictures. The area descriptions are very short and there is nothing close to resembling a map which seems to me to make it trickier to describe the environments the characters are operating within. Also, while I might expect statblocks to take up a chunk of a Pathfinder adventure, I was surprised to see them featured this way in a FATE adventure. Sure, characters are important, but I was hoping for a little more material to connect them to each other and their lands. As I mentioned before a GM that knows all of the referenced game can turn this into something special but going only by what is in here I thought it was thin - thinner than I would like.

Also, for an epic quest story (as described above) there is a distinct lack of a climax. I've read through it several times and I can't find anything that describes what happens after the last of the five areas is freed. There is a discussion of how to continue the campaign into new virtual islands and there are some good ideas there but I was looking for a wrap-up scene (a cutscene?) that brings this part of the story to a close. NPC reactions, a change in the color of the land or sky, the return of some of the corrupted characters to their old selves - none of that is really covered.

Anyway, considering it's a pay-what-you-want PDF, it's definitely worth a look if you're at all interested in FATE and videogames and the possibility of combining the two. I think it's also an excellent example of how the game can be customized to fit a particular genre/theme/concept. There are a lot of good parts and ideas here even if you don't take the fight to the glitch. Even with lack of a finale, I really like it and I'm sure I will be doing something with it, even if it's a little different from the campaign as written.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Morgansfort - The Western Lands Campaign for the Basic Fantasy RPG

To get to the point this is a much better adventure and starting point than JN1. It has a wilderness map, a base town, multiple low-level dungeons to explore, and even some named NPC's - with some personality traits mentioned in their description. It's an old school adventure so it has all the trappings of old school dungeons - puzzles, traps, wandering monster tables, rumor tables, and lots of the quirky things found in the old classics.

Why is this so much better than the Chaotic Caves? Because although it feels very much like the early edition adventures, it's not a direct rip of any of them in particular. There are goblins, undead, and giant insects, sure - but the maps and encounter descriptions don't read like they were cribbed from something else.

What makes it good? The whole thing instead reads like it came from someone's campaign and it feels very useable, a distinctive quality of a lot of the old adventures. They weren't weighted down with background overkill. They had just enough to whet your interest - a sentence, rather than a paragraph, or a page. They tended to be less about plot and more about exploring and overcoming the challenges within. They were meant to be dropped in to your game and run and this book clearly follows the same path.

I would run this with any of the old school systems if I wanted a solid area for kicking off a campaign without writing one up myself. It looks to me like it could be adapted to 5E pretty easily too if that's your inclination.

If you want an inexpensive older D&D-type fantasy RPG then this plus the BFRPG rulebook is a solid way to go.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Chaotic Caves for the Basic Fantasy RPG

When I picked up Basic Fantasy, I also picked up "The Chaotic Caves", a beginning adventure for the same system. I had a longer version of this review written, but I scrapped it as I think I can make my point with fewer words. Let's compare this adventure to "The Keep in the Borderlands", home of the Caves of Chaos:

  • One-page-square-gridded wilderness map in both? Check.
  • Kobold lair in both? Check.
  • Goblin lair in both? Check.
  • Hobgoblin lair in both? Check.
  • Bugbear lair in both? Check.
  • Gnoll lair in both? Check.
  • Undead lair in both? Check.
  • Two Orc lairs in both? Check.
Now there are a couple of variations - the bandits and lizard men are moved into the cave area in "JN1" instead of being wilderness encounters as they are in "B2", and the ogre lives in a separate mini-dungeon instead of in the caves, but let's be clear here: this adventure is a straight rip-off of B2.

It's not an "homage" with a few nods to the old module. It's not a conversion of it to a new system. It takes almost every element of the most-published, most-owned, most-read, and most-played adventure in RPG history, rearranges some of them slightly, and then is published as a new adventure for a new system. It's a terrible way to do things and to me it looks really bad.

Here's why: If someone wants to play B2 they can just get a copy of B2! How about putting together something new for your new interpretation of Basic D&D? There is nothing even slightly new, innovative, or interesting here. Just as one example of the kind of thing I mean here take a look at The Haunted Keep here at Dragonsfoot. It takes the starter adventure from the Moldvay Basic book and expands it into a full 3-level dungeon. There is a nice combination of respect for the original material, connecting to something familiar, and new material.

When 3E came out one thing that was really popular for a time was the conversion document. These took an known adventure, typically a well-liked AD&D adventure like the Saltmarsh series, and put all of the stats for the creatures, magic items, and some relevant skill checks into a document with a numbered key that could be used alongside the original module. Something like that would have been welcome here too.

The closest analogy here that  I can think of is this: Have you read The Lord of the Rings at some point? After that have you read the Iron Tower trilogy by Denis L McKiernan? Did you walk away from it thinking you'd just read a lesser version of LOTR? That's the same feeling I had here. I think there is plenty of room to do something connected to KotB and the Caves of Chaos, but it's not this.

The copyright date on this one is 2009-2011 so this didn't come from some dark age - eBay and PDF's have been around for a while, as have used bookstroes and Noble Knight Games and other places.

My final point: As a level 1-3 adventure, a lot of people coming back to D&D type games in general and new to your game in particular might pick this up as their first expedition. Is this what you want them to play? Is this the best you can do? Shouldn't this be something that makes a strong positive impression rather than an edited version of an older starter adventure. I can see how people might like Basic Fantasy as a game, I don't see how the people creating it can be happy with something like this as one of their main starting adventures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Basic Fantasy RPG

I haven't really looked over a new OSR game in a while and then I came across this one while wandering around Amazon.  My "recommendations" have a whole lot of dungeon-y dragon-y type stuff so I didn't have to wander far. The price is certainly right (it's under $4 as I write this) and with Prime the shipping is free so what the heck. I've read it now and have mixed feelings about it so I thought I would share.

First up it's a pretty complete version of Basic/Expert-style D&D. It's not level capped, it has a fair selection of monsters and magic items and rules for cross country travel, followers, strongholds, etc. There are some odd choices regarding mechanics: race and class are separate but race has very little mechanical impact on a character - it mainly serves to limit class choice. The number of spells per level is ... small, but after looking back at my Cyclopedia's lists it's comparable so it's really only lacking compared to AD&D's lengthy lists. If someone is looking for an inexpensive one-volume B/X style game then Basic Fantasy certainly works.

The thing that bothers me though is that this is not really a new game - like a lot of OSR games. The vast majority of it is B/X D&D with a different editing job and some changes in mechanics for no clear reason. AC is ascending instead of descending, but it uses the old type of saving throws. Race and class are separate but  but there are some new restrictions on ability scores and hit points that shift them back to being very close to the old "race as class" approach. Thieves have the same old percentile skills fixed by level but the percentages are off by a few points from the table in the Cyclopedia, and not consistently! Some are higher, some are lower, some by 10% and some by 1%! Why? It boils down to what looks like someone's house rules or personal preferences, not some kind of effort to publish a truly new game with reverence for an old style, and at that point I have to ask why? Why take someone else's house rules for old D&D instead of making and using your own?

My questions aside, it does seem to have resonated with at least a few people. There is a fair amount of support on the website, much of it provided by players and DM's. All of the rules are free there so the only reason to pay for the book is to get a printed copy. The whole system is run as open-source and mainly non-profit, which is commendable enough. The people driving it don't seem to be terribly hung up on touting their own greatness which is refreshing as well.

In the end, I want to like the game but I keep coming back to this: I'm not sure what the point of this one really is. If I like the original, why wouldn't I play the original? This one is basically someone else's house rules, it's not strictly compatible with old adventures due to the mechanical changes, and it leaves out a lot of the later expansions and mechanical refinements. Sure it's simpler than 3E or Pathfinder or 4E but it's not simpler than other old school rules including the originals! It's not terribly challenging to go get a copy of the old D&D Basic or Expert rules if that's what you like. I see 3-4 sets on Ebay right now for $10 or less. The PDF is available on for $5! Heck, if you want the uber-original the Cyclopedia PDF is only $9.99! I know the PDF's weren't always available, but eBay's been around for a long time now.

How is this better than B/X D&D? To me, it's not. Heck, If I want tweaked old school D&D then Labyrinth Lord is closer to Moldvay Basic than this if I want "authentic", and its Advanced Edition Companion is a much more comprehensive effort to add in some of the player character options from AD&D. For this particular niche, I don't see myself using it a whole lot.

When would I play this? Maybe if someone was running Basic Fantasy specifically and I was really looking for an old school game, I'd give it a try. I don't really dislike it, I just like those other options better.

Bonus Note: Basic Fantasy is home to the greatest character sheet ever designed:

So ... it's not my cup of tea, but it clearly works for some people and if this particular flavor of D&D got you back into a game then that's cool. I'm going to look at some of the other material out there for it too and I'll post those thoughts here as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Book Review: Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many

This is a different kind of book: It's a Star Trek novel (there are plenty of those) but it's tied to the MMORPG. That's an unusual case. It's also unusual in other ways.

For one, the book is set in 2409. Original Trek took place in the 2200's, and Next Gen Trek was set in the 2300's, so this book (as is the game) is set in the future of the original timeline and recaps much of the "future history" after the last Trek movie set in that timeline - Nemesis. It includes nods to other Star Trek novels as well, from the Vanguard series (TOS era) to the Titan series (TNG era) which is a nice touch.

The other unusual aspect is that it's not a novel, or at least it's not a single coherent narrative like most other Trek novels, nor is it a collection of short stories. It's written as a series of historical interviews looking back at the past 30 years or so and covering specific incidents in Trek history over that time. From Data's return to the breakdown of Federation-Klingon relations to conflict with Species 8472 and many others, there is a lot of interesting material here.

The format though is a problem. It reads more like a series of blog posts than a narrative or set of short stories. It doesn't even read like a history book - I have plenty of real-world history books and none of them choose this particular device and for good reason. Each one is an interview with character X on development or event Y. Some of the characters are well known, like Worf or Geordi LaForge, while others are not. The presentation comes across more like the notes that a historian would use to write a historical account of something rather than what they would actually publish.

As far as sitting down and reading it front to back, well, it was tough and this is mainly due to this choice of structure. The writer doesn't spend much time with any one character or one event, so this is much more of a survey/overview and there's not much depth there. While there are several parts I thought were fine, there were several segments I thought would make an interesting novel by themselves, or at least a good short story.

The silver lining here is that if you were looking to run a Trek RPG set in this time period, this format gives quite a few interesting ideas with just enough context and ties to the existing Trek universe to let a GM run with them and turn them into something interesting. Having all of the trappings of the TNG era Trek with further progression of the timeline to take those big characters off of the main stage  and one interpretation of the future history of Trek to use as a backdrop - that has a lot of potential for a good campaign.

So, to wrap up:

  • As a novel, especially compared to other Trek novels, this is terrible
  • As a tie-in to the computer game, it's interesting and does let you know how things got  to where they are in the setting if you're new to it
  • As a source book on the Trek Prime universe circa 2400 it's actually pretty good

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Superhero Kickstarter - Valiance Online

Valiance Online is a City of Heroes successor project, an effort born in the wake of the shutdown of the City of Heroes MMORPG.

The Kickstarter page is here. I think it covers things pretty well. If you're interested in superheroes in general, and computer/online  games where you can play one in particular, this is worth considering.

This is the second of the three known successor projects to go to Kickstarter after last year's City of Titans successful run.  Now normally I'm not big on pimping things online but I'm happy to spread the word on this one as I had a blast playing CoH and the team here seems really interested in creating a similar experience. Plus they appear to have made enough progress to get some gameplay video in their pitch.

Full Disclosure: I've backed it. I don't know or have any relation to the people working on the team but I am interested in this kind of thing so I am putting some money into it.

Motivational Monday

Friday, November 7, 2014

Overreaction Friday - D&D goes Pathfinder

There's an interview with Mike Mearls here and some additional discussion on EN World here that spurred this post. The short version is that it looks like WOTC is adopting Paizo's core approach:

  • Paizo puts out two Adventure Paths per year, with separate supporting books for players and DM's

  • WOTC will put out two "stories" per year, with at least a supporting source book aimed mainly at players
Now Paizo also puts out additional material like poster maps, flip-mats, cards, and sometimes miniatures for each of their AP's but they have been doing this for a while. WOTC will likely be doing a little more than this too, from miniatures sets to a special DM screen (they did one for Tyranny of Dragons) to tie-ins with the Neverwinter MMO. 

They also note that they have plans through 2018. I think that's interesting because I don't think Paizo plans out their AP's that far in advance other than having a pool of ideas suggested previously. I suspect part of that may be that WOTC is deliberately drawing on D&D history and has a list of the first ten or so things they want to tackle while Paizo has less "legacy" to deal with given their separate campaign world. 

It is interesting too in that up until very recently all we heard was that "adventures don't sell" - yet Paizo found a way to make that work. In fact, it's to the point that now WOTC seems to be basing their whole approach around a similar adventure-centered concept. What changed? Did gamers suddenly decide to spend more money than they did in the 90's? I'm going to say no. I think building a fair amount of setting material into the adventures probably helps, as does tying a source book for players to a set of adventures. 

I also think it's interesting that WOTC's D&D team is smaller than Paizo's Pathfinder team. Both of them use a lot of outsiders/freelancers. Maybe it's just setting more reasonable expectations for tabletop D&D at WOTC - if so that seems like a good thing to me. It will also be interesting to see if it stays that way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pathfinder Updates

Somewhere along the way Pathfinder shifted from a side game last year into the one game I am consistently running these days. I just ran session #20 of our Wrath of the Righteous campaign. I need to get the summaries up on here sometime soon but for now some observations:

  • Locally (DFW Texas area) I don't see any loss of momentum in PF as might have been expected with a new version of D&D. I think that to some degree they cater to different tastes as far as game mechanics, even if the type of games run are similar. I suspect a lot of people are playing both. Regardless, the local Pathfinder Society is adding games at more stores rather than any kind of cutback so that's good news for Paizo.
  • Paizo ran a big sale in October and this forced me to think about some things. I have a "collector" impulse that flares up from time to time and with a game as big as Pathfinder that can be a bad thing. As I was about to place an order for a fair number of discounted Pathfinder AP modules I had a moment of insight that I thought I might share: I already have 5 or 6 Adventure Paths that I would like to run or am already running. Assuming it takes two years to play through one start to finish, I already have 8-10 years worth of material here! That's not even counting any kind of self-created campaign, and it's not counting any conversion of older material. I ended 3rd Edition with a lot of good adventures I never ran because we just ran out of time and moved on. There's a sort of ranking process that happens in my head  - "what would I run next?" and "what would I run if a separate group wanted to play right now?" - if I have two or three campaigns I'm looking forward to do I really need another Pathfinder campaign right now? I'm getting to where the answer is "no" for a change. There are enough "system" books for PF to keep me interested for quite a while, so I really don't need to go back and fill in all of the older AP material. the only reason would be to say at some point "I have them all" and while that's nice for research purposes, I've realized I can probably live without unlocking that particular achievement. While it is possible, given the miracle of the internet, to collect every published item from any given game system, I don't really want to turn my house into the Texas Paizo Museum.
  • Playing and running in the same system really does invest you in the game. Rules we cover in one campaign inevitable turn up in the other. Some nifty character ability or item in one sometimes generates a "hmm" when I sit down for the other. There is some synergy there that I haven't experienced in a years.
  • A quick rundown of the previous, current, and upcoming AP's. There plus Rise of the Runelords, Shattered Star - and maybe the Emerald Spire big dungeon - are my main Coming Attractions for PF for the near future.
    • Wrath of the Righteous - awesome, epic, and a lot of fun to run so far. Mass combat has been quick and fun as well as the party invades and lays siege to the city of Drezen.
    • Mummy's Mask - looks like a lot of fun with a pretty big scenery change from Fantasy Europe to Fantasy Egypt. No big rules tweak here like Mythic for WotR, just a different environment.
    • Iron Gods - pretty wild mix of fantasy and tech. Lots of new stuff for technological items. Very different environments though there is still quite a bit of traditional fantasy in there, including dungeon crawls.I expect there will be a lot of SF conversions cooked up using the books here as a core. 
    • Giantslayer - not a ton of details yet but it looks like this is going to be Pathfinder's "Against the Giants" and I have high expectations for it. I always enjoy running giants as a DM - I'm not sure why, I just do. The descriptions so far have me very interested. 
    • Hell's Rebels - I don't know enough yet to have a strong opinion. On the surface, running around rebelling against an evil empire doesn't interest me as much as some of the others but then again it could be a decent fantasy Star Wars and what's wrong with that?
  • Watching my son play alongside friends I have had for years is a pretty cool thing. It's not an indulgence on their part as far as I can tell, and it's not dragging a half-interested youngster into an otherwise grown-up party - he's old enough now and experienced enough that he can hold his own and contribute just like anyone else. It doesn't matter what game, or even really what hobby - having some shared interests and watching them grow up and do their own thing in something you both understand and enjoy is a really good feeling. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Something New for FATE - Save Game

"Save Game" is a new campaign for FATE that caught my eye. This is the description:

A vicious computer virus threatens to corrupt the entire internet, and the only ones standing in its way are the characters from your video games.

8-bit heroes battle monsters and corrupted files—it's Wreck-It Ralph meets Lord of the Rings in a fight for the fate of the world!

I have to say that it worked - I'm interested. Interested enough that I'm reading it now. I'm thinking the younger set is going to like it on the idea alone, while the older set will appreciate some of the humor.

I needed an excuse to look at FATE again anyway - this was it. I'll have a more about it next week. If you're interested yourself it's on DTRPG here.

Motivational Monday