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!