30 December 2014

STATUS UPDATE


I haven't written in a small age so here's what I've been up to:

  1. My brother and I have been hanging around the house, playing video games and watching things and running errands. We're both pretty laid-back dudes so it's been low intensity and that's kind of the way we like things. I think. It probably looks boring to other people but I don't come to your house and judge you, mannnn.
  2. I played Dungeon World last Sunday; the party was a naked Samurai, a wannabe-pirate Unseelie Fae, and a Metamorph that looked and acted suspiciously like Kirby. Their goal was to return home to attempt to get the fairy some bushido training, but they got waylaid by assassin vine overgrowths and nearly got killed. They saved an old man, though, so that was good.
  3. I've been reading about Fate and holy moly how have I not heard of this already? It's such an interesting system and the way it's fractal and sort of self-looping is really interesting. It makes me want to sit down and play with the system to see what comes out of it. The first thing I thought of was either a supers game or a game where everybody's working together on a vessel, like Aliens, Fury (which I haven't actually seen), or Star Trek. One of my players had been asking about that sort of thing for a while and it feels like Fate is uniquely suited to this endeavor, since the players can collaboratively design their characters and then come together to decide what skills and aspects the vehicle they're piloting would possess. The best part is that once they've decided what their vehicle is doing, they can each still act as their characters, creating aspects and granting bonuses that the vehicle will then directly use in its contest with other vehicles. You could probably make a battle-mech game out of this, and I just love that idea. 
  4. I've been shifting back into biphasic sleep, which I know was some sort of fad-lifestyle thing for a while there but it turns out that that's just the sort of way I prefer to sleep when I don't have many external demands on my time. When I can live life on my own schedule, turns out I'd rather sleep in two three-to-four-hour bursts a day than do it in one solid chunk. I have a good friend who sleeps in like, twelve-hour marathon sleeps and I can't understand how anybody can manage that level of commitment to snoozin'.
  5. My wife called; she's away for the next six months (and has been gone for one already) and due to her unique situations she can't call often, so the fact that she even got to talk to me for a couple of minutes really meant a lot to me. She's also been taking up most of my spare writing energy and willpower, so until I get used to her being gone this blog will probably remain slow. I'm still working on things in the background (as always) but a lot of my spare time is caught up in goofing around instead of focusing here. Sorry, I guess.

11 December 2014

Raiding the Goblins

The party, with the help of the guides Madtwig (the young Rootwalker) and Tehlmar (the exiled elf drunk) finally come across the great elf holding of the wizard Ecgredd, who they find living inside of an enormous living tree set inside a dome formed of intertwined tree branches. The other elves live in earth houses, wooden huts and other less permanent settlements, and mill about inside the dome. They tend gardens, leave to hunt, converse amongst themselves, distill alcohol, improve their buildings, and otherwise occupy themselves to their pleasure. It is peaceful and calm and quiet here.



The first elf they meet is named Osbald. He has long hair and a thick salt and pepper beard, and he is unfriendly but not unhelpful. They ask him where Ecgredd is, and he answers, but warns them that he is not taking guests. They ask who to talk to in the meantime and he answers with names: Goldwin and Unlaf. They ask where these elves are and he laughs, asking "Am I his keeper?"

But they find more help from Plegmund, another elf who invites them into his hut and offers them a distilled drink of his own make. He airs his grievances and asks for the players to help. The crux of the issue is that Ecgredd is trusted by the elves for leadership, which he has been shirking. His subordinates have been keeping things running along somewhat smoothly but things have been getting worse. There's a conquerer starting wars and goblin invasions and people being sold into slavery and druid troubles and without anybody that's trusted enough, the elves have not been able to work together long enough, since "If there was trouble, Ecgredd would let us know about it." The elves have become complacent and Plegmund and others have started to become worried. It's been almost a hundred years since anybody's heard anything substantial from him!

The party hears the following rumors: Merehwit, who lives out by the lake near the druid's lands, is tormented by assassins and believes his friend has already been slain by Badanoth, who is a friend of Ecgredd. Egric believes Ecgredd has been possessed by a demon and the demon must be expelled- but he's also visibly unhinged. Plegmund's wife and child have been slain by the conquering elf Heardred and he has been ignoring his students. Saewig's wife has been captured during a goblin raid and despite promises by Ecgredd, no actions have been taken and no divinations read.

They decide that goblin-slaying could be a fun pastime and besides, even if they don't find her, those goblins are a problem anyways so they'll be taking care of two obstacles in one go. They ask for directions and set off, leaving their cart full of loot with Tehlmar, who's been catching up with old friends and making new ones.

It's only a couple of days of travel before they leave the heart of the Grey Forest and enter rough, broken hills where Red spies a solid tent circled by four wooden towers. They're crewed by goblins! So they party begins their preparations. Using the cover of night, they wait until dawn, where they then charge into the middle of the camp and begin destroying everything that moves and a couple of things that don't. It's a mixed fight for them; on one hand, there are six or so goblin spearmen with chainmail, shields, and throwing spears. They're tough as nails and work together in phalanxes and wedges to give each other partial cover. Even though they don't do huge amounts of damage (and Luke has a high Defense anyways) they do manage to do a bit of damage to him and either negate or avoid most of the damage that he deals out.

On the other hand, despite being in tall towers, the crossbowmen are mostly ineffective. Their crossbows take a couple of turns to reload and only do 1d4 damage. They negate 5 points of armor and have bleeding, but 1-4 damage every two to three turns isn't enough. In the future they'll either be more formidable in melee combat or have secondary weapons available, relegating crossbows to armor-piercing duty only. I'm thinking black powder bombs, or perhaps slings. Or maybe both, so they can toss the bombs with the slings and when those run out, they still have plenty of stones to hurl.

There was a goblin mage-commander but he didn't get to do much, since the thief jetted over to him as soon as they realized he was casting spells. He got out a single fire elemental before being punched into a bloody pulp, and then the fire elemental was killed the next round by Vince, who mangled it with a sword and took a miniscule 1 fire damage. Next time I'll have the mage either somewhere hidden or behind a larger mass of opponents. It's difficult to prevent movement in this game, or to prevent actions. On one hand that's neat because it means you can cast fireballs at people's faces, but on the other hand it means that to prevent somebody from moving you have to either form a mesh or try and hope nobody notices you. Taunting works as well, since they either attack the taunter or grant them a small bonus to attack, but it's often not enough for anybody to care. 

Either way, they killed all the goblins (and chopped one tower's supports with a bastard sword) and looted everything in the hut (which ended up being a decent haul in and of itself) only to discover a doorway leading into the hill! What strange and frightening mysteries lurk behind this door? Will they find the elf captive or more tenacious goblins? We'll find out together on Sunday!

04 November 2014

Novel Writing!

You've probably noticed, but November is National Novel Writing Month and I'm throwing in my hat!



Anybody who's more than skimmed this silly blog for more than five minutes has probably thought to themselves "Damn this dude carries on about stuff," and when some of my friends said that they were doing it, I figured maybe it'd be good to get most of my writing all in one convenient place! It's only 50k words over a month, which means it's as little as 1,600 words a day. That's next to nothing!

So check me out here, add me as a writing buddy, read my novel as it happens, suggest titles, insult my grammar, anything you like! Anything's better than nothing, after all, and nothing warms one's heart like knowing that an internet person cares about what you're doing.

02 November 2014

5e Report, Two Games In


I've been playing in an open-table 5e game for the past month or so. Has it been that long? It feels like we just started. It's mostly the same people as my regular Dungeon-World-Turned-FantasyCraft group, with a couple of friends added from the GM, who is one of my players.

It's been fun, in its own strangely familiar way. I like it. But you know, I'm not sure if I love it.

Part of it might be the way that the system is strangely "flat." There are a small handful of moves you can perform in combat, like Ready and Dash and Dodge, but that's really it. It's back to move and attack in combat, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. You can get a lot of mileage out of just move and attack, as the continued popularity of old-school systems shows. The thing is, the combat wasn't the focus of the show. It's just another simplistic mechanic in a simple system designed to get players interacting with the world through the medium of the rules, and it serves its purpose so well that it's still getting re-purposed decades later.

And here it is again! The thing is, it doesn't feel like the right lessons have been learned here. The designers looked at 4th edition and said "nobody likes being on a modifier treadmill," and they took it out. They looked at 3rd edition and said "every character should be able to contribute at every level," and "every class should have interesting tweaks," and they changed things up to that end. And I appreciate that. But combat is still a drag; it's still half a dozen rounds of "I attack the orc with my sword" and no amount of action surges or infinite-use cantrips really solves the inherent contradiction of the system: they've tried to stretch out the very simple and clear mechanic by adding complications. While intended to create additional depth by providing options, it sometimes feels like padding and a band-aid on the wrong system.

What I'm trying to say is that combat takes up an inordinate amount of space and class features and it doesn't benefit the game. Damage still doesn't matter until you're out of health, and status effects are simple "save or suck for a while" effects that are almost entirely doled out by special abilities. Tripping, stunning, bleeding, tiring, blinding, and knockdowns just aren't effects that you have access to unless your class allows it, and that means that the vast majority of damage is just whittling down the creature's hit points until you reduce that last hit point and they finally fall over.

That said, there are parts of the game I still do like. The classes are distinct and have abilities that are fun in play and create interesting design space in the game. The backgrounds set some cool non-combat abilities and ground your character in the game world (unless you've chosen the Outlander, in which case your choosing not to be part of the game world is your place in the game world, another nice touch). Your skills, attacks, and saving throws all use the exact same proficiency bonus, which is a great step since it makes math much easier. You either have a skill or you do not, and all saves are just tests against your ability score, which is just beautiful design.

I'm very impressed with the way the non-combat systems work together,  and I wish that the combat had been designed with the same elegance as the rest of the system. It's almost certain the that the designers would rather add more classes and feats and continue over-engineering a core mechanic that just plain doesn't need it.

The campaign itself is pretty fun; we've managed to kill some monsters and help people out, and I've been getting almost too much mileage out of Minor Illusion and been enjoying Magic Missile. But the best parts of the game are the parts that aren't in combat, and that's just a shame in a game where the main method of experience gain is killing monsters and the main point of experience is gaining further combat power.

Maybe the game changes substantially at higher levels; we'll have to see. Wish me luck!








01 November 2014

Blog Trimming


I got rid of 30 or so blogs. Mostly they were dead blogs that hadn't updated even once in half a year, but one or two managed to veer from what I like to read about to what I don't like to read about. What's left are 60 of the finest roleplaying related blogs that I care to read and also pimp on my website.

It feels nice. It feels like spring cleaning, in winter. I feel good.

If you notice that I've removed your blog by mistake, because you're writing about roleplaying games and you have good opinions, it was probably a mistake, so tell me so I can read up your opinions again!

If you notice that I'm missing one of your favorite blogs, let me know because I want to read the good stuff too! Don't hog it all for yourself, there's plenty for both of us!

FantasyCraft Encounters: Pygmy Raiders


Pygmies are interesting in our world- nobody's quite sure why they are so short. Some theories point to a lack of food, some point to a lack of ultraviolet light stunting growth for generations, or to rapid reproduction in a dangerous area, or to minimal calcium in the soil. Whatever the result, pygmies are short and live a harsh life.

In FantasyCraft, though, I wanted to go another route. I wanted to put Pech into the game in a way that they aren't usually featured, in the style that's as far from the "placid peaceful pseudo-Hobbits" that they get stuck into. They had to be bloodthirsty, mean, and crazy, which means island tribesmen. And so we have the Pech pygmies. They're not especially dangerous, since they're small and unorganized, but there are quite a few of them and they keep their skills sharp in raids against each other, hunting for heads and Pech meat.

Outside of combat, they can be found loafing about, fishing, cooking or smoking meats, making small crafts, or playing music. They are cannibals but they're not insane or savage. They're not especially used to visitors, and they're not especially friendly. They are mostly afraid of outsiders and Pech they don't recognize, since they're used to warring and raids, and most Pech pygmies will either have a small knife they carry on their belts, a bow near them, or both.

When fighting, they will flee to a good distance and launch arrows. They are generally disorganized but will attempt to work together, firing at targets closest to their allies and retreating if they must. They are not cowards, and will fight with their sharp knives if they must. Some Pech have been known to go into a bloodthirsty rage, abandon their bows, and fight with tooth and nail and dagger in a frenzied flurry of bone and blood.

Pygmy Warrior (Small Folk Walker — 20 XP): Str 10, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 10, Cha 10; SZ S (1×1, Reach 1); Spd 30 ft. ground; Init II; Atk III; Def III; Resilience III; Health III; Comp III; Qualities: cagey I, meek.
Attacks/Weapons: Short Bow (1d6 lethal, bleed, poison), Dagger (1d6 lethal, bleed, 19-20 threat)
Gear: Bow, Dagger, Loincloth
Treasure: 1L, 1T
Just copy and paste that into the Web NPC Builder (here) and set the Threat Level to whatever is appropriate for your party.

Since there are so few of them, there are usually two to three times as many Pech as players in a "balanced" encounter. This means that there are two or three 1d6 bleeding arrows aimed at a player each and every round. This can get monotonous after a round or two, so it's an excellent idea to spice it up a bit with unusual pygmies or some non-pygmy combatant. They could have a pet, like a tiger or hyena or dinosaur that leaps into combat while the pygmies stand back and launch volleys of arrows. There could be a strong pygmy, or a mutant that's absurdly strong and very tough. There could be a shaman or wizard that casts spells and provides utility beneits, or an elderly leader-type that provides buffing benefits to his warriors with his commanding presence. A giant monster could arrive in the middle of the fight that's hostile to both sides, leading to either an interesting three-part battle, or showing the pygmies and the players that the real enemy is the island itself! Consider each part of the encounter in terms of how the pygmies would expect to win and make that your battle plan. If there's no way the pygmies could make it work, have them retreat and live to fight another day. Their culture has no use for "honorable" combat if it means standing and dying.

Additionally, pygmies are good hunters, so have them ambush the players while they tromp through the wilderness and while they're on their back foot. They might strike at dusk, when  players are setting up camp and getting ready to set up watches, and then retreat after inflicting a couple of wounds. They could even return at dawn with a larger force, ready for combat (and eating!) when the players are still just trying to recover some vitality. Think skirmishing, annoying, constant harassing once they've gotten on the pygmy's bad sides.






15 October 2014

Visiting Family

Last Sunday two out of five players were missing, so we just had a lot of town roleplaying. They made it off the island with the help of an irritated Xildxen, and arrived in the Sevedorian city of Plaack. Pretty basic stuff; they got to go to a rowdy inn full of drunks and pirate-types, they got to visit some odd shops here and there, and visit the market, and get used to the place, and have a decent time. It wasn't half bad. I'm still perilously slow at making up names, but I try and have a name generator or two open at all times so it's not terrible. Making characters is getting easier, and I've been working on converting some of my more workable ideas into concrete "modules," as well as converting my jungle island play notes into something that another person could use.

It's always strange intentionally making things for other people to use. It feels arrogant, like "what I make and play is so good you'll want to read it to play games like me." Of course it's more of a "this is what I thought of, please scavenge any good bits" but I wonder if I'm able to get that across in my writing...

Today I'm going to be playing in an open table 5e game, which should be exciting. I'm playing Erneminax Vlahakis, the Human Wizard. Character creation in 5e is alright; the packages and quick-buy make it pretty easy, and the fact that at low level you don't have many feats or class features or anything means that you have the simplicity of older editions at your fingertips, but the (optional) feat system plus the optional "roll for starting gold" means that you can get down and dirty with your gear and build if you so choose. The other neat bit is that in-combat character damage and utility are about the same across the board, so there's no character optimizing nonsense that newer editions seemed to enjoy. I haven't done the math but I've read that the difference between a relatively regular stock character (say, a human fighter) and an optimized multiclass mishmash is about 10%, damage-wise. It's like they've actually put effort into learning from past mistakes!


The whole game feels like they've learned a lot from past mistakes; advantage and proficiency bonuses replace the byzantine labyrinth of situational modifiers and the treadmill of DCs and skill ranks, which is excellent. Weapons are either martial or simple, signifying whether your character has any training in arms or not. The economy still runs on gold, for some reason, and doesn't quite make internal sense, but it doesn't feel as outwardly silly as 3.PF/4e tables, and magic items are in the DMG and presumably not considered part of a character's build anymore, which is wonderful. Each class has its own tricks and utility, although it seems like some classes get much more utility than others without giving up much in the way of effectiveness. Maybe it's just me reading too far into it, but it feels like Clerics and Wizards get a lot of "toolboxiness" while still having good combat potential. I hope I'm wrong, because other than that the system is really well designed. Blows 3e/PF/4e out of the water in any measurable way, that's for sure. Very excited to play here in a couple of hours.

After I get some real experience I might even write my opinion on the system here! The horror!

23 September 2014

Last Week Didn't Happen


Happy Fall Equinox, my fellow Northern Hemisphereans!



Last Sunday would have been the climax of the Ship Rekt arc in my FantasyCraft game, where the mystery of Xildxen and the Jade Idol would have been revealed. But instead, I didn't go to my own game. Instead, I spent time with my wife, her best friend, and her best friend's 7 year old kid. It was pretty cool, actually. We drank a lot of beer and played a lot of video games and talked about a lot of nonsense. The kid didn't drink any beer, of course, but kids don't need to drink beer to stay up past midnight and play video games for hours, do they?

We got to see Maze Runner this Sunday; I won't post any spoilers, but the movie was good. Very Lord of the Flies, except less dystopia and more of a smallish utopia. A strong and personable leader holds a disparate group of young adults in check, creating rules to survive in the strange shifting maze they find themselves in. In The Glade there is safety and peace; outside, is a shifting maze with hideous howling monsters that kill anybody that's caught outside the maze's confines after nightfall. The ending is weak, in that it's a confusing jumble of twists upon twists and the movie ends on a cliffhanger obviously designed to get us all to watch the next one. It works, but it's irritating. I'd still recommend it.

With a couple of tweaks, it could be an entertaining dungeon, or a neat setting for a series of adventures. For typical fantasy adventuring party, I'd probably de-emphasize the Grove and instead make it a very spartan safe-room, but keep the "be back by nightfall or else" aspect, giving each day's delve a bit of urgency. The monsters can be somewhat meek by day, but take on a surprisingly sinister aspect by night. Goblins or orc-type monsters could be neat, since the bright light would keep them off their toes but by night they're out in force hunting and fighting at their full strength. If they're bolstered by some sort of shade or night-hag, even better! Keeping some sort of loud extra-dangerous wandering monster could be fun, too, and including a ceiling (so players can't climb, as they are wont to do when able) could be a good idea if you're concerned that the might attempt to make camp at the top and scurry around the relatively safe top instead of the confusing bottom. But it all depends on the angle you want to take with it, really.

Hopefully next week we get to play again- I have some cool stuff planned for the next session or two, and I hope that my players like going through it as much as I've enjoyed plotting!

15 September 2014

The Campaign Proceeds Apace


So my players' characters have stormed a pygmy village and slew everything that moved, in the pursuit of a Jade Idol that a strange and spacy masked tower-hermit asked them to retrieve for them. They did this without attempting to bargain, converse, or make a deal, which surprised me; to their credit they did attempt to infiltrate the pygmy's huts to see where the coveted Jade Idol was. Of course as soon as the burglar was discovered, he decided to punch the poor pygmy to death with his fist, thus escalating the situation directly to "ultra-violence." Oh, well. Sometimes you have peace, and sometimes you don't.

I was prepared for their advance into insanity (and had been expecting it, honestly- they aren't a very peaceful group and this was nothing new), so most of the session revolved around them battering the pygmies to death along with the shaman (their leader) and his various summoned friends. They got banged up but nobody died, although it got close a couple of times. The pygmy swarms weren't particularly dangerous and one of the players used his action dice to narratively decide that the black storm clouds they'd seen before were coming in right now, and so in a couple of turns the island was dim and everybody got a defense bonus. This obviously helps the players more than the rabble, but I think that's an appropriate way to use action dice and also it was really cool imagining this scene. It was fun stuff.

They've returned to the tower of Xildxen and are standing before the door to his sanctum, on the top level of the tower. I have some fun surprises planned and I wouldn't dare spoil any of them.


12 September 2014

The Arcanist's Conundrum (Comic)


This is entirely too silly a concept for me, but I like the idea.

It's a strictly modern conceit that magic is some sort of an "other" force in the world. It used to be that learned men would gather in universities to study alchemy, gnostic lore, astrology, and other parts of the natural sciences. They saw nothing "occult" about using the position of the stars to learn about the world they inhabited, and if they saw fit to summon a spirit or two it was nothing unusual. It was the same kind of knowledge, preserved and transmitted and respected the same way a man might be famous for his healing abilities, or for his historical knowledge. If you look at long-preserved histories, you can see that even the brilliant Isaac Newton took time off from developing calculus to study alchemy. It was not strange or unusual; it was a perfectly natural thing for an inquiring mind to study and learn about.

So, as silly as the comic is, and as great as the joke is, there's an element of truth in there somewhere. There very likely were quite a few heroes out there who believed that their success in combat was due to their inherent magics, who might have believed that their sword must have been enchanted to cut through a man's head and not even suffer a nick, and who was blessed by the gods themselves to never be defeated.

It's fun stuff.

09 September 2014

The Good Lich's Story




No matter how little skin you have, your cats will always love you.

~~
I like the idea of a good lich- some sort of everyman necromancer who, instead of trying to summon armies of death and slaying people mercilessly, is just kind of curious. Like a mortician. He's interested in the effects of undeath, and its practical applications, and its abstract implications for the world he lives in. He can cast a ray of death, sure, but he mostly uses it to zap insects, which he then studies and dissects and sometimes tries to bring back to life using his magic. He's frustrated at the limitations of his craft; even the freshly dead return as mere shells of their former selves, and what use is a mindless husk?

One day he's reading through some particularly ancient scrolls while visiting the Royal Library. He can tell they've been ignored- they're gathering dust. He blows off the dust and reads through them. What at first seemed like half-mad scribbles of dubious value quickly reveal themselves as strange and unproven magical theories. Theories that he can solve...

It took him a decade, but he's finally ready. Through numerous small magical experiments, it's obvious that this is the right way. The way to true immortality; to real, eternal undeath. The phylactery is ready, the magic circles are drawn on the floor of his study, and the formulas are balanced. The potions stand nearby, and the ritual dagger is drawn. The arcane words are intoned, exactly so; the potions are briskly quaffed one after the other; the dagger is raised above his head and plunged into his chest.

He wakes up, still in the circle, still clad in only the light undergarments he performed the ritual in. He takes a deep breath, then realizes with faint alarm that his heart's stopped. He looks down at himself and sees that his flesh is gone, and only his pale bones remain. They are completely under his control. His head is clear for the first time in ages, and maybe the first time in his existence. His thoughts seem to ring around in the cool stillness of his mind.

It's time to feed the cats, he thinks. And then it's time to study. Forever.

~~
I think I might make The Nice Lich a character in Fantasy Craft. At first they'll be all "oh shit a skellington" but he'll be like "Wait, hold on, you've got the wrong idea!"

And they'll be like "Who taught skellingtons to talk?" and he'll answer them, "I'm not a skeleton, I'm a lich!" and then he'll say something polite, like he'll invite them to sit down and have a chat, or maybe he'll offer to let them stay at his house because he wants to hear their adventuring tales, or maybe he's got a problem that they can help him with ("Do you think you could settle my affairs with the merchant down the street, he insists on seeing me but he's superstitious and there's no way I could meet him like this, he'd never understand"), or maybe he doesn't particularly need anything and it's just kind of part of the world?

One of the players' characters has an interest in old books anyways and he'd probably want to see what the bony dude's got so he can leaf through them. That'd be pretty neat.

08 September 2014

FC Junglin'



Currently in Fantasy Craft, the setting is a cannibal-pygmy infested jungle, complete with thick vegetation, angry wildlife, and... a wizard? Best not to ask about that last one (my players didn't), and best not to consider why it is that he's seeking a jade idol...

Is it scholarly curiosity, a stolen possession with a long story, or blatant theft? Hopefully they'll find out when they steal is from the pygmy village (violence optional), and all will be revealed!

Turns out that for my end, though, a jungle isn't as exciting as I'd hoped. There don't seem to be rules for getting lost and I can never remember how often wandering monsters "should" be happening or even what monsters to use. I was going to make myself a chart but I am apparently too stupid to remember to do that before the actual game is supposed to be starting. Maybe I'll do that now...

WANDERING MONSTER CHART
Roll 1d6 every six hours: 1-2 means it's encounter time. Roll 2d6 and consult the chart:
2: TYRANNOSAUR (1 + 1d6-3 babies)
3: PTERODACTYL SWARM (1d6+2)
4-5: VELOCIRAPTOR SWARM (2d6)
6-9: PYGMY HUNTING PARTY (2d8+2)
9-10: PYGMY RAIDERS (1d8+2)
11: THE PLAYERS STUMBLE ONTO A SUBTERRANEAN DUNGEON OR CAVE
12: SOME SORT OF ANCIENT HORROR- MAKE IT UP

If you're playing Fantasy Craft, you might have to invent their stat-block, but that's fine. Use the online character generator and try to remember the rule of 40.* I'll stop being lazy and post my own here maybe tomorrow. Or maybe not. I was working on a "dial-a-dino" system where you just roll like 6d6 and smash the results together to get some kind of weird-ass dinosaur that seems plausible enough, but it's not done yet. Maybe when it's done...

Anyways, I'm thinking that Kievan Russia might be the next setting. That, or maybe a Turkish sort of setting. There's a big world out there and having the players start on an island means that they can go to pretty much any neato setting I feel like writing. It's good to be the DM!



*Every 40 experience worth of enemies marks a significant increase in challenge. Remember that enemies are supposed to be encountered in "bands," one per player. So four kobold warriors against a group of 4 players is pretty easy. Eight makes it pretty tough, and 12 is dangerous, for example. If you keep how dangerous you want your monsters to be in mind, it's pretty easy to get the right balance of danger, number, and interesting features down.


05 September 2014

Moving to FantasyCraft

I've started playing FantasyCraft. If you haven't heard of it, it's pretty simple: imagine that instead of going in a strange new direction with 4th edition, they took the diseased and horrible corpse of 3rd edition and rifled through its pockets for a good system. Imagine they looked at what they did wrong, and actually thought about ways to make it work the way they pretended it did. Imagine they thought of ways to make it less complex and give more character options, and separated your character's niche from what they do in combat. Imagine feats were good. Pretty neat, right? That's FantasyCraft.

It's not a perfect system by any means- character creation takes a long time, and you can get stuck with analysis paralysis if you're not careful. NPCs can be a little detailed if you want to use the full weight of the system, and the rulebook's organizational choices leave a little to be desired.

But once you learn it, what a system it is! I've never seen a crunchy system that actually enhances the fluff before. I think a large part of it is that it's easy to be broadly good at the sort of things your character ought to be good at, and since the classes and feats work together to flesh out a concept, you're free to do anything you'd like. A Burglar can pick up unarmed combat feats and be a ninja, or take Chance feats and be a Bilbo Baggins "lucky number" or style feats and be a King of Thieves. And so on. Armor isn't essential for character survival anymore, and wizards can wear it if they want. Personal Lieutenant, Followers, and berserker rage are feats that can be taken by anybody. It's seriously cool.

So I've been pretty excited about that.

I can't remember if I've said anything yet, but Dungeon World is on hiatus for the moment- it's a pretty good system and it's a lot of fun to run things and to make things up, and it's awesome that high level characters are about as powerful as lower leveled ones, but characters level up fairly quickly and start doing a lot of damage and being very resilient, so the fluff doesn't quite meet the crunch after a while. I get that you're just supposed to say "no" when characters are trying to things that are impossible, but after a while it's either "no, you can't do that" or "you guys deal 300 total damage per round." It's not fun to stop characters from doing things they're good at, you know?

So we dropped it for now. No plan on checking out V. Baker's own fantasy-styled Apocalypse World; it seems neat enough from what I've read but it's not at all the sort of fantasy that I'm interested in exploring. Sorry guy!

Anyways, I'll write up a summary of what happened last Sunday tomorrow, maybe; this post is long enough as it is.


03 August 2014

New Campaign


In my drunken boredom last night, I reached out to my roleplaying buddies for something to do. We ended up playing "Pretend you're Xyzzy," which is a Cards Against Humanity* clone, and "Board Game Online," which despite its name really isn't much of a board game. Kind of a postmodern joke masquerading as an actual game. Which is fine, I guess.** The conversation was the really interesting part,

We also decided that we'd like to play a more serious, long-term campaign with a system that's more appropriate for long-term gaming. Which is neat. Running two games at once is almost hilariously easy when you get to choose the system, and everybody knows that light is king.

Except when you're trying to get a long-term campaign done, of course.

So I'll be looking at a system that has slower built-in advancement than Dungeon World, as much as I like the core system. The thing about Dungeon World is that you level up every two or three sessions (between failing rolls, which everybody does a lot of, and the "bonus" end of round experience), and getting new toys. The other big thing about Dungeon World is that your characters soon start to get very good at quite a few things (or very good at just a couple), so the game is really better suited for a focused "go here and do this" sort of campaign instead of a more meandering "choose your own path and explore the world" sort of game.

Of course, I know that now. Next time I run Dungeon World I'll run it with a pre-set goal that everybody agrees on- something like "We're mercenaries fighting for King Harlaus against the filthy Khergits," or "we're plunging into this dungeon to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor." And then when the heroes have completed their goal, the game is over. Finis.\

I'm thinking we should try running Swords and Wizardry or maybe Openquest. Something with a strong traditional background without being rigid, and something that supports a couple of months of gameplay and a relatively open-ended style without promoting mindless grinding and faffing about. It's a delicate balance. I hope I can make it work. 

*I don't actually like Cards Against Humanity much, since it's barely a game, and the online version had a lot of pointedly unfunny white cards on them. But I like the group that I was playing with, and sometimes that's enough.

**Boardgame Online is a decent way to pass time if you're drunk, but given that it's just a roll-and-move with some surface dressing on it, it's really not that great.

21 July 2014

Mobile Games

Ever since I got a smartphone that's actually smart I've been poking around the Google Play store looking for games that aren't completely awful.

It will come as a surprise to literally nobody reading this that a good 75% of the "free" games are money-grabbing, gameplay-free varieties of games that the rest of the world has been playing online for for free for the last decade now.

For example: Clash of Clans. It's literally the same timer-based city builder that people have been playing on and off in their lunch break since at least 2000. Except this one's on your smartphone, see, so even people who don't really "play games" are able to putz with it while they're on the john.

   
Just the first image I googled, but I assume that this is it

It's not like I hate Clash of Clans or non-gamers playing games or anything, it just makes poking through the G Play store a huge pain in the ass. The top games are universally shallower versions of games that were never that good to begin with.

But that doesn't mean there aren't some gems.

I'm thinking about doing a first-impressions styled review of some mobile games that initially don't seem terrible, like a Rock-Paper-Shotgun style "Wot I Think" except it'll just be free games that I downloaded on a whim because I'm in the mood for a card game. Or whatever.

Yeah, that could be fun.





19 July 2014

BAD HABITS

I have a really bad habit of just winging it when I play games.

I like to write down ten or so things that I think are interesting, and then I create the skeletons of some creatures, a list of interesting magical items (sans effects- I'll make those up later) and then some situations that the players can get it, and then I run a game.

So far, nobody seems to notice that my preparation could be mistaken for brainstorming. It's a mystery to me how people can spend twenty hours preparing material for a campaign. It's like, you don't even know what's going to happen next session. Why bother preparing campaign material for a goal you might never get to for a party that might not give two shits for a game that might not last past the week?

Of course, worldbuilding is its own pleasant exercise. But any future or former GM does that in their spare time. "What if the Etruscans sacked Rome," a person might ask, "what would such a world look like?"

Questions upon questions. 

10 July 2014

New Module?


I kind of feel like trying to coalesce these stupid thoughts of mine into a concrete Adventure Module for other people to read through and critique, but it's so nerve-wracking, you know? It's like, what if these ideas are stupid and cliche and nobody actually wants to read them? What if this is a big waste of time and nobody will notice?

The hardest thing, I've found, about putting yourself out there isn't that nobody will notice, or that nobody will like you, or that everybody will hate you. It's that somebody will like you.




Anyways, though, I've been doing a lot of thinking and writing about my Dungeon World campaign, and there are a lot of things that just don't fit into the game world the way that it's been unfolding. You know how Dungeon World works- it's one part What I Think and four parts What Each Player Thinks and while that means that the resulting concoction is tasty, beautiful, and unique, it also means that otherwise great ideas can get discarded.

Someday soon I'll decide which of them get put in the Unsuitable- Do Not Force pile and then explode them here, or in a separate PDF, and then try and condense them into the gem of an idea that somebody else can use. That's always fun. It's been a very long time since the last module I attempted. Been in a bit of a funk, you know.

Wish me luck!

02 July 2014

Tweakin' Dungeons


I was supposed to be planning out what I'm going to do with this dungeon, but instead I've been practicing French on my cell phone and playing video games.

Like a lot of things in life, it's hard to stop part-way through and change direction. It feels like the momentum of what's already happened gets in the way, and what are you supposed to do about that? It pushes you forwards, even if it's maybe not the best way, or the way you'd envisioned things. It's hard to decide to be better!


Anyways.

The dungeon that my players are going through in Dungeon World has a lot of things going on in it, and, looking back, it doesn't feel like they know what's going on behind the scenes. It's time to make things more explicit, and figure out a way to retroactively make the denizens and layout of the dungeon make sense.


The big thing that I'd been doing is keeping the game light and simple, at least for a little while. It takes time to get used to the game, on both ends, and the upper levels of a dungeon are almost always less dangerous than lower levels, since it can't be assumed that the players are the only intelligent beings wandering around their strange, ill-lit halls. Planning out the dungeons a little more stringently and making a real wandering monsters table for the floor might make things "click" a little better, and also reduce the amount of time that I'm trying to figure out where in the strangely laid-out website the monster I'm thinking of goes.

Fun stuff, right?

All of this thinking makes my brain hurt. Maybe it's time to go back to playing video games...




30 June 2014

Low to High Fantasy: Goddamn This is Hard




Running megadungeons is hard.

My usual campaign is generally a low fantasy affair- think Game of Thrones, Elric of Melnibone, Warhammer Fantasy, and Norse mythology smooshed into a single world. It's a world of strife and mystery, see, a world where lowly peasants fight off bands of trolls while the lords plot and scheme in their castles. Where stone-faced priests root out demon cults, and where shades of black and white play out. It's a game of unearthed mysteries, of herculean and futile struggles, and of half-glimpsed horrors in the night. 

I'm doing the exact opposite of that this game.

In the Megadungeon, where Black is the deepest Black and White is a beam of light cutting through the night. Hideous and hateful monsters bellow challenges and when the heroes win, the world rejoices with them. They tell stories at inns, and people gather to cheer them on and wish well. The monsters, once defeated, band together in darker corners, cowed, and the shining heroes go forth once again. The ugly monsters are naturally horrible and easily manipulated by a greater evil, which is why they need to killed. There's no rehabilitation, because their minds are too corrupted by shadow. So go in there and clean the place up! We're in danger here!

It's a massive transition, and I'm not sure that I'm doing it right. It's second nature to have corrupted villains and shadowy plots to work with an enemy of an enemy but you know what? I'm trying to listen to some power metal to get my brain in the right place, and I'm going to try and read some Good vs Evil high fantasy stories to do better. One of my players said he'd like to be able to kill monsters and loot things without feeling bad about it. I can do better than that. I want the party to say "Fuck yeah, we stopped the Goblin Horde from burning Rakelia to the ground!"

But first I need more. If anybody has any suggestions of really good high fantasy novels, or power metal (or any similarly upbeat music) they want to throw my way, please do so. I need inspiration to make this game larger than life.


22 June 2014

Dominions 4

I've been playing and plotting about Dominions 4 instead of spending more time with roleplaying games or being part of some sort of nebulous roleplaying community. I feel no regrets- Dominions 4 is a massive, beautiful game with insane complexity and depth. If it's possible to get to the very bottom of the strategic options in this game I'd be surprised, considering that it takes multiple games against other players to begin to understand the basics of the game, and there probably isn't a person alive who could conceivably be considered a master.

That's really all I have to say, for now.

I've been working on a very, very basic analytical guide to one of the nations- Middle Ages T'ien Chi, a nation based strongly off of feudal China and with some very interesting and fun mechanics. I made it for myself for a seemingly stalled multiplayer game I'd been playing among friends, but we'll see where it ends up.

Hopefully we can finish. I don't think I'll win, but I'm very interested in seeing how it goes.

10 June 2014

LEVEL BONE

 

 

TRIGGER WARNING: SPOOKY SKELETONS



RATING: THREE SKULLS OUT OF FIVE


Last Sunday I got to actually play Dungeon World again and even though we only played with three players (and one of them was text-only), it was still a blast. Running Dungeon World is like leaning your head back into a cold waterfall; refreshing, bracing, and very, very messy.

As usual, we only got through one level. I'll double back and do the other levels later- this one was codenamed Level Fortress originally, but I decided to play off an offhand suggestion by one of my players:

He was goofing around in Roll20 with a box he'd made (you can doodle on the virtual whiteboard) and kind of stuck it next to one of his characters. I asked him what he was doing, and he said "I was bored at the end of the last session so I drew a box and was messing with it." *

"So what's in the box, then," I ask him. This is one of my favorite ways to play with other people- turn the question back on them! Let them create! Sometimes their idea is boring or uninteresting (sorry guys) but most of them time it'll at least be something you didn't think of, and will help you understand how they're viewing the imaginary world you're sharing.

He says it's a skull, and I say "that's absolutely true and oh shit you dropped it, it's falling down the stairs!" I'm not sure what compelled him to want to chase the skull down the stairs (maybe he just wanted to hang on to the skull- in Dungeon World, since your damage mostly depends on your class instead of your gear, it'd let him at least fling it at somebody if he wanted to, or maybe he thought it'd be a nice keepsake) or maybe he's saving it for a monologue?





Anyways, so he's chasing a rolling skull down the dungeon stairs, and now it's "getting away." I watched Spirited Away yesterday and, if you've never seen it, there are these weird green rolling heads that the bath-house witch keeps around and so in it went. The skull really is getting away, guys, it's going down the passage and you'll never catch it if you don't hurry up!

In that room was a box with some snakes, which they played with briefly, and then continued on. I can't remember what, if anything, inspired the idea of the Musical Skeleton Amigos ** but their first enemy encounter on that particular level was three spooky scary musical skeletons. One had a rattling maracas skull, one was playing its chest like a xylophone, and the last one was playing its head like a drum. They enjoyed that, although the skeletons didn't last very long. The paladin almost got his face eaten off (skeleton makeout session) and they got pretty banged up in general. Their armor took most of the suffering, I think, and they headed off after their skully friend without too much fuss.

The bard of the party decided to Spout Lore on the rolling skull- since he succeeded at his roll, he decided that he'd heard some sort of tale about this rolling skull. I decided his name was Roland (get it? Rollan'? Hyuk) and it was the head of a greedy adventurer who turned to evil. He always rolled towards treasure*** and that's pretty much the sum of him. They rolled him as he rolled his way into a room with a pile of burnin' bones. Between the arcane duelist and the bard, they managed to figure out that the fire was both magical and fake, although they spent a while figuring out if it would burn them. And what exactly the nature of the falseness was. Was it not actually magical fire? Was it "fake" magical fire? Was it fake "magical" fire? Spent the better part of ten or fifteen minutes puzzling over that one, to the point where even I was confused. They stuck their hand in and it was fine- and the skull came rolling out with an enormous purple gem!

They tried to corner it, but the skull kept on a-movin', and their efforts were in vain. Heedless of the dangers, they sprinted on- directly into the clutches of skeleton mage and his cronies! Behind them were even more skeletons, too! A pitched battle ensued, where they played skeleton ping-pong, hid behind each other, used the power of rock to clear away a necromantic fog, and spun like ballerinas into their foes. They ended up the victors and we had to cut it short because one of our players is a good five hours ahead of the rest of us and had obligations. Which is fine! We cut it short at a good resting spot and called it a day.

I think most of them leveled up (of those that were there) and I'll probably be talking to the ones that didn't show up and making sure that the time is good for them. It was a great session! Here's hoping the next one is at least as entertaining.



* Which felt bad, at first, but I'm hoping it wasn't my fault; I like to drink and DM and sometimes I get carried away by the end of the session. Or maybe it was just boring the whole way through? Maybe he was just goofing off while we were winding down?

** I just realized I missed an opportunity to give them sombreros and really play it up. Damn it.

*** Sometimes it's fun to confirm a hunch of your players, especially when you didn't actually plan it that way. If you keep your plans very loose, it's easier to change them to better fit the current mood and style of your players. In this case, I'm pretty sure that one of the players literally said "Well what if it leads to treasure," and that's a great damn idea. Treasure-seeking animated skull!


01 May 2014

Megadungeon World

I told my newest Dungeon World group last session that I'd be willing to run a megadungeon with creatures they wouldn't feel bad for killing, almost in those exact words. I regret nothing, but it is a pretty big departure. Megadungeons are hard!

But here's what I've been thinking.

There needs to be a town nearby, because a dungeon is a source of income like a new gold or silver mine, and people will build shelters and houses to be near the boom. In this case, there's already a town nearby;  a bit of tweaking with the results of a random fantasy name generator gives me Rakelia. The name sounds Roman, so I've decided that it belongs to a not-quite Roman Republic. Romans generally built forts and then settled with soldiers, so I can decide that there's a stone keep that has older buildings inside, occupied mostly by citizens, and that outside the walls are the non-citizens; slaves, adventurers, and services. 

The dungeon itself is (was?) underground, and was opened up by a fissure. I've decided that it's plate tectonics, which means that it looks a bit like this:

Imagine that the there were a handful of stone rooms half-opened by that fissure near the bottom

And it has the added bonus of meaning that the dungeon is going to be split along this crack and that there are really two sub-dungeons now that connect and diverge along the split foundations and crumbled walls and ceilings. Going up will be just as much "forwards" as going down, sometimes, and might even be the only way to bypass a particularly formidable barrier. Crossing the center fissure, at the narrower parts where the floors haven't collapsed too much, is possible, and sometimes the party's going to need to leave ropes down and scale to the next level without stairs or ramps.

For the denizens of the dungeon, the ancient and modern come together as spontaneous generation and Gygaxian naturalism come together. Lesser monsters and animals spawn wholesale in the dank dungeon grime, which provides food for the monsters that spawn biologically. Some more dangerous monsters are an open question as to their generation- are goblins profligate breeders or do they simply appear in untravelled and shadowy halls? Do otyughs spawn from underground midden heaps or do they somehow mate, tangled rubbery limbs and all?

I've decided that there are multiple entrances from the surface, as befits a dungeon of this size, but haven't nailed down exactly how many there are. There are are at least two, which I've named the Left Hand Path and the Right Hand Path, and they are both near the town. They require a bit of scaling to reach, and probably require a rope. The Right Hand Path is the one nearer the players, and the Left Hand Path will require the players to find a way around or across the gap.

I'm working on the wandering monster tables, and I haven't started mapping. The plan is that on each level there's a small handful of "set-piece" encounters that are more or less static, and the rest of the dungeon is handled by wandering monsters or random events (depending), the overarching environment (a little different for each level, and tied in with the "theme"), and just plain empty rooms.

A quick example of what I'm talking about off the top of my head:
With glorious orcs, of course






Level Six: High Alert
Environment: The orcs in this level have fortified multiple fall-back positions and the patrols are faster. Roll for wandering monsters twice as often. Orcs that are losing a fight will attempt to retreat to their Stronghold. Denote the escapees and include them in the Stronghold.
Stronghold: An enormously fat Orcish sergeant with a flaming blade is directing his soldiers. The archers are in elevated towers made of wood spiked with crude nails and provide supporting and accurate fire. The soldiers fight in a box formation, with the sergeant in the second row bellowing commands.
Room 1: Orcish ambush, they have set up spiked logs to direct foot traffic into a "kill zone" that will be feathered with their archers and repulsed by spearmen
Room 6: Prisoners, chained to walls. Most are recently dead or dying. All are wearing ragged clothes and bruised/beaten.
Room 15: Midden heap, mostly garbage but sometimes cool things get tossed in, too
Room 18:  Hole in the ceiling leads to Level Five.

Random Events (2d6):
1-2: Dogs barking and snarling in the near distance- it's orc beastmasters and war-dogs!
3-4: The players stumble into a trap; falling rocks, poison darts, covered pit (dumps into next level), leg trap
4-5: Organized patrol discovers the party: 1d6 orc warriors and either a sorcerer or a priest accompanying
etc etc

The random events will probably be in a table, so I'll be able to say how many times they're supposed to happen by marking them with a [] or ( ), so you could print it out and mark it with a pencil if you're playing at home, but my plan is to save it as a .png and doodle on it with paint. If I randomly roll something that's out of "charges," Ican either pretend it happens again anyways, roll again, or give them a break.

The important thing is that each time the players go back in the dungeon, if I write it this way, it's easy to see what will refresh and replace itself, and what won't. It's easy to say that even if the players carve out the heart of the Orcish commander and clear the Stronghold there are still some wandering orcs looking for treasure or food, or that there are some fresh traps that haven't been sprung by anybody yet. This means that even "cleared" levels are still plenty dangerous and more than capable of giving any party a run for their money.

So it should be fun. The plan is to write enough in advance that I know roughly what's going on and what's where to give the players a megadungeon experience inside of Dungeon World, which is going to be tricky. I might write the environment as Dungeon Moves instead (so that the Dungeon might make a move if the players roll a 6 when they're not in combat to simulate wandering monsters, or maybe in a particularly rickety floor there might be a Dungeon Move that goes when the players crash around, roll +Party Size and that'll drop one or two of them into the next level, where they'll have to deal with whatever's one floor below them, or something).

I'll need to draw maps soon; I hate drawing maps.

21 April 2014

I AM ME, I AM MATT


Pictured here is your typical DM in a typical game setting. Note the ceremonial robe he adorns himself with, and notice the intense concentration in the last panel. DMing is hard and I often am drenched in sweat after a typical session. They last anywhere between five and ten hours and are absolutely grueling. Those pictures you see of sweaty "neckbeards" are lies, as they do not actually play. No, they pretend to play for internet cool points. No man of girth can play Dungeons and Dragons; their heart cannot handle the strain of excitement.

I've been working out to get in shape to DM again. My body is still flabby but soon I'll be the model of strength and power that will allow me to perform my dungeonmastery to its highest level. 

All of that was the unvarnished truth. I promise.

20 April 2014

The Sacred Rites of Bastet


Admit it, you giggled.


It's weird that people have this solemn view of religions, especially in the ancient world, where life wasn't so goddamn serious all the time. The gods played tricks on each other, and got drunk, and goofed off. Zeus was notorious in Greek myth for not actually doing his job, spending most of his time avoiding his wife and trying to have affairs, and Enki (the Sumerian god) was the god of crafts, sea and lake water, creation... and mischief. Ninkasi was the Sumerian god of alcohol and "satifying desires. It's hard to imagine that the priests of a god of sex and booze would solemnly march and chant down stone halls the way people imagine priests doing today.

Imagine if modern priests goofed off like that. It'd be a revolution in religion!

07 April 2014

Arcane Legions Component Review

Unpainted Romans and a good view of the plugboard the soldiers go into.  
Disclaimer: None of these pictures are mine- I just got them off the internet.


I bought Arcane Legions for $5. $5 for a new miniatures game sounds about right, even if you can't mix and match your little men with other games, or if they're weirdly specific.

And they are unique- the point of Arcane Legion is that your little men can travel around their formation, becoming faster, better at blocking, or better at attacking depeinding on where in the formation you plug them into. You can see what their abilities are by a little slip of cardboard that you stick on top of plastic base with a thousand little holes. A red die means attack, so if you have a figure there, you get to roll a red die to fight. A white die means defense. Blue dice are ranged attacks. A yellow chevron on a black background means movement. It's pretty neat. As your figures die you have to make choices about what you can afford to lose, and you have to regroup when the situation changes. It also lets you visually see how many men you have, and what their basic capabilities are on the card, so you can pretty much just play with that. You don't need a bit of paper or a "codex" or anything.


There's a turning assistance bit, which slides into the notches on the sides of the bases. Since movement is measured in base lengths and turning is assisted by the little plastic bit, you don't need a tape measure or ruler. I haven't played yet so I don't know if this is a step backwards or forwards, but it is different. It also means that you need a couple of spare bases hanging around so you're able to measure things. I'm not sure why "base lengths" is the core unit of measurement but whatever.



The plastic bases themselves are thick and seem durable. There's a notch in one corner so you can see which way to put the cardboard over top of it. There are a bunch of shallow circular holes on each one. The box comes with two sizes- one that's square, and one that's rectangular.

The cardboard is universally less impressive than the plastic bases. It's flimsy and weak. This includes the box, which has an unpleasant, slick texture. It reminds me of boxes of Chinese knock-off toys. The cardboard "inserts" that go in between the bases and the minis are also flimsy, although not as slick. You can print out your own inserts if you want, but apparently since the company's out of business you'll have to download a third party program.


The miniatures themselves are serviceable. They're on sprues, for some reason, so you'll have to clip them off. The placement of the connecting plastic is really, really strange and is hard to get at with regular cutters you might have around the house. I had to use a utility knife, and it's really a pain. I've had to clip little bits of flashing off of long spears, tiny curved swords, and next to thin, skeletal arms. One of the miniatures has only a single narrow foot connecting its body to the base, and I'm afraid it's going to break off.

The plastic seems softer than Games Workshop plastics, too- it's easy to bend and wiggle the figures. With all of the skinny arms and long spears, you really have to be careful about where you put things and how you handle your men. The pegs, at least, are firm and solid, but it's a pain removing them from the pegboard because of their flimsiness. You can't just grab them by the head or shoulders and yank on them. If you have trimmed nails you're going to have to resort to using some sort of tool to get them off there.
LOOK AT IT. GOOD GOD.


The miniatures themselves are nice enough. They're all unpainted, except for the commanders, who seem to be machine-painted. Unpainted miniatures are fine and I'm not entirely sure why they chose to paint the commanders. It's more irritating that I'll have to strip and re-paint them than it is to have not had them painted. The machine painting is really not good and there's no way I'm leaving them like that. Seriously, look at that picture. All three commanders (one for each faction) are painted to the same level of quality. The coolest is probably the undead Egyptian guy, but I can't find a picture of him online anywhere. He's got a nice hat, a crooked sword with blood on it, and green skin. He's also the best painted of the bunch.

For the non-commanders there are some greek hoplite dudes, some egyptian undead guys, some roman legion type guys, and some chinese soldiers. They're detailed enough- not Games Workshop standard, but better than toy store army men. They're also actual-scale, so no heroic proportions. Faces and hands are tiny, and weapons are thin sticks. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that sort of thing. Since there aren't a million tiny details, it shouldn't take excessively long to paint. You could probably finish a batch in a couple of hours, if you're efficient and you know how you want them to look in advance.

Overall, I'm pleased with what I paid for them. Granted, I only paid $5. I'm not sure how I'd feel if I paid full price. Since the game isn't supported anymore it seems to go on sale often, which is nice. On Amazon it's going for $10, which is a reasonable price for what you get.

Too Long, Didn't Read: Some good, some bad, but at least it's affordable. Pick it up if you're interested in getting into a miniatures game when it's "dead" and the plastics are cheap, and if you have a friend who would play it with you. If you clip off the pluggy bits you could probably repurpose them.

10 March 2014

Arkham Horror, or How I Got Murdered By An Old One




Me and the wife were playing Rayman Legends for a while yesterday. She was playing by herself first while I was playing Sim City, but the game is more fun with another person. So I hopped in and we gathered Lums and saved Teensies. Pretty fun. For a while.

I got tired of the game, but we still wanted to play something together. Why not Arkham Horror, I suggested? It's gathering dust and besides, I'll make you a drink.

She said yes, and away we went.

We played for a solid four or so hours. That's two games in a row. It includes getting wasted, goofing off, and explaining all the rules and how to win. It was a great time.

Our first game we squared off against Ithaqua. She was the researcher (which looks a lot like her, believe it or not) and I decided that plucky salesman Bob Jenkins was my speed. We lucked out and both somehow managed to start with Tommy Guns and off we went, spraying demons with bullets. I explained that we have to close the gates before Ithaqua comes out to see what's crackin'. She asked how we do that.


"You gotta go through 'em and come back!"
"I have to go to The Great Hall of Ceelano?"
"Well I'll be going through that one, but that's the idea."
"Oh, cool."

We forgot that Ithaqua brings icy winds that reduce your stamina when you stand out in the street, but we had a hell of a time anyways. The Elder Sign I used to close the portal in The Woods turned out to be a serious boon; every other Mythos card tried to re-open it. The Witch House ended up being home to a couple of Warlocks almost the entire game. The researcher went unconscious due to some poor rolls against a Dhole. Some good portal closings got us rid of most of the more nightmarish monsters, and good sneak rolls got us the rest of the way.

The streets were drowning in monsters. We were down to our last handfuls of sanity and hoping beyond hope that the seals were enough to keep the doom at bay. We finished the game when Ithaqua was two doom markers away from coming to visit.

Six seals down. That'll do it. We saved the world!

But the night was still young-
so we played again!

This time it was the scientist (me) and the student (her) stopping Yig, with his serpent cultists. I picked out Yig since he had such a small doom track and he got extra doom when you killed a cultist. I figured battling an old one might be a good change of pace from the skittering scurry of avoiding him.

It turns out that we got screwed by luck- an early Mythos draw accelerated the doom track unless we sacrificed an Ally. It was the second turn and we didn't have any Allies. We fling ourselves through portals and do our best, but it wasn't enough. Yig comes.

It smashes half of our items and gives chase.We have to make more and more difficult speed checks or we lose stamina and sanity. It wasn't long before we are overcome by our eldritch enemy.

So two games- one win and one loss. Not bad. Here's to hoping next game comes soon and we can squeeze out a win. I'm thinking Azathoth next time, or maybe Nyarlathotep. Azathoth is cool because when he awakens you automatically lose (he destroys everything immediately) but at least you have time to stave him off. Nyarlathotep is neat because he has unique minions although I don't much like his depiction in Arkham Horror. Oh well.

Anyways, it was a great evening and I'd do it again any time.


One last thing: It's still totally bullshit that she travelled to the Plateau of Leng to take a nap and find two bucks. I'm running through monster-ravaged streets, machine-gunning eldritch horrors while she goes on a vacation. I go to the the City of the Great Race and am driven nearly mad by the unending horror. She goes to the R'lyeh and it's a little smelly and then she gets more items. Why can't Bob Jenkins get a break?


Seriously, where would you even get money here?





06 March 2014

Need a New Card Game

I'm in the market for a new game to play with my wife, and I've been thinking about card games. We both like to play cards, but we're both tired of our old standbys of Gin Rummy and Egyptian Ratscrew. We had tried Dominion, the deck-builder, but ran into some problems. It turns out that she only likes the game when she's winning, and also that we're only having fun when she's having fun. So Dominion got shelved.

But it's not a big deal, since that means we get to try out new games. My go-to game is, and always will be Magic the Gathering. It's a complex game and rich game, with great art, and if you make your own  cube you've turned the game into an LCG.

Of course, if you're going to turn a game into an LCG, then why not just try out one that started as one?

The big three that seem like they'd work best in my home are the Game of Thrones, Warhammer Invasion, and Lord of the Rings.

The Game of Thrones game seems pretty robust. The theme is great, since we both love the Song of Fire and Ice series, and the card art is beautiful. The decks in the starter edition each correspond with the great houses in Westeros, and two more houses are in expansions.

The goal of the Game of Thrones cardgame is to amass 15 power in any combination of military, political, or intrigue. There are plots, characters, titles, and a couple of interesting mechanics. Attack and defense seem especially interesting, and the way gold works seems to be satisfying.

There is (or was) a competitive scene, as well, so there's at least enough depth to sustain that community. That bodes well for its lasting appeal. It might not be the kind of appeal that me and my wife are looking for, but that's still appeal.


Warhammer Invasion is in no way related to the Game of Thrones cardgame, despite sharing the same publisher. The art doesn't seem to be the same level of quality, and the faces are messier and more difficult to read. But it does have its own charm.

Warhammer Invasion focuses on three zones, which either let you attack, draw you more cards, or net you more resources. The goal of the game is to destroy two out of three of your opponents' zones. The game seems simpler than Game of Thrones, which could be perfect for playing after a couple of drinks late at night. The game also seems to run longer than the Game of Thrones cardgame, which might be a problem- but who knows? It's possible that the hour of play seems short when you're in the thick of it, and that we both wish it were longer. As long as it's designed so that the trailing player can catch up with a bit of luck and good decision making, the game should be fine.

The last game I was considering is the Lord of the Rings LCG, which is unique in that it's cooperative. Each player has their own deck with three heroes in it, and the players work together to defeat the challenge deck. In a players' deck are allies, attachments, and events, which they use to try and complete the quest at hand. The players lose if they run up the threat counter (which acts as a sort of timer) or if they die. It's important to balance progression with safety, and offense with defense.

The LoTR game works as a solo game, too, so on the chance that it doesn't hold the wife's interest, at least one of us will get some use out of it.

As a side note, the Lord of the Rings game seems to have the best art, and we both adore the theme. But it's cooperative, which might not have the kind of staying power that will last us a long time. It's hard to tell in advance- she doesn't much like losing, and having us both lose sometimes doesn't seem like much of a way to spend a night. Plus, too, if she gets knocked out early (somehow), who wants to watch me play through the rest of the game solo-style?

It's a hard question, and I'm going to have to scour through a dozen more forums before I think I'll have my answer.There's no sense rushing into a decision that neither of us will appreciate in the long run, and we've got a bit of time to decide.

05 March 2014

DOGECOIN


I am now the proud owner of a Dogecoin wallet! I figure that with all of this hullabaloo about people losing digital millions through a totally unregulated currency, I might as well get in on the next big thing and lose a couple million of some fake currency, too!

So if you ever read something on here and are all like "damn that was a pretty good read, if only there was some way to give the author a fake currency that's worth fractions of a penny," send your Ð to D8cjRvTSeTdjnXd9vDyUstdxSfks4Qia7E and I'll know in my heart of hearts that I am truly loved.

To the moon!

Again:
D8cjRvTSeTdjnXd9vDyUstdxSfks4Qia7E

such currency

04 March 2014

New TV??!?

I upgraded my TV from 24 inches to 50 inches this weekend, so I've been spending my time on the couch with my woman, playing video games.


She had half the day off yesterday (it's snowy and icy), so we celebrated by playing Rayman Legends.


If you ever said to yourself "What happened to the joyful exuberance and pure gameplay goodness of the games of old?" or "I'm tired of playing games that are made by committee- give me a game with spark and spunk!" then you need to go get Rayman Legends because holy tapdancing christ this game is good. It's visually gorgeous (that's a screenshot above) and the characters are charming and kinetic, the soundtrack is tone-perfect, the levels are clever and fun and full of little secrets... The game feels loved, in every corner, and in every way. It's brilliant.

Other than that, I'd been replaying some Dragon's Dogma, which is painful since I'm in NG+ and totally unprepared, and I'd wanted to try out The Last of Us' online multiplayer but it costs money and I don't know if it's dead. I'm just not ready to make the $10 plunge to possibly play a game "online" by myself. That's what we in the "cheap ass" business call "silly shit."

For real though: doubling the size of your TV is pretty cool. I recommend it.

27 February 2014

Let's Build Castles!


Been writing about Holdings today. The basic idea is that my domain game is played out mostly on a hex map, and each hex has a single holding. There are only three types (so far), mostly because there are three kinds of resources that the land gives you. We've been over Manpower, and Gold is a pretty obvious thing to welcome, too. Defense rounds out the third- there's a reason that one builds castles, and that's represented here, too.

First are Cities, which gives you lots of gold but not that much manpower- which makes sense, since cities tend to be wealthy but largely full of free guildsmen, merchant, business owners, and foreigners who have no loyalty to the crown. That's just the nature of the thing. Since they don't have an obligation to you, only the people who aren't doing much else will serve you. Cities are of average defensibility, since they tend to grow haphazardly but they can be pretty flammable.

Next up are Temples, which have decent manpower and decent gold. They're the easiest to invade, though, since they're not built for defense as much as to look impressive. Not much to say about Temples, although I'm thinking of toying with some religiosity benefits, such that if you have a lot of temples, maybe religiously-motivated warriors will stick around, or maybe the gods themselves will give you benefits. That could be fun, and appropriate for the light-fantasy setting. Maybe something as mild as just having people happier...

Then you have Castles, which have good manpower but little gold. People like to live near castles and they support a thriving ecosystem of serfs and manors, but castles are expensive to maintain. They're also the most difficult to assault. These castles needn't be official "castles," they can easily be border forts. The Castle type just represents an important free-standing structure in the hex.

Last come Villages, which are just lightly occupied hexes that are still controlled by somebody important. They aren't very good at anything, giving low manpower, gold, and defense. 

Each Holding has a level associated with it, which represents the basic productivity of the Holding, which is modified by the Holding's type. Castles get +1 Manpower, for example, so that a Level 1 castle gives 2 Manpower/season, and a level 5 Castle would give 6 Manpower. These are all totally made up numbers, by the way, I'm still nailing down exactly what the base should be and what the units of "men" should represent. I want to lean towards a simple conversion like 1 Manpower = 500 men, but I'll have to check my population density estimates again. That'll be forthcoming.

I'm thinking of including resources for each hex, as well. Something very, very simple, since it's already getting to be a bit much of the behind-the-scenes math and dice rolling. Probably something as simple as "metal deposits give +1 Gold / season" or "black soil gives +1 Manpower/season" or whatever. Maybe a list in the Appendix? Certainly nothing that'd belong on the map. On one hand, you could also completely ignore the terrain itself and reason that if you really built up a giant city in what seems to be like totally inhospitable terrain you must have something to keep your population going; this deals with the problem from the other direction, see?

Well, I'll keep hacking away at it. I'm in the stage where I'm collecting all my ideas and putting them into an actual .odt file and then trying to make them work together. There should really only be a couple of interlocking systems at play here, and I think I'm getting closer to making it functional. Wish me luck!