29 December 2012

An Unusual Night

The other night, since my brother is up to visit, I thought we'd play something fun. We've both been kind of on a Wild West kick, so I suggested Dogs in the Vineyard. A fine choice, says we, and so I read up the book, get a decent grasp of how things work, when suddenly: What if we played a science fiction game instead. No wait, what if we played a Space Western?

And so we began to make everything up off the top of our heads. My brother played John "The John" Johnson, a (in his words) "Space Mexican" ex-slave who's working for the Alliance Military Federation to gain his citizenship, so there he is on Theta II. He is a devout Zeplorfian, from the planet of the same name. His mount is a trusty Thetonian slug-beast, capable of carrying both him and his friend.

The wife played a nameless space prostitute mutant with a tail and a fair bit of skill with nanotechnology and seduction. She's trying to raise some seed money to start her own brothel, tired of the discrimination because of her prehensile mutant tail and dubious genetics. How she got away with having no name is beyond me, but I blame the liquor. Which, coincidentally, is what I blame for the complete lack of purpose or direction for the game. The two of them ended up with a mission, beamed through who knows what, to catch a Thetonian who had kidnapped an important Space Colonist from the AMF, and between the Space Mexican nearly succumbing to the noon-day heat and taking a quick siesta in the blood-boiling heat of Theta II and being nearly slain by the Space Bandito's ambush, we really didn't get very far before the wife had to call it a night.

Still, I think it may have been one of the silliest experiences in recent memory and, if you know me, that's saying quite a lot.

My only real regret is that we ended up using Mini Six because all we had handy were d6s, and I'm not sure that it was the right choice. Character generation was easy enough and the rules were actually pretty good for it, and my reworked Space Inquisitor skill list was actually pretty appropriate and seemed to cover all the bases, and the extremely simple gear rules were a blessing; but the fighting and spellcasting rules just didn't do it for me. The TN system always feels a bit bloodless and where it would have been great to have some drama, instead we just rolled a handful of dice and went on our way. Seems like a minor complaint when you put it that way, but there it is.

Still, lesson learned. I'll look for another d6 oriented system in the future, or at the very least rework the system so that there's more dramatic "meat" to it. Still a positive experience, and a great way to spend a couple of hour with the people you like.

27 December 2012

Train Dreams and Bashing Lads

Last night I watched some Hell on Wheels, read the majority of Dogs in the Vinyard, and spent a lot of time making virtual fucking hotdogs, so it only makes sense that I would spent my night dreaming about ancient libraries stocked with incredible books, playgrounds from my childhood, fleeing through time with my brother and a childhood friend, eventually ending up on a train in the past that leads us to New York, and the novelty of paying for actual food (hot dogs!) with dimes and nickels and stuff. 

Makes you wonder if you're crazy, sometimes.

On more pertinent news, Bash Em Lads is about done. It's at that stage where you're just kind of putting in more stuff for the sake of addin more stuff, and there's enough on paper as it is to turn Follow Me, Men into an almost Warhammer-Light sort of system (without any of that system's obvious faults). It's really turning out well. The only thing that's really missing now are some cool themed army lists that bring BEL into a more settings-rich world, the sort of world where you'll use what I'm writing as a springboard for your own, inevitably cooler ideas. 

The real challenge will be to add flavor without adding corresponding restrictions, so that you can still field your Elf & Orc army if that's what you want, or have an army of Dwarves led by a Dragon, or a faux Roman army with Goblin auxiliaries. "Don't let me tell you what to do" is practically my motto. I've got a lot of assorted minis that don't go together, you've got a lot of assorted minis that don't go together, let's mix them together and have us a battle.

 I'll probably get a friend or two together and playtest it over some sort of virtual tabletop. Thinking about using MapTools, since it apparently has a lot of really great and easy-to-use features, it's free, it runs on Linux, and it shouldn't be too hard to cajole somebody into playing this damn game with me. 

25 December 2012

Bash 'Em, Lads

I've been conspicuously silent, but it's for a good reason- I'm putting the finishing touches on a document I like to call "Bash 'Em, Lads," based on the wonderfully simple chassis "Follow Me, Men" by Jim Wallman.

It turns out, there's really not a lot to improve upon. The basics of the ruleset remain more or less untouched- you can play the game nearly as-written if you like. Where I've made my own mark is by teasing apart the assumed math behind the scenes to get a game that's just a tad more organized. The side effect of this, of course, is that now you can tweak pretty much everything you want, as much as you want, in an almost completely modular system.

For example, instead of assuming that you have a small contingent of highly skilled, armored Knight units, you could have horse archers with little close combat value, a unit of light cavalry, and the aforementioned heavily armored Knights without feeling like you're an idiot for not just picking the Knights.

The other big thing is letting you customize your Hero. It can feel like a cop-out to just have all your Heroes have the same combat ability and equipment, so you now have some fairly simple rules for customizing your own Hero. It all feeds back into the standard equations, so by going with default values you're not gimping yourself- you're basically just using the template instead.

It's all pretty exciting. I've been working on it for hours each day for about two weeks now, so as soon as I can wrangle somebody into playing with me, I'll be able to test the rules for things like monsters, custom contingents, and expanded spell lists soon. As it stands, I've done my best to make things more or less even, but it can be hard to tell, considering the base game didn't include seige weaponry, custom Heroes, or monsters, or any sort of hint as to how one might want to make them run.

Very exciting, don't you agree? Here's to hoping the end result is something as good as the source material.

03 December 2012

01 December 2012


Two things.

1) Another article on Glitch. It's really endearing to hear the optimism in the developer's voice, but it really bugs me that somebody would hire 42 people, make a game that nobody seemed to really want to play, and then just shut down because, surprise, it didn't make money. It reminds me of another endeavor by a man with a lot of passion and next to no actual knowledge of how to make things work (38 Studios, the game company founded by a baseball player) and surprise, it didn't do so hot. Anyways.

2) After rereading Eisenhorn, the oddly well written 40k book about a member of the Inquisition, I went ahead and wrote up a quick Mini-6 based game about Inquisitors in Space. If 40k is the Decline of the (Space) Roman Empire, Space Inquisitors is set during the Pax Romana- the Republic of Man is expanding its borders, exterminating or working alongside what alien lifeforms are out there, and there is no silly grimdark. Regular grimness, maybe, and plenty of regular darkness (no flashlights in space), but no grimdark.

Also no Space Marines, god, no, never Space Marines. Genetically enhanced super-soldiers, maybe. Dudes in big powered suits, sure. But not 9 foot tall immortal perfect warriors, never. Ever. No enormous guns, either. What I'm interested in, basically, is the comings and goings (and doings) of a mixture of secret police and religious fanatics. In short, I'm looking for guys that are a lot like this:

I don't know if a suit and tie is really the best attire to go running around chasing aliens in

Reasonably attired men with or without large firearms, doing reasonable things (investigating literal illegal aliens, I presume), driving cars, and basically having a really interesting version of a regular detective. In space. You'll notice these men, while capable of achieving greatness, are not wearing spiky suits, or jetpacks, nor are they scowling at nothing in particular just to show how jaded they are. They aren't wielding flamethrowers strapped to their heads. They aren't eight feet tall. They don't wear their enormous powered armor suits everywhere they go. They don't have augmented skulls, or tentacled faces or full body scars or mohawks or chainsaw swords or whatever else this guy has :

I think I mentioned the chainsaw sword but I'd really like to mention it again

Because the base setting of 40k is actually kind of interesting. The way that the developers, in an effort to hide that they have no idea what they're talking about and haven't thought any further than "it'd be cool if these guys had chainsaw swords and were 9 feet tall in red gaudy armor" resort to "yeah well it's really cool and also it's the future we don't have to explain anything" until they do attempt to give you some technobabble as to why it all works is really stupid- BUT (and this is a huge but) the stories of things that aren't blatantly stupid are cool enough.

Like the stories of the Imperial Guard, all the places they've been and done. Could you imaging being deployed six planets over to fight some hideous aliens you'd never heard of with a two hundred year old laser rifle? Or of defending an entire planet against meaty monsters that fly through space? Or against sentient and very angry dinosaurs?

Or the stories of the Inquisition; all while the unintentionally silly Space Marines fight the obviously intentionally silly Orks on a scale that borders on absurdity for nearly no reason whatsoever using methods that were outdated in our time or things that just don't make sense (large cumbersome melee weapons, "power fists", bolter rifles, tanks that are crappier than our modern day tanks, grav cycles), the Inquisition is dealing with a mankind that hasn't fundamentally changed since we first came to be, trying to make sure that nothing is disturbing the glorious Republic's status quo and destabilizing it into thousand year long wars against ourselves. That's the good stuff, right there. That's how you have an actual story.

But I digress. Heavily. I'm making a game about religiously fanatic secret police for an intergalactic Republic and there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. Hear me? Nothing!

16 November 2012

Glitch is Dead

In news that is probably only interesting to me, the psuedo-MMO Glitch was declared officially dead. It's not in the least bit surprising to me- they spent a lot of time and effort on the art, the feel, the charm, and very little on making it an actual game.

I played Glitch, see, when it came out. I let myself be influenced by the enormous idiot that is Beau Hindman of Massively.com, and figured "Well, it's free. What's the worst that could happen?" And so I made my little green skinned ugly man, dutifully chose the color of my hair, and then off I went. And that was as close to a game as it got.

As you see from the picture above me, the world is very pretty and, during the launch, there were plenty of people out and about, doing things and running around and chatting about stuff. But the problem is that for all the charm and space, there was nothing to do.

I could choose to rub a pig, or plant some things, or pluck some sort of fruit  from a tree by clicking on it, and then watching a little progress bar advance. When it finished, I'd get an apple or a bit of bacon or an egg or something, and lose a bit of my stamina. And that was the game.

No, seriously. That's the entirety of the game. It was a very pretty (although samey) chatroom with basic facebook-styled gamification of completely mundane tasks. The developer's take, of course, is a bit more finger-pointy, sounding off on "pushing the limits of Flash" and having those limits "push back", or on the "decline of Flash" as opposed to having created a game with a complete lack of both depth and breadth, or of trying to create a browser based game that's supposed to be about "creativity" and "working together" while simultaneously allowing players to neither work together meaningfully or create anything in the game... No, it's that outside forces conspired against them. Of course.

I'm not surprised to see Glitch fall. I'd have been more surprised if it was successful. In the words of Forrest Gump- That's really all I have to say about that.

15 November 2012


Today's word of the day, according to Dictionary.com, is dovetail. I love the word; it's what happens when you fit something perfectly inside another thing. Is there anything more satisfying than doing something really, really well and having it fit flawlessly inside another thing, like a dovetail joint? If there is, I'm not sure what it would even be.

You may also be pleased to know that I'm working on a tweak of my Rodiel system. I know, nobody cares. Except for me! And some of my friends! So what does that mean?

It means that I'm, actually, almost done with the martial classes, which means that the magical classes will be done also. It works kind of exactly like how I'd always wanted classes to go, and it's based on not only my own ideas, but also the feedback from my various groups over the years and exactly how I'd always wanted things to work. For example: There are only two base classes: Warrior and Sorcerer. They change whether you act like a fighting man (by fighting better and having more armor) or a magic user (by letting you cast spells and sense magic intuitively). But that's not all. You can also subclass as quickly as level two, if you want. Subclasses are shorter but have unique benefits- for example, Barbarians are better in the rough wildernesses because they don't have to eat or drink as much. Rangers have an animal companion granted them. Paladins can cast healing spells in armor. And so forth. It all dovetails in.

If you didn't get the idea, it's the most heartbreaking of heartbreakers possible, and I have no regrets. It's fun, and it lets me get some of the sillier ideas out of my head before I get back to work on the Odds are Against You, which really just needs to be fleshed out before I print something usable out of it.

As an aside: You might be wondering how Gwyn, of the inestimable Dark Souls, is relevant. Gwyn is always relevant, especially in a game that's shaping up to have a bit of setting influence from that game. You'll see.

14 November 2012

Time Dilations

I was thinking just now, prodded on by the inestimable Talysman at the always entertaining Nine and Thirty Kingdoms about the dilation of time.

Not the kind that occurs in some of the more, shall we say, unusual campaigns, but the kind that occurs between you and your game. You know, the one that happens when you say "You walked like twenty miles over to the next town, where a guard stops you and says etc etc etc", or that happens when you go into combat. You know what I'm talking about.

You go from vague minute-long stretches of wandering through the abandoned crypt, and then into precisely timed combat time units, conveniently just long enough to allow a single sword blow or arrow strike. When you win, you might dilate time back to long-term mode, letting time flow freely while describing a couple of sights, or maybe just let them get there instantly and wave it all away with a "you pass by a forest and a babbling brook, but aside from a couple of odd sounds nothing interesting happens. Three days passed."

What if you didn't dilate time? What would that game be like?

In long term time mode, travel would be about like in a standard game. But combat would be totally different. Instead of a zoomed-in tactical mode, you might bring more people and turn the game into almost a pen and paper grand strategy game. You delve into a dungeon; roll for casualties and oh damn, Roglor died. His player rolls up a new adventurer while the rest of you divvy the loot and decide where to go next, what hirelings and retainers to bring, and where to go next. Two cities over there's a call for mercenaries against a rival city-state and that could be interesting if deadly. You decide to go over there and find out.

Weapons and Armor would probably have to be similarly zoomed out, as would troop types. Each battle could be dealt with in four rolls max; one roll for each side's missile combat, one roll for each side's melee combat, and then one for morale. Best overall rolls win, and then you're on to the next encounter. Dungeons and cities and tombs would feel a bit samey without some effort, and creature types would be relegated to flavor text instead of having multiple mechanical differences.
Long-term mode deals with diplomacy and strategy on a larger scale

It probably wouldn't be for everyone- you'd feel more like a manager or planner than a down and dirty adventurer. But I think my old group, at least, could enjoy it. They liked carefully purchasing gear and planning their next move more than fighting things, but I imagine they'd miss the navigation and the immersive feeling one could get from fighting. This is what I understand Birthright plays like, and (in the computer gaming world) Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, and (to a certain extent) Civilization play like.

Middle time mode is a bit more like oD&D- travel may be best with hex crawling, where there are a couple of important decisions to be made for each hex. Maybe you should skirt the cave, but maybe you should go in. Should you head north to the coast, or south and go around the forest? Dungeoneering would require smaller decisions than in large scale time mode. You would decide what rooms to enter, instead of whether to enter at all, or what floors to go down. Combat would be a matter of a couple of rolls per encounter, little brown book style. Equipment would be somewhat abstracted. Positioning and movement are abstract as well, perhaps with a simple zone system. You are either "close" or "far" from the middle of the conflict, on either side. You would spend a little more time in the day to day decisions of where to go and what to bring, but everything would take more time. This dilation is a little more immersive, at the cost of sacrificing a certain depth of play. This is where old D&D largely stands, as well as (from what I understand) Runequest is mostly. Palladium can skim this area, when it's not being blatantly stupid.

Middle time mode could see you raiding a village with a half dozen rolls, if you liked

Short time is the default scale of combat for, for example, the Riddle of Steel game, a game that relies heavily on simulating accurate combats. Weapons and armors have multiple important values, and the difference between a good strike and a glancing strike become important. Tactics, not strategy, is what rules the day. Character builds would probably be important. When travelling, each tree and hill and overpass is significant. Local regions are important. It's not possible to play an entire game in short time, but it is possible to play much of it this way, by creating vignettes of slow time within an event. When dealing with hirelings, you'd roleplay each enounter, and then decide who to bring along. You'd decide which individual Inn to sleep at, and which room to take based on personal preference, the quality of the doors and locks, and ease of escape. This would be a game of great detail, and of great immersion, but you sacrifice both a lot of breadth of play. The most common complaint would be that everything takes so, so long and that it's "irrelevant." This is where a lot of new roleplayers go, regardless of game. New D&D often goes this route during combat, as do a lot of more simulation-y games that focus on combat.
Short time mode would let you explore the difference between equipment styles, and give you a glimpse of what life would have been like

I've written way too much about this already, and way more than I intended. Just let me know what you think in the comments.

09 November 2012

Magic The Gathering 2013: A Mini-Review

I have a confession to make: I love Magic the Gathering.

But I don't have a group of friends around here to play it with, and even if I did, I don't particularly want to spend $80 buying cards. So why not just spend $10 and get Duels of the Planeswalkers?

My thoughts exactly.

So far, it's a pretty big improvement from the 2012 iteration, despite their being only a year's difference. They changed relatively little about the actual interface, but they did add a couple of really neat touches to the game itself.

First, deck balance and variety seems to be improved. For example, in place of Koth's almost useless mono-red themeless deck, there is now both a red burn deck and a Goblin deck. In fact, almost every color has two decks, which means that instead of either cramming two themes into one and making a very strong deck (the Illusions deck from 2012, for example) you now have a creature-oriented deck and a non-creature oriented deck in every color. It's a small touch but it does a lot to preserve a good bit of gameplay balance. Another cool touch- the decks have clearly visible stats for creature size, deck speed, flexibility, and card synergy. Like weenie decks? Pick one with high speed and low size. Like outsmarting your opponent? Pick a deck with high flexibility, and so on. It's a great touch that lets you see at a glance what you're doing, and in a game as complex as Magic the Gathering, every bit helps.

I mean, that's really all anybody wanted anyways. In a game that's about playing with cards, it was unforgivable to have had such a limited deck selection. Having limited deck choice- not a big deal, since a couple of minor tweaks really changed the way the decks played and besides, I understand that this is intended as an entry point into the physical card game and, as such, keeping choices limited makes it easier on everybody. That's fine, as long as you're still able to tweak the deck to fit you a little better and the decks are providing good matchups. Anot

Deck selection, including stats for the decks

The rest of the game seems fairly standard- there's an improved campaign mode that really does a couple of things well, and I'd like to spend a little time talking about it. The "encounters" are a kind of neat feature that let you play your deck against an NPC with an extremely limited spell seclection. For example, one of the first encounters has you playing against an AI who plays nothing but Suntail Hawks and lands, one Hawk per turn, ad infinitum. Another, a necromancer, plays discard spells and eventually reanimates one of your biggest creatures to beat you down with. It's thematic, entertaining, and a way to test your deck against some fairly annoying strategies. It's also one of the easiest ways of unlocking new cards for your deck.

The regular battles in the main campaign are more or less the same. You start with one of a couple of decks, and as you beat the planeswalkers, you earn the right to use their decks. The "end boss" of the plane you're on (think levels in a more traditional game) has a couple of screens telling you some fairly dry information about them and their backgrounds. I know that Planeswalkers are supposed to be the "stars" of the Magic the Gathering brand, but Jace, Garruk, Liliana et al are just a little boring. Well, I'll admit to a soft spot for Liliana, but the rest of them are fairly uncharismatic and make it hard for me to care about them as planeswalkers. I just want their decks, damn it, I don't care if their fathers were murdered or whatever.

There's also an improved Revenge campaign, a Planechase campaign, and if you buy the optional DLC, some Ravnica guilds to beat down and win the decks of.

The visuals and sound effects remain unchanged from the last game, which is fine, as the graphics are sparkly enough and serviceable. Nothing stands out as particularly attractive or unattractive. It's all floating cards and sparkly fireballs, a bit like playing actual magic. Which is fine, right? That's what you came here for.

Like I said, floating cards and sparkly fireballs. Pretty clean interface, overall.

I can't help but recommend Duels of the Planeswalker if you like Magic but aren't interested in the physical cards, but if you're into hardcore deck building or competitive MtG, this game not only isn't for you, it's probably the opposite of what you want.

08 November 2012