Masks Prep: Brainstorming + Random Situation Tables

MOST IMPORTANT BIT
– Problems, difficulties, goals, and victims should all have a FACE (or faces): people that the heroes interact with
– (Masks moves are about interacting with people – if a situation doesn’t provide that, character will struggle to engage.)


PICK A LOCATION
– Pick a location one or more of the team are from or have history with (default)
– Pick a location that looks juicy and interesting
– Pick an additional location (second pass only)

WHAT HAPPENED HERE (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– Adult Heroes messed something up there
– Locals messed something up there
– Hyper-phenomena of some kind messed something up there
– AEGIS messed something up there
– Mundane Governments messed something up there
– Villains messed something up there
– Adult Heroes responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– Locals responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)
– AEGIS responded poorly to ongoing problem (pick one or roll 1d6)

IN THE PRESENT (1d6 – count down that many entries, skipping any previously marked/used)
– [MacGuffin] must be delivered to the location
– Important People/Supplies must be accompanied to the location
– Locals/Local Government are creating further difficulties for the location
– Hyper-phenomena are creating further difficulties for the location
– AEGIS and/or Outside Government is creating further difficulties for the location
– Villains are creating further difficulties for the location
– Pick a second element and interweave the two
– The Adults (take your pick) have no clue what’s really going on. Good luck.
– The Adults have no clue what’s really going on, but think they do (pick a previously-used element above, but it’s wrong)

IN THE FUTURE… IF NOTHING IS DONE RIGHT AWAY (d6)
– Locals/Local Government will attempt to handle the current difficulties on their own (and do so poorly)
– Locals/Local Government will blame the heroes (and superheroes in general) for current difficulties
– AEGIS will take drastic action to preserve the situation and push the heroes towards the difficulties
– The difficulties will get worse
– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist
– The difficulties will target the heroes directly

How to Train Your Dragon with Risus hacks

I’ve been playing an RPG with my kids set in the Archipelago of How to Train Your Dragon. As a prelude to writing about the play itself, here are the rules I’m using.


Dragons: Wanderers of the Archipelago

A Risus variation for How to Train Your Dragon Adventures

(Based mostly on Risus Guard, a Mouse Guard hack I cobbled together, which in turn is based on on Evens Up, by D. Stahler, Simpler Risus from Risusiverse, and Mouse World, by Dan Cetorelli)

And of course Risus, by S. John Ross.

The Basic Rule

When dice are rolled, rather than adding up the results, each 4, 5, or 6 (4+) is counted as a “Success.”

Discard rolls of 3 or lower. In addition, sixes always “ace:” each six not only counts as a success, it is immediately re-rolled, with a 4+ result added to the success total (and continuing to ace as long as a six is rolled; the beloved “exploding dice effect.”)

Swap the “Inappropriate Cliché” rule for “Imaginative Use”: If you can explain how you use your cliché, you can try it. In combat, Imaginative Use of a cliché deals +1 damage.

“Round peg in a square hole”: If you’re using an inappropriate cliché in a test simply because you have no better option, and can’t (or choose not to) come up with an Imaginative Use, your opponent rolls two additional dice, or the number of successes needed increases by 2.

How It Works

Simple Skill Check

Instead of rolling against a target number, a certain number of successes are required to achieve a desired result, generally adhering to the following difficulty scale:

Easy: 1 / Tricky: 2 / Hard: 3 / Heroic: 4 / Legendary: 5 / All But Impossible: 6+

The process used to determine the difficulty rating in Risus — by figuring out how hard the task is in the context of the cliché’s relevance — is used the same way here, as is the idea that the degree of success or failure may affect the overall result.

As a general rule (because I like PBTA games) – getting some successes but not enough successes is a good time for a mixed result: you get some of what you want, but at a cost, or with complications.

Single-Action Contests

Both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most number of successes wins. Ties can either be rerolled or go to the side who rolled the fewest dice (Goliath rule) or most (respect the skillz), depending on the group’s preference.

Multiple-round Contests (Combat)

Each round, both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most successes wins, resulting in the loss of one cliché dice (or more, depending on the situation) for the loser. Ties can be handled as above.

Note: In combat, the ‘success counting’ die mechanic means differences in cliché levels aren’t as huge a deal.

Team Ups During Contests

In team-ups, a leader is chosen for each team (leader role can change between rounds, if it makes sense). The leader gets to count all the successes from their rolled cliché. Everyone else on the team rolls their clichés as normal, but only count sixes as successes toward the team’s goal. (Sixes from helping characters can still Ace, with the Ace rolls counting as success on 4+, as normal.)

When a team loses a round, the leader takes cliché damage.

If a team member is taken out of a conflict due to sustaining injury or being unable to roll any dice in a round due to accumulated penalties, the character’s status will be determined after the conflict by the winning side.

(Players should remember that in single-action contests and combat, opponent’s dice can ace, as well.)

Too Many Dice

Sometimes characters, teams, or (most often) their opponents will have access to clichés of greater than six dice. Don’t roll more six dice; if a cliché is higher than six, every two dice over six simply adds a success (round down). So a Unstoppable Red Death (20) would roll six dice and add seven successes.

Funky Dice?

Funky dice can still be used in this system, if you want (not sure I do, but…) If you want to use them, have ALL results of Six or higher ace. Obviously, the odds of acing on a 10 or 12-sided die-roll are pretty good.

Character Creation Options

Allocate ten dice to your clichés, as normal for any Risus character. Humans are the baseline in this setting.

Lucky Shots can be purchased as normal in the Risus rules, if you like.

Sidekicks and Shieldmates from the Companion rules can also be purchased, and should be; they work perfectly for dragon companions, as well as particularly useful, rare, or high-quality gear that is better than what you would already have as tools of the trade for your clichés.

Generally, build your dragon companion by taking away 1 die from your cliché pool to make a 3-dice cliché for your dragon. Strike Class dragons (being more rare, intelligent, and powerful) can be built with 6 cliché dice (at the cost of two character dice), but still shouldn’t have any clichés higher than the character’s highest.

Dragons can usually team up with their rider during contests, can act on their own (or at the command of their rider), and can act entirely on their own with their rider rolling to help them, if it makes sense.

Example One: Brega’s dragon companion is Moonshade, an indigo-scaled Deadly Nadder. She invests 1 die into her dragon as a Sidekick/Companion, and buys “Moonshade: Over-protective Nadder (3)” as a cliché for the dragon.

Example Two: Most dragon riders do not wear much in the way of armor (or at least the basic armor they do wear (shoulder guards and the like) rarely seem to matter for most viking clichés). Hiccup, on the other hand, as a pretty cool shield, and decides to buy it using the Sidekick/Companion rules, which allows it to help (sixes count as additional successes) on any rolls where such a crazy shield would help (though it might also work against you in some cases…)

Gronkle-iron-reinforced “Utility Shield” (3)

(Once you start tallying up Toothless, Hiccup’s Shield, Wingsuit, and other crazy gear, you start to suspect his actual clichés might be… kinda crap.)

Optional: Skills within Clichés is probably fine, though maybe let that come out during play of the character.


Scale (super-optional)

Humans are definitely not the biggest things in the world. The progression of size scale goes something like:

  • Terrible Terrors
  • Humans, wolves, speed stingers
  • Smaller dragons (gronkle, et cetera)
  • Most dragons
  • Larger Dragons (Screaming Death, Catastrophic Quaken)
  • Very large Dragons (Typhoomerang, Eruptodon)
  • ???
  • Red Death

Or, Simplified:

  • Little dragons
  • People
  • Most dragons
  • Really Big Dragons
  • Insanely Big Dragons

There are a number of different ways to handle difference in scale. Off the top of my head:

  1. Larger creatures in a physical conflict get 1 ‘free’ success for each level of scale they have above their smaller opponent(s).
  2. Funky Dice. In physical conflicts, the two scale spots directly above people use d8s; the two above them use d10s, the two above them use d12s, and Bears and Moose either use d20s, or allocate (still terribly imposing) cliché values to different parts of their body.
  3. Beyond the scope of dice: most creatures have cliché ratings, but for the truly imposing, they might perhaps be better handled as natural phenomena, rather than mere animals. The same might be said of large groups of lesser animals (a flight of dragons, for example, or a big pack of speed stingers).
  4. All of this largely pertains to physical confrontations – social/mental conflicts would hit different clichés which would only rarely use funky dice.

Masks, Game Advice – On Playbooks

While listening to various sessions, I realized I had some advice for both Masks players and GMs when you’re getting ready to start a new campaign and pick out playbooks.

You can subscribe to the Masks podcast series with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks Menagerie Tropes

A couple weeks ago, I joked that I should try to identify the main tropes that show up in our current Masks game.

Unfortunately, some part of my brain didn’t know I was joking. So.

The Real Dark Side of Star Wars: Spoilers

[This is a repost of a post I wrote about two years, which has inexplicably disappeared from the site.]

I need to talk about something pretty shitty, but it requires a little background information, first.

Many of you probably already know this background info, but some of you don’t, so I’m filling it in for them; everyone else, please bear with.


I doubt it will surprise anyone to know I’m a long time Star Wars fan boy.

Am I the biggest Star Wars fan boy who’s ever lived? No, most certainly not.

In fact (and this bit will shock the less-super-nerdy out there), there are groups of folks out in the world who, after examining the extent of my exposure to Star Wars “stuff”, would decide quite seriously that I’m not a real Star Wars fan at all, or at least not a serious one.

The funny thing is, it’s hard to even explain this without getting at least somewhat nerdy, but I’m going to try. (In my head, as I write this, I’m talking to my sister, which is how I approach more posts than anyone would imagine.)

Now, a lot of people – most people – who say they like Star Wars mean they like the movies, because that is literally the only Star Wars thing they know about. I’m going to call these folks “mainstream fans.”

Obviously (because as a species, we really can’t leave this kind of shit alone) there is a lot more Star Wars stuff out there – more stuff than you’d readily believe. Games, of course. Comics – fucking walls of comics – and enough novels to fill a library.

Collectively, all the stuff that isn’t the movies has been (until recently) referred to as the Star Wars “Extended Universe” or “EU”. The quality of the stuff varies, and by “varies” I mean some of it is pretty good, and some of it is pants-on-head fucking idiocy that makes Jar Jar Binks look as cool as Chewbacca, by comparison.

How does stuff like that get the official stamp of approval? Pretty simple: George Lucas really likes making money, and people are willing to pay him a whole shit ton of money to play in his backyard, so he lets them write novels with Force-nullifying space-sloths (yes, seriously) and puts the Official Rubber Stamp on it, because (a) he got money and (b) he knew if he ever came out with a movie that contradicted stuff people had written, his version would invalidate all the drek he’d authorized in the past, so who cares?

In general, I don’t follow the EU stuff, and (with the exception of the first Star Wars roleplaying game that anyone licensed) don’t know much about it.

The quick summary: there is miles and miles of EU stuff, set anywhere from 30 thousand years before to several hundred years after the movies ‘mainstream fans’ know; the whole thing is an virtually unchartable hot mess…

And there are fans out there who know every single inch of it. Or most of it. Certainly more of it than I do. I’ll call them super-fans.

Now: I have no beef with those super-fans. None.

Okay so far? Good.

Now: Enter Disney.

A few years ago, Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property and announced they were going to start doing stuff with it, and that George Lucas wouldn’t have very much if anything to do with it. (Which, after the prequels, was kind of a relief to hear.)

And Disney took a long look at the Extended Universe stuff and, after some thought, said “Yeah that’s… nice and all… but… yeah. None of that shit is official anymore.”

Basically, they boiled down “Official Star Wars” to the movies, the Clone Wars animated series that ran a few years ago, and whatever stuff they make from here on out (like the totally amazing and fun Star Wars Rebels show, a couple new novels, and of course the new movies coming out).

All that EU stuff? It’s not the “Extended Universe” anymore; it’s “Star Wars Legends” which, honestly, I think is a great name – it implies these are stories about the Star Wars universe (which they are, of course) but just that: stories. Unverifiable. Unverified. Unofficial. Enjoy them if you want – please, by all means – but know them for what they are.

Most – and I do mean most – super-fans were fine with this: they get to keep the stuff they’re into, and they get the biggest pop-culture engine in the world cranking out new Star Wars stuff until the heat-death of the universe finally invalidates Disney’s copyrights.

Some of the super-fans are not happy, and have decided to be unapologetically shitty human beings about the whole thing. I will call this small, vocal-like-a-screaming-howler-monkey subset of super-fans the “spoiler fans,” and here’s why:

These people have decided that it’s not enough that they have this stuff they like. Because Disney has said it’s not official stuff anymore, that somehow makes it impossible to love that stuff as much as they once did – their love is somehow capped by its lack of an official stamp, and this cannot be allowed to stand.

What do they want? This is pretty funny, actually: they don’t just want Disney to go back and say “okay, that stuff is still at least as official as it was when George Lucas was taking your money and planning on invalidating anything he felt like, whenever he felt like it” – they (apparently) want Disney to keep making EU stuff, in addition to the stuff Disney is already making.

“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “maybe they want a pony, too?”

And yeah, it’s kind of funny, until you realize the internet has allowed shitty people to be shitty on a far greater scale.

See, they’re trying to hold Star Wars hostage to get Disney to do what they want.

How? They have vowed that they will spoil each and every spoil-able moment in the new movie as loudly and as broadly as possible (which, today, is pretty loud and pretty broad), if Disney doesn’t cave.

You’ve probably seen those image memes on Facebook or whatever, asking people not to spoil the movie. I have, and thought “yeah, it would suck to be spoiled ahead of time.”

Because that can happen by accident. Well-meaning, happy, enthusiastic fans can get on the internet and broadcast out to their friends, joyfully exclaiming about all the stuff they loved about the movie, and accidentally spoil something for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, because how have you not seen it yet?!?

This isn’t that. This is not an accidental thing. This is not your friend loving the movie so much he spills something.

This is a guy standing outside the movie theater before The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for the line to form, and then telling every single person in line “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad.”

Except the guy has a megaphone the whole world can hear, if they aren’t careful, and he shouts the message at unexpected times.


I’m telling you about this, because it already happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

I leaned about this little movement of spoiler-fans via a friend’s post on Google+.

The very first comment to that post was one of these guys, and all he posted was a spoiler, and I am pretty sure he spoiled probably the biggest plot twist in the movie for me.

Now, obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so how do I know?

Let me put it this way: if that guy who came up to you in line at Empire Strikes Back had said, perfectly straight-faced “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad,” would you have believed him?

Maybe you think about it a bit, and it syncs up with everything you know about the movies thus far, and it syncs up with what you’ve seen in the trailers, and it just seems like a very Star Wars-y plot twist.

Maybe you don’t believe it, completely and totally, but you believe it enough that you will sit down in the theater and, basically, spend the whole movie waiting for that moment to come. Or not.

Even if it doesn’t, you will not have enjoyed the movie as much as you might have, because you were distracted. And if it does happen just as that guy said? Well.

That’s the kind of thing this guy posted. One line. Ten words, and there goes my 100% unmitigated enjoyment of the new movie.

Now, shut up: this isn’t about me. Yes, you’re very sorry about this happening. Yes. I love you. Thank you, now shut up for a sec.

Listen.

These fuckers are out there. They are doing this on purpose. They’re enjoyment of their pile of stuff has been somehow – idiotically – damaged; Disney made their Masters-level knowledge of a made-up universe less important than it already was, so they have decided to shit on every other person who wants to enjoy the new movie, because (apparently) “Fuck anyone who is enjoying themselves, if I am not.”

I don’t care about me. I’ve watched Empire Strikes Back probably thirty times, if not more, and I know – know I will enjoy it when I watch it again, because I’ll be watching it with my kids, and the shine hasn’t come off for them.

Because of that, I know I will enjoy this new movie when I watch it, because I will be watching it with my kids and even if I don’t feel the same sense of surprise and wonder as I might have, they will, and I will still get to feel that, through them.

And I know they will get to feel that, because I’m going to protect them from these… infantile man-children and their shit-spattering temper-tantrum.

Now: why did I write all this? Because I want to try to protect you, too.

When you see spoiler warnings, heed them. Stop thinking of spoilers as “that one little thing my super-happy friend let out after he saw the movie” and start thinking “halitosis-reeking stranger who wants to dip his filthy index finger in my morning coffee.”

From here until you see the movies, absolutely avoid comment sections on any Star Wars-related post on any kind of social media.

Just… for a few days, expect people you don’t know to be kind of shitty for no good reason.

I realize that’s kind of a downer message, but seriously: I want you to enjoy the movie.

And also, yeah: I want those petty fuckers to lose, because fuck them.

(Comments on this post are disabled, for obvious reasons.)

RPGaDay 31: What do you anticipate most for gaming in the next year?

Right now, Masks. Probably two different games, ultimately, given I'll be running it for the kids as well as the online game. (It's getting easier and easier to pull this off as they get a bit older.)

I'm sure a touch of No Thank You, Evil, maybe with Kaylee running the game.

I'll be playing more 5e DnD Adventurer's League, because playing is nice. Also running that for the kids, since I picked up some miniatures and everything.

And past that, I have no idea. There will be more than that, I think, but I'm really not sure what. Maybe some Palace Job -esque Blades in the Dark? Maybe some Urban Shadows? I really have no idea.

But if the real question is focused on what has most of my anticipation, and not 'what are your predictions', then it's definitely Masks right now; that game is firing on cylinders I didn't even know we had.

RPGaDay 30: What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Mash-ups don't get me very far these days.

See, I play with my kids a lot, and they don't know the baseline genres well enough to appreciate mash-ups of those genres.

Which is to say, they just don't get the joke, yet.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to dive into this a bit more.

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the associated genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever. The premise was simple and straightforward.

Still true for 5e versions of those games, probably.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that lose a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new player, because that player doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. Now, that might still work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is… not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't get the joke.

So first, I'd need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, then we can get to the mashups. Otherwise, it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.

RPGaDay 28: What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Aliens, but… I mean, it could be a hundred different shows.

This was, however, more true back when I was playing face to face.

These days, a lot of the 'quote banter' that used to suffuse our table talk has been replaced with posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat window. I love it, personally; nothing like having the nascent force user fighting the temptation of the dark side… and see a fellow player post a photoshopped Gollum clutching a jedi holocron to their chest. That's good stuff.

RPGaDay 27: What are your essential ingredients for good gaming?

Flippant answers aside for once.

Attention. Respect. Engagement.

And a small group people with whom you could easily see sharing a 3 to 4 hour car trip, enjoyably.

Everything else is a bonus.

—–

Now if I was going to go back to the original question and talk about essential TOOLS, I'd talk about Roll20 (which I use even during some offline game sessions), Dropbox, et cetera.

RPGaDay 25: What is the best way to thank your GM?

Players creating stuff or in similar ways demonstrating their interest and enthusiasm for the game. I love that stuff. It just makes my day.

Also feedback, good or bad.

But in either case, just engaging above and beyond "shows up on time every week," you know?

I've been blessed by this level of engagement both in the past and present. Player diaries and session journals (a specialty of +Dave Hill's). Players collecting funny quotes from the game. Art or other visual artifacts based on the game, like +Bill Garrett's fake live-tweets from our first session of Masks, or +Michael Williams great character drawings for Dungeon World.

Heck, I love how my players are nigh-constantly posting relevant image memes in the Roll20 chat while we play, or using the drawing tool to put labels and relevant graffiti on the map. It's just great to see the players really engaged.

RPGaDay 22: Which RPGs are the easiest most enjoyable for you to run?

Switched up the question a bit, so I could answer "Probably PBTA stuff. Probably."

For me it's a VERY GOOD mix of the kind of game approach that favors the GMing style I developed primarily with Amber DRPG, but built on a system and mechanics that regularly inject unexpected elements into the game, which was one of the things lying at the heart of my problem(s) with Amber. (And, more recently, Fate.)

Easiest would be something super-simple like World of Dungeons or Risus or FAE.

And to be fair, I'm comfortable and enjoy running pretty much anything at the table. But something like DnD or DCC requires a degree of nuts and bolts prep that I either don't have bandwidth for [^1], or don't enjoy (CR-balanced DnD encounters, frex) – with those sorts of games, I''m going to run a module or something, so I don't have to do that prep, and in those cases I don't end up bringing as much of my own stuff to the game.

So. PbtA. That's my sweet spot when it comes to all aspects of GMing.

—-

[^1]: The joke about not having enough bandwidth to do prep is, of course, that I did literally hours and hours of prep for only the first session of our Masks game. World maps. NPCs. Encounters… At least an hour just watching awkward celebrity interviews, to get ideas.

So I guess it's more "I don't have time for prep I don't really, really enjoy."

RPGaDay 18: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

Dungeons and Dragons, easily. I've been flailing at it since I was ten. Full-steam ahead all through high school. Several games in college, though it was rarely the 'main' game. A four and half year game that bridged 3rd edition into 3.5, plus a pile of Living Campaign play at that same time, all of which kind of burned me out for awhile. A bit of 4e, and now online Adventurer's League with 5e, and some games with the kids.

At a guess, probably four or five hundred sessions of DnD, over the years. It may not be my all-time favorite game, but… I mean, numbers don't lie.

Masks, Session 1, Not Exactly Actual Play

For our first real session of Masks, I decided to start off the game[^1] with a super-awkward morning-news-show-style interview with most of the team and the interviewer, Tasha Starr.

It was deliciously horrible. When Iconoclast finally blasted in the streetside window and shouted "this interview is over!" the Bull's immediate reaction – over a live mic – was "Thank Christ."

Then there were supers fisticuffs and the rescuing of civilians and idiot morning show hosts.

One of my wonderful players (+Bill Garrett) put together a series of livetweets commemorating the interview, and I just had to share, because they're great.

The last one in the series is by me, foreshadowing events coming up in session 2 (and the still-ongoing fight just outside the studio).

[^1]: The actual start of the game was the love letters I wrote for all the characters, captured here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7Vba3bjiu39 https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7onPVFuExmH https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dry21LYnx7P https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dQDWqFRsUVJ

      

In Album 8/18/17

RPGaDay 15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

I don't really like adapting games much. I'm not a system designer by either preference or practice – I like running and playing, and I really enjoy when the rules as written just… work. There's a joy in that.

I have, in the past, done a success-counting hack of Risus that I liked, an Approach-less version of Fate Accelerated where the Aspects have ratings you add to rolls, and I've done a couple genre re-skins for various apocalypse-engine games, including one for the kids where the whole system and character sheet fits on an index card. So… those. I guess. Fate's the easiest to hack, but I usually only run that for the kids, anymore.

Now, if you're talking 'adapting' like "use Monsterhearts, RAW, for a sort of Star Trekkie sci-fi game"… I'm slightly more down for that kind of mash-up fun. I've done adaptations of many, many games to the Amber setting, for example – some of them even worked.

(Either Urban Shadows or Masks would make fun Amber adaptations, for example, for different reasons.)

RPGaDay 11: Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

Haven, the Free City by Gamelords, Ltd. It was an urban setting for a DnD clone where everyone basically played different flavors of thieves. Since you were thieves, the game focused on personal interactions, intrigue, and political and social plotting in a way that was decades ahead of its time.

Tragically, the team behind Gamelords lost their main artist and a central content creator to a car accident in the early eighties, and the IP has languished in the basement of an acquisitive dilettante since 1986.

 

RPGaDay 9: What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

I'd say most PBTA games (and in a lot of cases most games that share that design-space in the industry). You need more than a couple sessions to really get them going, but characters tend to resolve arcs after about ten sessions and lapse into a bit of thumb twiddling after that until they get pointed in a new direction – it creates a good point to wrap up and move to something else.

(Note, for 2 hour long Roll20 sessions with five players, triple all sessions-required estimates.)

RPGaDay 8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hours or less?

That may not be useful to a lot of other people as a recommendation, but No Thank You, Evil! and Hero Kids are both designed with shorter scenarios and challenges in mind, due to their target audience. I don't think I've ever run NTYE! for more than an hour at a time. Outside specific games, I'd probably focus on lean games with simpler character sheets, like Risus or Fate Accelerated. FAE + It's Not My Fault would work well.

But… I mean… Almost all my weekly Roll20 gaming is comprised of 2 to 2.5 hour sessions, so… pretty much any system, I guess, if you're talking about being able to play multiple short sessions.

ALSO, any game where everyone playing is on the hook to come up with a lot of stuff out of their head, all the time, is probably best confined to shorter sessions. I find people lose their inventive steam after a few hours, so if you want to keep things popping in games where the players have to invent a lot of stuff on the fly, I'd recommend shorter sessions.

RPGaDay 7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

Who needs therapy if you've got "impactful" RPGs, right?

Impactful is such a weird word. I've had lots of memorable sessions. Impactful seems like "something that changed you outside the game" and I'm not convinced that's why I play RPGs, so…

Man, I dunno.

Okay, here's one, maybe.

Dogs in the Vineyard. Our second serious fight. We'd already had one smaller altercation earlier in the game, so the players had seen how the conflicts worked, and more to the point they saw how FALLOUT worked.

Second conflict, things started getting heated, and someone pulled out a gun.

And the players – some experienced, pretty seen-it-all gamers – kind of pulled back from the table and were like "Whoa. Shit. Hang on a sec."

That game made guns fucking scary. They made them as goddamn dangerous as they are, you know?

(Best of all, the way fallout worked, you got fights where you didn't really know how fucked you were until the shooting stopped.)

Dogs remains the only game in which the players (and, by extension, the characters) reacted to someone pulling out a gun the way real people would, and I (obviously) remember that, to this day.

RPGaDay 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you'd do!

* Monday: Pirate 101 with Sean and Kaylee. (Alternately, family game of Masks.)
* Tuesday: Normal Tuesday Roll20 group, playing whatever we're currently playing.
* Wednesday: Overwatch with Kate and Kaylee. (Alternately, family game of Masks.)
* Thursday: Dungeon Crawl Classics, GMed by Tim.
* Friday: Playing DnD 5e Adventurer's League, via Roll20/Discord.
* Saturday: Luxurious full-length afternoon of DnD 5e or Masks with Sean, Kate, and Kaylee
* Sunday: The X-wing combat game with the kids.

RPGaDay 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

This one's a bit easy for me: Tales from the Loop.

It's entirely possible this answer is chicken-egg cheating, since Tales from the Loop started life as an art book before it was an RPG, but regardless, the cover's a perfect match for what the game's about.

As an added bonus, it's a solid game that'd I'd really like to get to the table. (I heard it's the same system as Mutant Year Zero, but I haven't read that – the basic mechanics are very close to Blades in the Dark, and it leans hard in the direction of pbta-style conflict resolution.)

https://www.modiphius.net/collections/tales-from-the-loop

Tales from the Loop

RPGaDay 2017: What RPG have you played most since August 2016?

One of the nice things about recording all our online game sessions is it makes it pretty easy to simply look this kind of thing up. (I knew the answer, though I was curious about the specific numbers.)

The 'winner' in this case is a apocalypse engine hack I built for our Star Wars game (a campaign that went through three rules systems over the course of 30+ sessions). My hack (here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fwnq7ok585thk1c/SWW%20Rebel%20Ops.pdf?dl=0) is a rebel-era adaptation of Star Wars World, which in turn owes DNA to Urban Shadows, I think (understandable, since SWW was written by Andrew Medeiros). Since August, I ran the game eighteen times. That game wrapped up at the end of April.

Aside from that:

– Ran a six-session Dungeon World adaptation of Deathfrost Doom, plus a couple asynchronous DW adventures with Kaylee, via Google+ polls (http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2016/08/dungeon-world-with-kaylee-via-google-polls/), so call that eight sessions.

– Ran a couple sessions of Lady Blackbird (someday I'll run a game that makes it further than escaping the Hand of Sorrow).

– Ran four short sessions of a World of Dungeons: Breakers/The Secret World mashup, just recently.

– Played (actually played) in a couple sessions of DnD 5e (Adventurer's League), and ran a couple sessions for my family. Solid game.

– Played (actually played) in a Dungeon Crawl Classic 0-level "funnel" game. (You can't spell funnel without FUN.)

– Ran at least one or two games of No Thank You, Evil! with the kids.

So: That's ~36 game sessions since last August, with 50% going to the Star Wars Rebel Ops pbta-hack. Not too shabby, really.

SWW Rebel Ops.pdf
Shared with Dropbox

RPGaDay 2 – What is an RPG you would like to see published?

+Matt Wilson??'s Galactic. Looking back, it wasn't the dice mechanic that grabbed our group, it was the wonderful idea of everyone playing a ship's captain, and then ALSO having crew members on the other player's ships (using micro character sheets that were essentially specialized help/hinder dice for that Captain, sort of like Risus shieldmates). That, as a core play concept, had and has strong and compelling legs.

#RPGaDay Infographics
Autocratik‘s #RPGaDay returns in 2017 for a fourth run celebrating the roleplaying game hobby starting on Tuesday, August 1 and ending on Thursday, August 31. This has been an impressive year for r…

RPGaDay, Day 1 – What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

I'm actually going to be running Dungeon World in about 90 minutes, and I'm absolutely excited about that, as we may or may not be wrapping up our trek to the peak and under-peak of Deathfrost Mountain [^1].

With that said, any other day this week I'd probably answer Masks, as I had time to dig in and digest the system during our vacation, and I suspect the game has some legs.

[^1]: The DW group has, thus far, fared extremely well; consequences of early 'fiddling with stuff' scared them into extreme caution, and the group's thief shared his tried and true Rule When Stealing From Temples – "Don't touch anything that's part of a religious ceremony of any kind." It's a surprisingly good survival tactic.

#RPGaDay Infographics
Autocratik‘s #RPGaDay returns in 2017 for a fourth run celebrating the roleplaying game hobby starting on Tuesday, August 1 and ending on Thursday, August 31. This has been an impressive year for r…

Prepping for Breakers

We're heading out for a family vacation next week, my niece (13) is coming along, and she wants to do some gaming. (I've talked about gaming with Kaylee and her cousins in the past. It's a thing.)

Anyway, her only request was something "spooky" or suspenseful. Beyond that, "you and Kaylee pick something."

After some thinking (and considering what I'm going to be willing to pack), I've decided on Breakers (which is a hack/upgrade of World of Dungeons, which in turn is a hack of Dungeon World). – http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf

The magical realm of Kyvr'ax has collided with Earth, shearing the dimensions and creating a mashed-up borderland between our reality and the monster-infested domain of the wizard Kai Shira Kai. You play working-class heroes who explore the twisted Break seeking fame and fortune. But don't stay too long, or the Cloud of Woe will surely find you!

Basically, it's an excuse to play modern-day characters dungeon-crawling like it's an ordinary job. Sort of Torg crossed with Inspectres? Sure. 🙂

Anyway, because it's Monday and I've got other stuff I'm supposed to be doing, I decided to come up with a table of Breaker origins/backgrounds. Just in case, you know?

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KKJJNXj7w55ESHpQYvwAggtBbC2el6YYg3PH1YKotv0/edit?usp=sharing

The Art(ist) of the Game

I’m very lucky to have +Michael Williams in my regular Tuesday night (hangouts-based) gaming group. (we’re currently playing Dungeon World and Lady Blackbird, after wrapping up a 30-session pbta-hacked Star Wars campaign.)

I’m lucky to have him because he’s a great player. I didn’t even KNOW he could draw until he started turning out these wonderful character portraits.

And to be honest, the most enjoyable thing wasn't the final product (that's a very close second); it was the long post in our Dungeon World Roll20 forum in which Mike shared each iteration of the work he was doing, and went deep into the design theory behind each character. Fascinating stuff.

Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World…
Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World group, currently deep within the bowels of Frostdeath Mountain… I’m excited to see what sort of trouble these kids get into. Their last session ended…

Terribly Dated Game Commentary

After having the core D&D fifth edition books on my shelf for well over a year almost three years, I finally had good cause to read them. (I'm a bit past the point where I can find the time to read RPGs just for the heck of it.)

I'm both surprised and delighted to discover how little of the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are actually rules for play: the (300 page) PHB's rules section is about 25 pages (with 175 for character creation, and 100 for magic-related stuff), and the DMG's section is roughly 30 pages, with the other 90% almost entirely devoted to world-building guidelines, advice, or examples of once kind or another (with optional rules from older editions of the game scattered throughout, allowing you to easily customize/homerule the system to whatever flavor of DnD you like best. Potion miscibility tables!)

It's weird to say 600 total pages of rulebooks represent a lean, simple system, but it really does. Good game.

Ready for Prime Time

Last night, we started a new Dungeon World game with the regular Tuesday night group. As I shared yesterday, I've been pretty excited about the game, as have the players, and it went about as well as I'd hoped.

But that's not what I'm posting about.

Normally, +Kaylee Testerman isn't around on Tuesday nights, but she was last night, and in lieu of doing some Overwatch matches with her (which is what normally happens if she's around and has no homework), I asked if she wanted to join the game.

She did.

Now, Kaylee's played quite a few RPGs with me, her cousins, and even with Sean, but she's never joined in on a 'regular' play group, and after I asked and she said she was in, I had a few niggling worries because… come on: she's eleven. She didn't even know two of the guys in the group. What if she ending up being the "super annoying kid of the GM?"

I may be (probably am) biased, but really I needn't have worried. She was focused, polite, thoughtful, inventive, and just all around a positive contributing member of the game – I was particularly impressed with her answer to the question I asked each player: "This land is beautiful/desolate, because…" (here: https://youtu.be/ML-LUfjNgas?t=1h10m26s), but all of her play showed so much thought, I worried people would think I'd coached her.

(She told me after that game that during the owlbear fight, she'd been googling "how to take down big monsters in fantasy games" so she'd have a good action to take when it was her turn.)

Nerd-gamer-me was proud as could be.

It's Hard Not to Make any Modern-setting Game about the News

It really is.

Anyway, here's some random notes and thoughts and stuff that's we've dreamed up for the "long hair = crazy sorcery in a modern setting" game.

—-

Yer a hairy, wizard.

The really short summary:

1. If you have magical ability at all, long hair = how much power you have.
2. Too long/too much hair, and you'll go crazy.
3. The government recruits the powered before they're even out of high school to go into an Enforcement branch of the government to deal with dangerous Unregulated threats. These agents get their power level dictated to them; how long and how much hair you can have (volume, not just length, matters, so you can have super long hair, provided half your head is shaved or something.
4. Even those with powers who aren't in the Enforcement Agency are careful manage their hair, because there is strong belief that if your hair gets too long, the power takes over.
5. All this hair-awareness has led to some crazy cultural obsessions with hair styles. Super-long hair is seen as subversive or an indicator of insanity/danger, even if you don't have any magical ability.
6. Magic use may or may not make your hair turn crazy colors (depends on the person), so the government agents might have really bizarre hair styles in wild colors, and that's just… how it is. The real LN types dye their crazy hair black or something to cover it up.
7. No incantations. It's all "willpower and focus."

History (read: the part were Doyce goes down a background/GM rabbit hole)

In the western European tradition, the classic imagery is all wizards with big beards and long hair; your basic Gandalf. These days, it's just as likely guys with Brooklyn fades and hipster lumberjack beards. http://nextluxury.com/wp-content/uploads/old-school-mens-beard-and-undercut-hair.jpg

There was at one point a trend in western thinking that people were 'beyond' such things until the age of English imperialism, because England was heading out into the world to take things over ('civilize' people) and getting its collective ass handed to it by locals who had in no way given up their magic traditions.

So all that stuff was revived, and any cultures that didn't do things the western way (same hair styles, same icons/tools/etc) were deemed dangerous, lesser, suspicious, and generally hostile. (Unless you rip it off from said culture and pretend it was yours all along.)

I might do something with the magical paraphernalia as well, where channeling tools like staves and wands are seen as okay, but such things from other cultures (knives, spears, juzu beads, kongosho) are 'lesser' or 'dangerous' or both.

Cultural/Social/Government Implications and Random Thoughts

In western culture any non-western head covering that conceals the wearer's hair (gele, hijab, turban, tichel, dupatta, chador, burqa, et cetera) are collectively and unironically referred to as 'terrorist head garb,' which should indicate how well we're getting along with other magical traditions and cultures, worldwide.

Hair with really strong, tight locks (notably African) are often forced through societal pressure to keep their hair shorter or straightened (because 'all those curls conceal volume in less obvious length'). Dreadlocks are also viewed with great suspicion, because the locked curls mean higher density in less obvious length. A dreadlocked African woman wearing some kind of gele is the default 'criminal silhouette' on Enforcement publicity posters.

Oh and if you want to dive into gender issues, you can easily get into the bullshit arguments about men being inherently better at magic than women because they can grow facial hair.

The whole thing is basically YA near-future magic dystopia, so… yeah.

    

In Album 3/21/17

A very special moment in tonight's Star Wars: Rebel Ops game.

+Dave Hill's rebel character, Ganna, met up with her … friend, Verana (a staff sergeant with the Empire on Onderon), and they had coffee then went to a club.

I asked Dave: "So… do you think this move makes sense?"

————-

Who the *#$%! are you?

The Carousing went late, or maybe the Parley was "too successful", either way when you wake up in a strange bed next to someone… roll+CHA.
* On a 10+ pick 3
* On a 7-9 Pick one

* They aren't someone you hate.
* If this gets out it won't be horrible for both of you.
* You can recall the events that got you here.
* There isn't a third party in the room.

————-

And Dave thought about it, and said "… yeah. I think so."

So he rolled.

And got a 5.

And woke up the next morning.

In Verala's quarters.

On one of the Star Destroyers in orbit over the planet.

The only thing I screwed up was not having the third person in the room be the scary Zabrak imperial agent that just showed up to track the rebels down.

PbtA with Little Kids

(I found this in a text snippet, as though I meant to post it, but as near as I can tell, I never did, so here it is.)


The Rules

Say what you are: a crystal lady, an adventurer, a princess with a big cat.

When you face trouble, roll your two dice. If what you are helps, add 2 to the result.

  • On a ten or higher, you do it amazingly.
  • On a seven to nine, you do okay, but something else happens.
  • On a six or less, you might do it, but you’re definitely in trouble!
Track ‘damage’ on your “courage” bar.

Courage: O O O | O O O


And… thats it.

Online Gaming Update and Tech Review

(TLDR Summary: Holy crap when did Roll20's video and voice chat get so good?)

I know I don't game as much as some folks manage every week, but I do manage to get a game in on more weeks than not, and that small achievement is important to me.

Most of that gaming is via Google Hangouts and http://roll20.net [^1], so I was pretty bummed – though not exactly surprised [^2] about the news Google is dropping Hangouts' add-on support in April. It's obviously possible to just run Hangouts without the addons, and run Roll20 in another window, but… if you're doing that, you can pretty much use any video chat, so… why wouldn't you, exactly?

We were down a few players on Tuesday, so I and the remaining crew (+Bill Garrett and +Michael Williams) took it upon ourselves to explore video chat alternatives.

Initially, we talked about Rocket Chat, but given that I have some need for Roll20, it became clear all we really needed from that service was the video/voice component, which is provided to Rocket by Jitsi (https://meet.jit.si), so we just went there instead. Set up was very very simple and easy, and aside from the feeling that the camera was really ZOOMED IN, it worked fine.

After checking it out, we thought we might switch back to Hangouts to actually play for a bit, but in the process of switching, the guys mentioned that http://Jit.si's voice and video is basically achieved use the same tools that Roll20 switched to back in October, so if http://Jit.si was good, maybe Roll20 had gotten better…?

(We used Roll20's native voice and video for a few months last year, but it had gotten too buggy and we'd dropped it before this upgrade.)

So we dropped back out of Hangouts, switched to straight roll20 and, following a couple settings changes+restarts, got everyone seeing and hearing each other.

And it was great. Nice clean video. Nice clear sound. And, bonus, we're already in Roll20, which is where I wanted to be in the first place.

So: if you've tried Roll20 in the past, didn't love it, I'd urge you to reenable voice and video chat and give it a try. You might be very pleasantly surprised.

[^1]: The only face to face gaming I manage is with my kids. As an upside, gaming with my kids is pretty awesome. (http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2017/01/hacking-together-a-mix-of-world-of-dungeons-and-my-rebel-ops-hack-of-star-wars-world-to-play-with-my-kids/)

[^2]: Every week we log in to play is a new exploration of what Google decided to disable, break, or make less-good since the last session. It's been like this for at least the last year – steady degradation of functionality.

Roll20: Online virtual tabletop for pen and paper RPGs and board games
This Is How We Roll. Roll20 is a suite of easy-to-use digital tools that expand pen-and-paper gameplay. Whether you play online via our virtual tabletop or in person utilizing our character sheet and dice rolling application, Roll20 will save you time and help you focus on enhancing your favorite parts of …

Slapped together a mix of World of Dungeons and my Star Wars World: Rebel Ops hack to play with my kids

Lucky isn't a real stat – it's a non-replenishable resource that gives you an auto success. The five stats should total +3 or so. Having a skill means you can't totally fail that thing. I'm still working out what all the special abilities do, especially "Force is with Me", which isn't automatic for anyone, even Jedi.

And… that's about it. PCs have six hit points, and damage from weapons is a static 1 to 4-ish.

 

On Fate and GMing

So I kind of gave up on about halfway through August because the questions weren't that interesting for the second half. That's on me.

Anyway, it's a fun exercise in concept. Inspired (I guess?) by that list, someone came up with an extremely tongue in cheek (I hope) list of questions for September.

Which I also pretty much ignored, because they're mostly joke questions that would require me reliving moments of severe personal head-up-assedness, circa 2009.

However, today's question prompted some pretty thoughtful and useful posts from folks I see on Google+, so I thought I'd take a break from filling up their comment threads and post my own tangential navel-gazing, since it's something I've been meaning to write about for awhile.

The question:

How many friendships have you terminated because they confessed they kind of like to play Fate games sometimes? It’s okay. Fate players have to hear the truth.

Obviously the serious answer to the silly question is "none." Let's have that said.

With that out of the way, I want to post a different-but-related question, phrased (tellingly) as a PtbA-style Hard Move:

"You've spent several hundred dollars on the Fate kickstarters and Fate-powered settings and scenarios, run several fairly long Fate or FAE-powered campaigns, hacked and rehacked the system, designed custom Roll20 FAE character sheets and submitted them through github, and currently run a (theoretically) weekly FAE game, which your players enjoy… but you've come to the realization that you don't actually like running Fate very much. What do you do?"

Yeah. What do you do?

+Eloy Cintron got me thinking about this today, when he wrote "I don't like how it feels in play."

Yup.

I like expressing stuff in Fate terms, but the further I go (and I have run three or four fairly long Fate and/or FAE things since Core came out, including hours and hours of play with my daughter), the less satisfying I find it in play.

Most of it boils down to: No surprises from the conflict system.

Let me break that down.

There's a conflict, dice hit the table… but really, there's not much point, because the results are almost entirely in the hands of the players. That's what I mean when I say no surprises.

Between capitalizing on Created Advantages, invoking preexisting aspects with fate points, and bringing applicable stunts in, almost any individual roll can be turned into a success. And just given compels as a means to refresh Fate Points (I actually do a Fate Point refresh every … five or six sessions, if that), Fate points are almost never a problem, especially since there's reasonably good odds on any specific roll that you won't need to invoke an aspect to get a success.

But don't read that and think I have a problem with player success. That's not it.

It's that Failure, Success, or (that Rarest of Rare birds) success at cost, are all just decisions the player makes, not a result they get and have to adapt to.

See, I'm a big, BIG fan of creativity within constraints, and for me one of the richest veins for that kind of thing comes in a conflict system that you can't strongly influence to 'force' the result you expect.

(See PtbA stuff, basically. That's my sweet spot. You can get it in lots of games, but I especially like PtbA for the largely unmined vein of Mixed Success it sets up in its dice mechanic.)

Put another way, I like getting results that make us introduce something new. I love "Yes, but…" results, because everything after that is something we weren't expecting.

I've got a great group of players in my current game, and they know my love of Mixed Success, but it's Fate, so… even if they blow the roll and I say "don't worry about invoking aspects yet, what about we go with a mixed success?" Even with great players, the inevitable (and fair! given the game system) question is: "Okay maybe… but what's the 'mixed' part going to be?" And we talk through it.

So… yeah. That. No surprises in the conflicts. Lots of resource use and/or negotiation to get to a known result.

Now, I know I can make Fate harder, to give the players less of that control. I know that. I've played a lot of Fate – I've hacked it down to the bone and built new flesh on the skeleton, more than once. I get how the pieces go together.

And I'll freely admit I don't push as hard as I can by using GM Fate points (which +Bill Garrett has called me on). But I know why I'm bad it: it feels adversarial in an unfun way (I'm FINE with adversarial in fun ways).

Boardgame Example: I like challenging games (I'm playing a Pandemic Legacy campaign right now, we're in September and seriously FUCK the C0DA virus); I don't mind losing because something is challenging, but I have less fun if I'm playing a game where the dial for "challenge" is controlled by "how much I (or someone else) voluntarily chooses to directly fuck with the other players at the table by making their stuff harder" – I'm looking at you, Settlers of Catan.

You pulled the short straw and have to be the Bad Guy in Betrayal at the House on the Hill or whatever? That's cool. You're cock-blocking someone's attempt to get Longest Road, just because? Much less fun. That's kind of what "pouring on GM Fate points" or "start everyone with no fate points and 0 refresh" feels like.

I mean, there's a point at which you've tweaked that dial so much you need to warn people they won't really be playing the game system they signed up for, exactly.

Does that mean Fate's a bad game? Nope.

Does it mean I wouldn't play it? No.

Does it mean I won't GM it? No, although I think I'm going to do some sunset planning for the system, in IT-speak.

Does it mean it's a game that doesn't especially suit my GMing style? Yeah, pretty much.

And that sucks a little, because as I mentioned I've got a LOT of Fate stuff on my shelves, and like… 25 sets of dice… and players who really like the game – some of whom I'm pretty sure would not especially enjoy 7-9 "it's a mixed success and you just need to deal with it" results in Powered by the Apocalypse games (which may be my favorite game thing ever).

Anyway. Something I've been turning over for awhile; glad to have it out of my head.

An RPG thought that's been bouncing around my head for awhile now

One of the… I'm going to say "dependencies for enjoyment" in many – I might even say "most" RPGs I've run (or run into) in the last few years is a deep knowledge of the genre — not just the genre for the setting, but the RPG genre of the game in question.

So… like this: once upon a time, all you really needed to know when starting to play D&D was "there's magic, no guns, and weird monsters." Same was true, basically, for Traveller or whatever.

Maybe that's still true for 5e versions of those games. Probably is. Anyway.

But there are a WHOLE BUNCH of games/settings out there now that drop a tremendous amount of signal when trying to reach a new gamer, because that new gamer doesn't have the decades of previous gaming exposure that informs the game designer's decisions for a game.

Dungeon World, for example, is fun, and it works with new players, but it doesn't work as well – there just isn't as much there – for the gamer who never played the old versions of D&D DW is reflecting. Ditto Black Hack or whatever.

Same thing is true for genre mashups: Steampunk Planetary Romance isn't inherently cool or interesting as a concept if the person you're sharing it with isn't familiar with the "pure" components of that salad, you know? It's just weird sci-fi with wood ships and a lot of brass and goggles. It might work for the player, but it won't work for the intended/expected reasons.

Masters of Umdaar is phenomenally boring not especially compelling if you didn't grow up on the right cartoons, you know?

I run into this constantly when playing with my kids – lots of stuff I find interesting/entertaining… until I realize that for all intents and purposes, my kids just don't Get the Joke.

First, I need to run the original games everyone's ironically riffing off of, before we can get to the new stuff, or it's not a nuanced re-envisioning for them. It's just… weird and kind of confusing.

When I run a game that doesn't have that problem, it's almost always something only trying to be itself.

RPGaDay – August 18: What innovation could RPG groups gain the most benefit from?

This is already happening, but the tech behind online meetings and collaboration is probably the future of 'tabletop' gaming.

If you want me to get slightly futuristic and not-already-extant, let's go with the tech behind smart-device enabled Augmented Reality ("AR": like Pokemon Go); not to be confused with Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). Give me a library of stock animated critters and a way to hook them to GPS coordinates, so I could GM a group through a virtual wilderness adventure along the bike paths of the nearest green belt park? Yes please: I would love doing something like that with my kids.

 

August 14: Who would be on your dream team of people to game with?

Ooh. That's tricky. Thing is, I'm not sure all my favorite players would be very compatible, all in a single group. Let's see.

I'd really like to run a game for +Lee Kenyon +Tim White +Kim Stone and +Kate Testerman. I don't know (or very much care) what game, but I believe I would enjoy that group a whole bunch, and to my knowledge they've never all been sat town at the same table for a game, ever, so there's that.

No offense at all to all the other folks I play with, I just think that'd be a fun group.

 

RPGaDay – August 10: What was the largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

In my old Amber campaign, Things in Heaven and Earth, Benedict, rather than losing an arm in his duel with… whoever in the books cut off his arm… was blinded.

Somehow, and I don't really remember how it happened, the players decided that the best way to help him recover his sight more quickly was to get him to walk the Pattern again. This was accomplished by having one of the players' characters (one with really high Endurance, I'm sure) walk the Pattern themselves, with Benedict sort of walking in their wake, holding onto their belt or something.

This was done.

It was quite exhausting for the player character. They got to the center, Benedict thanked them, and the PC had the Pattern take them out to the edge of the room, where their siblings and cousins watched.

Then one of the players said: "And then Dworkin shows up in the middle of the Pattern and teleports away with Benedict."

The room went dead silent.

And we decided it was just too damned cool not to do, so that's exactly what happened.

The next time they saw Benedict, he had the Jewel of Judgement embedded in one of his eye sockets.

 

RPG A Day, August 9: What things are a part of your ideal session, other than the actual game?

More and more, I treasure a diverse group of players. A table full of white dudes is a missed opportunity for a better game, I think. More women. More kids. More people from backgrounds I don't share, bringing elements to the table that otherwise would never be there.

Also? Laughter. I don't want to screw around, but I want to have fun, and while tension can be fun, I want to see smiles, even if they're caused by pained chuckles from bad die rolls.

Finally: engagement. Throw in your ideas. Get excited and start making stuff up. That's my favorite thing.

Edit to add: Like +Richard Rogers, I play mostly over Hangouts or Roll20 these days, so I would be remiss if I did not mention how much good, reliable tech contributes to a good session. Solid connections, good sound, considerate microphone use, et cetera.

 

August 8: Do you prefer hardcover, softcover, or electronic books? What are the benefits of your preference?

I like ebook versions of RPG texts, which are unfortunately as rare as hen's teeth. PDF is… fine. Not great. Pretty much unreadable on small screens (I sometimes have my phone's pdf viewer read them aloud while I drive, which is … differently sub-optimal), while larger screens are less easy to carry around.

Paper books are the clear winner for any book I plan to reference a lot in play, because it's still too difficult to flip to another part of a text while 'holding your finger' somewhere else in the book.

Bonus Content: I wrote about how to make e-readers suck less as reference tools three and a half years ago, with pictures – http://doycetesterman.com/index.php/2013/01/e-readers-suck-for-reference-materials-but-they-dont-have-to/

On the other hand, if I'm just reading something, electronic is fine.

I just wish we could get away from PDFs and more toward ebook formats.

 

RPG a Day, August 6 and 7

August 6: What is the most amazing thing that you know a game group has done for their community?

http://www.facebook.com/gamersgiving/

August 7: What aspect of Roleplaying Games has had the biggest effect on you?

I've been gaming for so long, and it's impacted so much of my life, it's kind of difficult to sort out what's related to or impacted by gaming, and what isn't. Here's a few things I know would not be the same with me, were it not for gaming.

* My ability to speak to and lead group discussions/classes, and manage small group dynamics.
* My writing, both in terms of subject matter and sheer volume of practice.
* My circle of friends and acquaintances.
* I would never have met my wife and, by extension, wouldn't have met my kids.

Day to day, though? I suppose it's the fact I can't watch a TV show, see a movie, or read a book without considering how it would work as a game. I don't know if that's a benefit or not, but it's definitely an "always on" feature of my life as a gamer.

 

RPG a Day: August 3rd, 4th, and 5th

August 3 What is something you have done with your game character that you are the proudest of?

I really don't get to play very much, so I don't have a long list of these kinds of examples. I never really been a player in a long campaign – I just run them. 😛

Back in the heyday of DnD 3.0 and 3.5, I participated in all the local gaming conventions, especially the "Living" campaigns, since that let me actually, you know, play. My main guy in the Living Greyhawk campaign was Gwydion, a kilt-wearing skald (couple-three levels of barbarian, the rest bard). He was a ton of fun to play, and managed to pull off some pretty great tricks (detonating an entire necklace of fireballs, with only four hit points at the time, and surviving – probably tops the list).

I was especially happy when, at around level nine, events in the campaign and the path I'd taken Gwydion let him move into the "Spy" prestige class as he became an agent of the Crown of Furyondy. That was pretty cool.

I played him again, about a year later: older, grizzled, married, with a missing hand, and managed to berserk and pull off a 'trip' maneuver against a young black dragon, leaving the big bastard prone for the group's rogue to take apart. People still talk about that one.

Gwydion's probably the guy I wish I could play more.

August 4: What is the most impressive thing that you can remember another player’s character doing in a session?

The first thing to come to mind is +Margie Kleerup in our Star Wars game, fairly recently, driving a landspeeder across the backs of a herd of stampeding bantha as they thundered down a narrow canyon.

That, and probably +Kate Testerman's character from our short Don't Rest Your Head game, making paradox-level time travel totally work in an awesome way.

August 5: What story does your group still tell about your character?

As mentioned already, probably the time I successfully did a grapple/trip attack against a black dragon. He was only one size category bigger than my guy (Large), and not TOO strong, so with Berserk on (I was playing a Barbarian/Bard multiclass), I think I just needed to beat the GM's roll by… eight or something.

Basically, I had to roll reasonably well and he had to roll poorly, and that's pretty much what happened. 🙂

 

RPG a Day Catch Up

Missed the start of this during a crazy Monday, so here's a couple answers.

August 1: Do you prefer to use real dice, a dice application or program, or use a diceless system?

I prefer to roll real dice, at a table, but these days playing online via Hangouts and/or Roll20 is so much more achievable on a regular basis, so in terms of simple volume of rolls, recent data indicate "virtual dice" (I happily pay a monthly subscription to Roll20 to support their service, and it's worth every penny.)

August 2: What is the best game session you have had since August 2015?

This one: https://youtu.be/mz7f6RFBdKQ

My favorite line is right around 2 hours, 27 minutes, when Mike sighs, closes his eyes, and says "I really hate this place. I hate this place so bad," about the creepy cabin.

I really need to run more *World games. It just suits my GMing style right down to the ground; it's like running Amber Diceless, but with dice, in a weird way.

 

Quote of the Week

"They [Nintendo] could add way, way more game if they felt like it. I mean, as much as they wanted. It could be tremendously sophisticated. They could [(for example)] teach people to play the game at all."

Fun thing

Playing something between a Choose Your Adventure and an RPG with +Kaylee Testerman via Google+, using the poll function.

We tried a more Myst-like thing earlier, and it went dead pretty fast, so we retreated to more familiar grounds and it's been a lot of fun.

 

Slept bad last night

Here's my brain today:

"You should finish that story."

"But I don't want to write uaaaaaagh too harrrrrrrd. I just want to do game-related thinking."

"Good timing: you have a game to run tonight."

"… Uaaaaaaaaaaaagh."

Star Wars: Rebel Ops – The Onderon Job

Meanwhile…

… in a different part of the Galaxy.
… eighteen months PRIOR to the events of the first six sessions.
… with a resistance group that actually isn't part of the Rebellion…

We're doing a one– ahem… TWO session series with a different group of characters, partly to fill in some backstory and partly to test out some rules tweaks.

This was a fun session, although in terms of play-testing the rules tweaks I'm trying out it was pretty much useless, as we rolled the dice exactly once (spent the whole session planning a heist/con/infiltration for next session, which was fun :).

Getting Closer to No Thank You, Evil!

Originally shared by +Doyce Testerman

Kaylee (10) made up her character for No Thank You, Evil! about a week ago (Laurelai, a Sneaky Kid who Reads Great Books), but I've been traveling for work, so we haven't had a chance to play or get a character set up for Sean (5). We finally took care of that today.

As in any Cypher system game, NTYE characters are defined with a pretty simple sentence: [name] is an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs], and each of those elements have mechanical effects. The only real difference in this version of the game is that the sentences become simpler the younger the players get. So very young player might only be Name and Noun, while a moderately complicated character might be Name, and an Adjective/Noun.

And they all have a wacky companion of course, because why not?

The other extremely kid friendly thing NTYE does is provide you with a set of well illustrated cards for each of 'pregen' Noun options you can use right out of the book. Sean had already carefully scoured these options, and knew he wanted to play a Creature, with a Robot Lizard Dog companion (named Oscar). Easy!

We went through the list of provided adjectives to decide what kind of creature he was, and he immediately latched onto Sneaky.

This is when things got fun.

"So Sean," I said, "are you a kid who pretends to be a Creature when you're on an adventure, or are you a Creature who pretends to be a normal kid?"

He didn't even hesitate. "I'm a creature, and I pretend to be a kid."

"Cool. What's your guy's name? "

"Well," he said, "he needs a name that will convince everyone he's a normal kid, because I'm Sneaky." I nodded. "So… His name is 'Adolescent.'"

I blink. "Adolescent?"

"Yep. To trick people." He thinks. "Sometime just Ado."

"… Okay."

Because seriously what else do you say to that?

Pondering FAE Tweaks for Star Wars: Rebel Ops

A few days ago, I publicly mulled over how the game is going. That post attracted quite a bit of conversation, much of it extremely helpful in terms of focusing down on the stuff I didn’t think was working that I think is worth trying to address, going forward.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Fate mechanics, the characters, the setting, the potential story, and so forth.

What I’m not thrilled with are Approaches.

Now, on paper, I love Approaches – I just genuinely like the idea of actions sorted out terms of whether they’re Flashy, Sneaky, Clever, or whatever.

In practice, there are two problems I’ve encountered.

  1. A character’s action very rarely maps to a single approach, and almost never maps cleanly. You tend to get a lot of conversations like this:

    “Hmm, do you think the action you’re taking is Quick or Clever? I mean it’s Clever, but you’re doing it Quickly…”
    “Actually, I’m trying to surprise them with this, so I was hoping for Sneaky…”

    And so on. It ends up putting the Meta game-system stuff right in my face with a frequency I find annoying, and I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

  2. You define your character with Aspects, but you stat them out – in terms of hard numbers – with Approaches. This has the effect of giving your character two sets of important ‘stats’ that don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, and mechanically it leads to a weird disconnect. Now, anyone who plays Fate at all will tell you that Aspects are the core of the system – it’s the thing that, if you take it out, makes it no longer Fate, in my opinion – buuuuuuuut in FAE, Approaches get numeric ratings, and it’s those numbers that affect every single die roll first, before any Aspects get involved, and since they directly address about how you like to do things, rather than simply what you can do (like skills), they tend to affect the broad interpretation of the character much more.

What are you Yammering About, Man?

So it’s like this: You have your core concept, expressed as Aspects, and then you have these Approaches, who’s ratings also say something about your character, and because of their non-granularity, they tend to say those things with very sweeping generalizations, often (in my personal experience) pulling the character away from their core concept in either small or large ways.

2016-04-09 08-40-56 PM

I’ll give a short example, using Dave’s character from our game, with Aspects tweaked slightly for the purposes of this example:

Aral Tholemain
Patriotic Noble of Naboo
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head
The Empire took my family from me.
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman
E’lir would be my daughter’s age…

I could give you a couple paragraphs of backstory, but really, I think these five Aspects capture the gist of what’s going on, and I think it’s fair to say this is a pretty grim character, right?

Here are his Approaches:

Careful: 1
Clever: 1
Flashy: 3
Forceful: 2
Quick: 0
Sneaky: 2

You know what I see when I look at those approaches?

A swashbuckler, maybe. Perhaps a con man. If you told me “noble”, I’d nod and say “oh yeah, I can totally see that,” but what I wouldn’t see is the kind of noble Aral is.

Look at those Aspects up above? Is there anything there that says “Flashy?” I guess it depends on how you look at someone who’s a dedicated firebrand, but… well.

Yes, you can make it work.

But there’s the thing – Flashy is Aral’s big Approach, so of course Dave’s going to want to do things flashily when he can, especially when things Really Matter.

… so this Bloodthirsty Gentleman who’s lost his family is doing big attention-grabbing attacks while loudly shouting “You Dastard!”, striking a memorable pose, et cetera.

Is that the guy we see in the Aspects? I’m hardly sure, but I don’t think so.


And yes, I know you can just have a different Approach be the top one, but for a significant subset of actions important to the character, a high Flashy makes the most sense – it just gets weird when applied in other activities.

“Well, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be Flashy and deal with a lower rating.”

Nice idea, and it happens some of the time, but when your pulse is hammering and your blood is high, you go for the most thematically appropriate narration that’s going to give you a shitty stat to roll. Gamers will game; playing to your strengths is part of that, and is hardly the problem I’m talking about, or even a problem in the first place. Moving on…


Where were we?

Right: so I’m leaning toward dumping Approaches entirely and rating the Aspects instead – at least as a trial run, to see how it feels in play.

Doing that, Aral might look like this:

Patriotic Noble of Naboo [+3]
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head [+1]
The Empire took my family from me [+2]
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman [+2]
E’lir would be my daughter’s age… [+1]

So the Aspects continue to function as Aspects, but also function as… almost miniature character classes, or gestalt skill/experience “sets,” where you pick the one most applicable to the action taken (or the lowest rated one that applies, if there are many, because I’m mean), and add that value to the roll.

Yes, you’d probably have one aspect you ‘always’ roll when shooting someone, but… okay. How is that different than a character with a “Shoot” skill? Aral’s experiences as an officer and bloodthirsty gentlemen is where he learned to shoot. Makes sense. Done.

And hey, if you throw a fate point down and activate that same Aspect for a bonus on the roll you just made with that Aspect? Then this action is SUPER important and relevant to that facet of the character, which I choose to see as a big feature, not a bug.

But the main thing – as my daughter pointed out while we were talking about this today – is that everything you’re doing, related to that roll, is only pulling you in toward that core character concept; there’s no weird double influence of “I’m being bloodthirsty, but FLASHILY.” (Which sounds a little psychotic, anyway. 🙂

I don’t mean to pick on Dave at all; I think this is relevant to several characters – probably all of them, to different degrees – it’s just that he’s the easiest example of what I’m thinking, and I got thinking about it when he mentioned Aral as he exists now is different than how he envisioned him. Some variance is obviously going to happen – it always does – but given the ability we have to define characters with Aspects, it really shouldn’t go that far afield.

Anyway, thoughts?

Star Wars Art

I got a finished commission from skilled Star Wars-focused artist Lorna-ka, and feel like nerding out and sharing.

Dekko will be the guy I want to play in every Star Wars game going forward until whenever.

http://doyce.tumblr.com/post/142415693450/i-just-got-my-first-finished-commission-from

(Also? We live in the future: Lorna lives in Moscow, I found her stuff on Tumblr, contacted her and paid her entirely online, and got multiple versions of the commissioned art in the time it would have taken one round of snail-mail correspondence, ten years ago.)

Doyce Testerman • I just got my first finished commission from…
I just got my first finished commission from @lorna-ka – Dekko, former scout clone trooper, who retired after the Clone Wars and hid out on Tatooine, staying away from large populations and his brothers after “everyone went crazy.”

(He worked alone most of the time during the war, and never ‘had’ a jedi to betray, so Order 66 pretty much passed him by.)

This is about four years prior to events of A New Hope – Dekko’s recently helped out a…

Some Thoughts on recent Gaming

Mostly the online stuff, systems, genres, et cetera.

In no particular order, just stream-of-consciousness stuff.

—-

I like running Star Wars, and I'm glad I finally got to run/play some version of Tatooine Manhunt, a classic WEG Star Wars scenario but… yeah. I'm kind of done with running modules. Ehn. Much more interesting to grab the character notes, a cool planet, some history stuff to mix in, NPCs that want stuff, and a crazy critter or something, and just play. Still, bucket list ticked.

Also, not for nothing: most non-demo published scenarios are too long for online play, unless they're super-tight and tied to the characters like crazy, because they take seven weeks to play through and we've forgotten how we even got involved in the thing by the time it wraps up.

I mean, if you know you're going to do some epic dungeon crawl thing that goes on for six or sixteen or sixty sessions, then that's fine, but otherwise, short and brutal is better for online, IMO.

Or meandering sandbox. Same diff.

Fate Accelerated is such a weird beast for me, these days. I like approaches on paper, but in play they're… kind of a pain in the ass? "Which approach is the right one for this thing you're doing, what's going on here?" Ugh. I don't mind meta-thinking, but it gets in my face on every.single.roll, and that's tiring.

I wouldn't want to do a skill list either, necessarily, but that's for other reasons.

There was a weird thing going on with the the dice rolling where we'd say what we were doing (good), then roll (good), and then figure out if it had been an attack or create advantage or overcome or whatever (weird). Fine, but… weird. It never retroactively changed the action taken (good), and I doubt it breaks anything, and it was nice for narrating interesting stuff other than "you shoot, then he shoots…" but it was – again – a kind of weird thing where the meta came in a lot. We tended to do a lot of "I only beat him by 1, so I'll just set up an advantage for later," and people only going for damage when they could really slam-dunk someone with a big hit. Which I totally get – I'd do the same thing, and probably encouraged that here.

I should absolutely have gone with my initial instincts and gotten rid of Stress. Otherwise there's just too many plink-plink-plink hits. Star Wars people get hit once, maybe twice, and they are done – from Leia to Chewbacca: one hit HURTS. Drop stress, everything goes to Consequences, and it speeds fights up a lot more and makes the hits much more significant. (Even then, Fate points give you more than enough ability to reduce the damage sustained.)

Six sessions, and we never refreshed fate points. There was never a need – we finally tapped one character down to zero fate points at the end of the last session, and he only started with two to begin with. One other guy had 1, and everyone else had 3 or more… and I almost never did a compel. (Maybe I never did – I can't think of any. I gave out two for particularly character-rich moments.)

In six sessions, the best scenes were the ones aboard the ship, in transit. Another argument in favor of character-focused winging it, as opposed to published scenarios, which should surprise no one.

Everyone felt tired last night. Or I did, and projected, but by the end of a basically normal-length session, we were dah-rag-ing. Big time.

If I keep going with Rebel Ops, I'll probably try another system. I'm very curious how various expressions of the setting, via system, change the way the game feels.

The cool thing: wouldn't need to keep the same characters, even, or people can. Either. The nature of the way Rebel Ops is set up is the group for that session can be different than the last, because the…

Huh.

Yeah, I need to make the situations/missions going forward a LOT shorter, so we can wrap them up in one session, maybe two. Lets us tell lots of stories about lots of different rebels, if we like. Get more people playing, different ones, and just try stuff out.

The Rebels TV show is a good model in this case (irony!): "Here's this one thing we need to do, we go do it, there's a complication, we address it, there's a twist, probably some fighting, and we deal with both the twist and fighting and get back out." Curtain drops.

Same basic model as a Mouse Guard mission: Mission, Challenge, Twist, Challenge, Twist, Conclusion. Hmm.

So, game systems: Streets of Mos Eisley (PtbA), Star Worlds (also PtbA), Risus (don't laugh, I've seen some good write-ups on this). Hell, maybe even Savage Worlds, just to figure out what all the G-D fuss is about, though I'm not sure I want to deal with … eh. I need to re-read the rules again.

Anyway, they're all dead-simple to explain to people as we play, so they're all good in that way.

And this says nothing at all about doing something else like Don't Rest Your Head, Monster of the Week, or whatever. One Ring, even.

Man could I stand to play some more One Ring. I like that game.

Platform. I would 100% rather be running entirely in Roll20 with no Hangouts interface getting in my way, but right now it's not a good option: I need a more powerful streaming/recording machine first. Baby steps.

Until then, I'll deal with Hangouts. Le sigh.

More thoughts in comments, as I have them. Also pinging current players, since this is relevant and I welcome thoughts.

200-word RPG Challenge submission: Freaks

So this thing is happening:

The 200 Word RPG Challenge puts your writing and editing skills to the test!
What can you do with only 200 words?

I’m studiously ignoring the line: “the game doesn’t necessarily have to be fun”, for reasons that should be obvious, and decided to submit a thing.

Here is that thing.


freaks

doom patrol mignolaWe’re playing heroes mighty, but maligned; devoted, but shunned. Feared by the same people they protect…

Freaks.

Start

Think up a character. Golem. Vampire. Angel. Vampire angel? Go nuts.

Pick a Specialty:

  • Sneak
  • Fight
  • Manipulate
  • Use Powers
  • Investigate

Define Your Power

  • List Blessings. Think “thematically related; but incomplete.”
  • List Banes. Why are you a freak?

These can color scenes. If they’d affect a Conflict, say how.

Play

Establish character(s), setting, situation.

Each scene, everyone wants stuff. Play your guy and push for it; you’ll hit a Conflict.

Grab one FUDGE die for your GOAL and one for the RISK. (No risk? No roll.)

ADD A DIE IF…
… there’s another Risk.
… Banes have effect (stop here).
… Blessings have effect.
… your Specialty matters.
… you’re prepared.

Roll.

  1. If Banes apply, discard the best die.
  2. If Blessings/Specialty/Preparation apply, discard a bad die for each.
  3. Assign dice to Goal and Risks.

Goal Die:
+ Goal achieved.
0 Mixed success.
– Opportunity lost (for now).

Risk Die:
+ Risk defeated
0 Danger Remains
– Injury, Loss, Goal interference

If Danger/Injury Remains, it becomes an Added Risk whenever, until you fix it.

Thanks: Otherkind, Ghost/Echo, Trollbabe

Mostly certainly prepping this for use with +Kaylee Testerman and +Sean Testerman

#gaming

Originally shared by +Rob Donoghue

Have started refining the ruleset I want to try with the little dude. Would have done it this weekend, but we played "Spy or Die Trying" instead (and it was fun!). Tellingly, the rules are refined enough that the real lifting is going to be on the actual game part of it. 🙂

Basic Focus
Ok, based on the previous post and some conversations on G+ with Bryant Durrell, I’m starting to crystallize this system in my head, starting from the Above the Earth concept. I’m going…

Thinking about Spaceships and Star Wars because… well, OBVIOUSLY

First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.

Now then…

2016-02-26_9-05-59
Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.

The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.

The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)

As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”

The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”

As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:

I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)

It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.

And, later in the conversation:

Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.

I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.

Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.

Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.

“Okay, so who’s the captain?”

“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”

“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”

laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”

“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”

“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”

“Hey, I fix things…”

“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”

“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”

And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.

(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)

And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.

There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.

I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.

Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.

It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.

(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)

I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.

Thinking about Gaming and Gaming Culture

I’m lucky.

Actually, more than that: I’m privileged.

There are at least a thousand ways I could illustrate and demonstrate this assertion, but in this case, I’m thinking of a very specific example, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

First, a little history.

I’ve been messing around with role playing games pretty much ever since I was old enough to decide how I’d spend my free time; I think I got my copy of the magenta Basic D&D box back in 1980 or 1981, when I was about 9 or 10 – maybe for my tenth birthday, actually – and after that? Well, I’m sure you can imagine how I got from there to here.

The funny thing is – the wonderful, fantastic thing I only just realized this morning – in all the time I’ve been messing around with RPGs, I’ve almost never been a part of a group that matched the typical image of a standard D&D group: a bunch of white, cis male gamers. (There are a few exception to this, one of which I’ll get back to in a sec.)

I’m not saying every group I was involved in was a diverse, enlightened crowd of high-browed intellectuals – I mean, I played in high school, with a bunch of high-schoolers, after all – but it was never just a bunch of white dudes being white dudes. My high school group counted the class valedictorian (and elven druid) as a member – she’s a practicing doctor out in the Black Hills, these days. In fact, every campaign I’ve ever run (and all but one I’ve played in) has had a mix of men and women. The most recent campaign I ran was damn near perfect in terms of participants, by which I mean white straight guys were the minority.

And please don’t think I’m saying that out of some kind of white guy guilt, because that’s attributing me motives far more noble than the reality, which is that I’m just kind of selfish: I like my RPG sessions to be interesting, and homogeneity is fucking boring. Diversity in a creative space is life blood.

So, yeah: I’m lucky.

I’m also – as I was recently reminded – privileged.

See, for the last few months, I’ve been laboring under a terrible first-world problem: with my new job (great pay, coworkers, and benefits), wonderful wife I love spending time with (often watching great genre TV over a fast internet connection), three amazing kids who like spending time with me, and a new puppy to hang out with, it’s difficult to find enough time to work on my next novel and schedule some gaming.

Yeah, I know.

How can I go on under such a burden…

Anyway, I recently had a chance to get a little gaming in via Roll20/Hangouts – a classic scenario I’d never had the chance to play, using a system I really enjoy.

And folks, I’m here to tell you: it was like jumping headfirst into raw sewage.

Basically, take every negative gamer stereotype – every negative ‘-ism’ – stack it up in a single online chat room, and squeeze the whole mess down a wire and into your comfortable white earbuds. I should have known what was coming just by how many participants were using anime characters as their profile icons, but I ignored the signs.

It reminded me I was lucky; virtually every group I’ve been a part of, including the all-white-cis-male yet polite and respectful college Star Wars group (which high character I attribute largely to our excellent GM) – has made it hard for me to really understand how bad the worst representatives of my hobby can be.

It also demonstrated (again, as though I needed proof) that I am privileged, because no matter how terrible the table talk got, I never felt threatened. I never worried I might become the target of the group’s verbal abuse, because there was literally no version of The Other that could make me a target. I was safe and, in this context and with these kinds of people, I would always be safe in ways that so many of my friends would not.

It made me nauseous.

I left, of course, and spent time in the days after talking with the group organizer(s) and a couple of the players about why I left, and I honestly think the talking did some good, and will change the culture in that group, even if I never go back (which I certainly won’t).

And maybe that matters. Maybe it changes something, somewhere, and may make someone else’s life a little less terrible. I hope so.

In the meantime, I’m writing this to say thank you to everyone who’s made me lucky; who’s helped an ignorant white farm boy from the very middle of Middle America open his mind a little and love Difference – love the strange and unfamiliar and uncomfortable Other.

You’ve made my world better, and I promise I’ll keep trying to do the same for you.

All these games, fighting monsters.

It’s really time to apply what we’ve learned.

Still totally not running a Star Wars game

… just killing some time, making up a character with my daughter.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along…


Tashi Kaden

Aspects togruta bounty hunter

  • Togruta Bounty Hunter with annoying morals
  • Too honest for some people
  • I’m my family’s best hope for freedom
  • Never trust a Hutt
  • No money, more problems

Approaches

  • Leader: +1
  • Explorer: +1
  • Tech: +2
  • Fighter: +3
  • Scoundrel: +2
  • Scholar: +0

Stunts

Bad News AvezaBad New Travels Fast
Aspect: Modified Aka’jar-class long-range shuttle
Protection: 1; Demanding (Tech roll +2 to get underway)
(1 refresh)

Aveza: the pilot
Aspect: “We’re partners, or YOU can try flying this hunt of junk.”
Professional 2 (Tech +1, Explorer +2), Resilient, Sturdy
Troubling Aspect: “Fortune and Glory, in that order, please.”
(1 refresh)

Battle Armor
Aspect: Walking Arsenal with a Jetpack
Protection: 1, Exceptional (enter/leave a scene instantly)
Flaw: Demanding (Explorer +2 roll to access enter/leave scene ability)
(Refresh: 2)


Character Refresh: 2
Current Fate Points: 2

The Clone Wars as they were Fought in my Head

This post jarred this loose and onto the page.

Back in college, I played a minor character in a long-running Star Wars campaign. (This is not to say I didn’t play a lot, and got my character to the point where the game system started to break, but I don’t think of my guy as one of the main characters in that game.) Empire Strikes Back was probably one of only five movies I owned on videotape, and I watched it … a whole bunch. Roland (the guy who ran the game, which at some point or another seemed to have included most of the gamers on campus) had all the movies, of course, and they seemed to play in a loop in his dorm room. Star Wars was a big deal for pretty much my whole social circle in those days, is what I’m saying.

One of (great) things about the original trilogy was the fact they didn’t really explain much. Stuff was put out there, sans supporting background, and you just had to work out your own explanations for stuff. Our mid-afternoon BS sessions sounded like this:

“Han’s not an idiot: why did he say he did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, when parsecs are a unit of distance, not time?”
“Maybe Lucas didn’t know that.”
“Look at Ben’s face when Han says it – he knows Han’s full of shit.”
“I think he’s saying he did it in 12 parsecs, and means units of distance. Like he found a hyperspace route that let him do a much shorter run – he’s boasting he’s the guy who found a fabled shortcut.”
“… okay that’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

The point is, we had theories and backstory for everything; stuff that only grew in depth and complexity the longer we played Rolo’s campaign.

One of the big question marks we loved to talk about? The Clone Wars.

In a galaxy far, far away, and SLIGHTLY longer ago than those other movies.

“I fought alongside your father in the Clone Wars.” That was pretty much all we had to work with. Sounded pretty badass, these Clone Wars. Epic. (Also, we saw them as MUCH further back than they really could have been, if Ben had been part of them, but whatever. We didn’t think about that.)

I think when Empire came out, there was some backstory (maybe in the novelization) that let us know Boba Fett’s armor was “Mandalorian” (whatever that was) and that he didn’t like Jedi for some historical reasons, and of course we tied all that into the Clone Wars too. (Lucas did too, he just made it stupid and kind of pathetic. Apparently, in Star Wars, all jetpacks do is look cool, malfunction, and kill their owners as a result. Buyer beware.)

And I don’t know about anyone else, but I guess I’d always pictured the clones (whoever or whatever they were in this context) as the bad guys. No idea why, really, but it felt right.

Anyway, that game wrapped up, college ended, and we all went our separate ways.

Then Phantom Menace came along.

Now, as a writer, one of my Achilles Heels (I have two) is under-explaining stuff. That’s something I’m working on, but I do so in moderation, because if anyone wants a really good example of what can go wrong when you explain things too much, and provide backstory demonstrably less cool than anything/everything your fans already imagined into those blank spaces, you need look no further than the Star Wars prequels.

When Phantom Menace came out, it was… well, it was what it was. I liked it well enough at the time. I still think it’s the best of the prequels, but that is very weak praise when you recognize how terrible I think the other two movies are.

Anyway, that movie left me theorizing about the (apparently) upcoming clone wars, and trying to reconcile Phantom Menace with my personal version of how Obi-wan and Anakin met.

My Clone Wars:

  • Obi-wan and Anakin would have met when Anakin’s more like 14 to 16. “He was already a great pilot,” but screw all that podracing bullshit. Anakin’s fighting a guerrilla war against local slavers. (Some of this isn’t what I thought at the time, but thanks to the Clone Wars animated series, Anakin and Slavery are strongly tied to each other, now, for me, and that’s fine.) Let it be Hutt Slavers on Tatooine, sure, because Lars and Beru are Luke’s Aunt and Uncle, so sure: Anakin’s from Tatooine. Fine. Point is: He is Already Fighting a War when We Meet Him.
  • The nature of sentient freedom would be a – if not THE – central theme. In general, the Star Wars galaxy has a Fucked. Up. relationship with sentient freedom. Slavery is rampant, especially when it comes to non-humans. Clones are/were only slightly less disposable than aluminum cans and were genetically hobbled to encourage obedience. Droids (and any humans with computer parts in their head) – all clearly sentient – are managed with slave collars (restraining bolts) and regular/frequent lobotomies (memory wipes) whenever they start to get to the point where their developing personality makes them less than completely tractable.
  • Anakin kind of pulls Obi-wan (and eventually, by extension, many other Jedi) into helping him with this ‘little war’, and the whole thing blossoms (with the helpful machinations of Palpatine/Sidious) into something not unlike the U.S. Civil War, with unclear battle lines drawn in such a way as to cause rifts in every major faction (including the Jedi).
  • Clones are on the ‘other’ side, as (basically) slave troops for … I dunno. The Hutts/Genosians? Sure that works. You know what? The second movie is call “Attack of the Clones” – but they aren’t attacking the POV characters, they’re defending them. Either the name is stupid (it is) or the plot is stupid (also yes), or whoever named it didn’t pay any goddamned attention to the movie they’d made (no comment).
  • We’d even get defecting clone units that join the ‘good guys’ (I put that in air quotes because, as we’ve seen, pretty much everyone in the galaxy has a fucked up idea of what’s okay and not okay when it comes to ‘lesser’ sentients.)
  • The Mandalorians are just a merc army the Hutts hired to fight the Republic, like the Hessians of the 18th century.
  • The Jedi aren’t the Catholic Church of Rome depicted in all the prequels – they’re a loose affiliation of wandering knights, roaming the galaxy, with maybe some central monastery gathering places. This loose affiliation means we get Jedi on both sides of the war.
  • We’d get to see the Hutt tanks that, by Return of the Jedi, have been cannibalized into pleasure skiffs.
  • Screw all that noise about Anakin being the Chosen One. What purpose does that serve? He’s powerful in the force (stick with what Ben said), excels in the training Obi-wan gave him, and is driven by a great and terrible purpose: freedom for all. (He would also be, by most viewers’ lights, right.)
  • The Jedi never figure out Palpatine is also Darth Sidious because Palpatine isn’t Darth Sidious – he’s a clone of Sidious (the prototype product of the cloning technology) that Sidious groomed to handle the mundanities of Coruscant politics. Once Palpatine gets the Big Chair in the Senate and gets granted all his Emergency Authority, Sidious kills him and takes his place, because the Jedi are long past suspecting Palpatine of having any Sith powers.

Anakin ultimately wipes out the Jedi because, after years of fighting, ‘his’ forces have pushed the Hutts back to just a few systems – the good guys are winning – and the Jedi “peacekeepers of the galaxy” secretly meet with the Hutts and negotiate a cease fire that lets the Republic stop fighting and lets the Hutts keep all the slaves they still control. Huge betrayal that Palpa-Sidious capitalizes on to turn Anakin, who proceeds to hunt down the Jedi like The Kurgan in Highlander.

His fight with Obi-wan leaves him nearly dead and/or dying, at which point Sidious slaps him into a cybernetic support system that – guess what? Pretty much makes him the Emperor’s puppet.

He will live out the rest of his days as The Most Powerful Slave.

Why do you think he’s got so much anger to channel?

Converting Starship Stats from WEG to Fate

Contrary to the evidence from this and previous posts, I am definitely not running thinking about running a Fate-based Star Wars game. I’m not. Shut up.

sos

Basic Guidelines:

  • If you’re in a personal ship (where you’re in some way the ‘crew’ – usually indicated by an Aspect), use your skill rating instead of the ship’s skill, with the ship giving a flat +1 to the roll if its related skill is 2 or higher.
  • If you just hopped into a ship and started doing stuff (see: Rey and Finn in the Falcon), use the ship’s skill for any related action, with your skill providing a +1 ‘assist’.

Conversion:

  • In general: 1D in WEG = +1 in Fate. Ignore all ‘pips’ on WEG stats.

  • Maneuverability/Shields: add Maneuverability to Shield rating (if any) and convert the total 1:1 for “Defense” roll bonus (2D + 1D = +3 Defense in Fate.)

  • Space: Divide by 4 and round down for situational bonus to Overcome rolls for moving between zones. Use the same number for Atmospheric fights.
  • Hull: Each full D of hull gives the ship one stress box.
  • Sensors: Straight 1:1 conversion for related contests.
  • Weapons:
  • Convert Fire Control 1:1 for ship’s “Shoot” skill.
  • Divide Damage dice by 3 (round down) and give the ship that much Harm rating. (6D = 2 Harm, 5D = 1 harm, et cetera).
  • Ion weapon damage cannot be mitigated with Stress, only Consequences.

  • Differences in vehicle Scale converts 1:1 for bonuses and penalties, as appropriate. (A 2-shift difference in scale in WEG gives the larger ship -2 to defense, -2 to attacks, 2 levels of Protection (shift damage down by 2), and +2 to damage. Conversely, the smaller ship gets +2 to defense and attack, shifts damage taken up by 2, and does -2 damage.

  • It may feel more accurate to the source material to give BOTH the smaller and larger ships a bonus to Defend rolls – the smaller ships are harder to hit, while the bigger ships’ shields are harder to get through.
  • Create Advantage rolls can do wonders here by giving opponents the ability to take out gun emplacements, shield generators, propulsion, et cetera. (Example: Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebel’s Siege of Lothal destroys a rebel cruiser with a single TIE fighter by stacking a pile of Create Advantage rolls and then one-shotting the target.)

Finally: Eyeball the resulting conversion, tweak anything that seems wrong, and slap a couple aspects or a stunt on it, as needed.

Mulling over a Star Wars game

mos eisley

Like (I imagine) a lot of folks, I’ve been thinking about how I’d run a Star Wars game, if I were going to run a Star Wars game.

Main problem? Too many viable answers.

  1. I loved playing WEG’s d6 game when I was in college. The system doesn’t scale particularly well, but I’m enough of a realist to acknowledge that I’m probably not going to run a campaign long enough for that to be a problem. It’s a fun system.

  2. If I was going to run a game OMG RIGHT NOW, there’s about a 70% chance I’d just grab FAE and go, with no tweaks.

    • If I expected the game to go more than a few sessions and still wanted to use something like FAE, I’d tweak Jadepunk, renaming Aristocrat to something like “Leader”, maybe, and ditching the Jade-related stuff. The character aspect structure is good, and the Assets system has a good amount of depth for codifying gear like ships and lightsabers and cool battle armor. (There’s just enough gear porn in Star Wars gaming to make this attractive.)
  3. Use the PtbA-simplified Streets of Mos Eisley playset (basically a World of Dungeons hack1). Then bolt on a few other bits, namely:
    • Renaming the stats to the same Jadepunkish approaches (Leader, Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, Scholar, Scoundrel). I like this for several reasons, mostly related to having nice variation between people playing the ‘same’ class. There’s some really cool synergy between the SoME classes and stats that aren’t so much stats as FAE-like approaches. Jedi with high Scholar and Leader is a very different character than a Jedi with High Fighter and Scoundrel. You can do general NPCs easily just by not giving them a class.

    • Add Bonds (renamed Connections) as they are used in Worlds in Peril, allowing them to be ‘burned’ (lowered) for roll bonuses, and requiring a Connection to the Force for force-users or potential force-users (which value moves toward the Darkside when you Burn it, natch).

Note: Doubt I’m actually running a star wars game, but it’s what my brain is stuck on right now.


  1. Where World of Dungeons is basically a Dungeon World hack that asks “What if everything was a Defy Danger roll?”, and then demonstrates it would be pretty awesome.] 

The Real Dark Side of Star Wars: Spoilers

I need to talk about something pretty shitty, but it requires a little background information, first.

Many of you probably already know this background info, but some of you don’t, so I’m filling it in for them; everyone else, please bear with.


I doubt it will surprise anyone to know I’m a long time Star Wars fan boy.

Am I the biggest Star Wars fan boy who’s ever lived? No, most certainly not.

In fact (and this bit will shock the less-super-nerdy out there), there are groups of folks out in the world who, after examining the extent of my exposure to Star Wars “stuff”, would decide quite seriously that I’m not a real Star Wars fan at all, or at least not a serious one.

The funny thing is, it’s hard to even explain this without getting at least somewhat nerdy, but I’m going to try. (In my head, as I write this, I’m talking to my sister, which is how I approach more posts than anyone would imagine.)

Now, a lot of people – most people – who say they like Star Wars mean they like the movies, because that is literally the only Star Wars thing they know about. I’m going to call these folks “mainstream fans.”

Obviously (because as a species, we really can’t leave this kind of shit alone) there is a lot more Star Wars stuff out there – more stuff than you’d readily believe. Games, of course. Comics – fucking walls of comics – and enough novels to fill a library.

Collectively, all the stuff that isn’t the movies has been (until recently) referred to as the Star Wars “Extended Universe” or “EU”. The quality of the stuff varies, and by “varies” I mean some of it is pretty good, and some of it is pants-on-head fucking idiocy that makes Jar Jar Binks look as cool as Chewbacca, by comparison.

How does stuff like that get the official stamp of approval? Pretty simple: George Lucas really likes making money, and people are willing to pay him a whole shit ton of money to play in his backyard, so he lets them write novels with Force-nullifying space-sloths (yes, seriously) and puts the Official Rubber Stamp on it, because (a) he got money and (b) he knew if he ever came out with a movie that contradicted stuff people had written, his version would invalidate all the drek he’d authorized in the past, so who cares?

In general, I don’t follow the EU stuff, and (with the exception of the first Star Wars roleplaying game that anyone licensed) don’t know much about it.

The quick summary: there is miles and miles of EU stuff, set anywhere from 30 thousand years before to several hundred years after the movies ‘mainstream fans’ know; the whole thing is an virtually unchartable hot mess…

And there are fans out there who know every single inch of it. Or most of it. Certainly more of it than I do. I’ll call them super-fans.

Now: I have no beef with those super-fans. None.

Okay so far? Good.

Now: Enter Disney.

A few years ago, Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars intellectual property and announced they were going to start doing stuff with it, and that George Lucas wouldn’t have very much if anything to do with it. (Which, after the prequels, was kind of a relief to hear.)

And Disney took a long look at the Extended Universe stuff and, after some thought, said “Yeah that’s… nice and all… but… yeah. None of that shit is official anymore.”

Basically, they boiled down “Official Star Wars” to the movies, the Clone Wars animated series that ran a few years ago, and whatever stuff they make from here on out (like the totally amazing and fun Star Wars Rebels show, a couple new novels, and of course the new movies coming out).

All that EU stuff? It’s not the “Extended Universe” anymore; it’s “Star Wars Legends” which, honestly, I think is a great name – it implies these are stories about the Star Wars universe (which they are, of course) but just that: stories. Unverifiable. Unverified. Unofficial. Enjoy them if you want – please, by all means – but know them for what they are.

Most – and I do mean most – super-fans were fine with this: they get to keep the stuff they’re into, and they get the biggest pop-culture engine in the world cranking out new Star Wars stuff until the heat-death of the universe finally invalidates Disney’s copyrights.

Some of the super-fans are not happy, and have decided to be unapologetically shitty human beings about the whole thing. I will call this small, vocal-like-a-screaming-howler-monkey subset of super-fans the “spoiler fans,” and here’s why:

These people have decided that it’s not enough that they have this stuff they like. Because Disney has said it’s not official stuff anymore, that somehow makes it impossible to love that stuff as much as they once did – their love is somehow capped by its lack of an official stamp, and this cannot be allowed to stand.

What do they want? This is pretty funny, actually: they don’t just want Disney to go back and say “okay, that stuff is still at least as official as it was when George Lucas was taking your money and planning on invalidating anything he felt like, whenever he felt like it” – they (apparently) want Disney to keep making EU stuff, in addition to the stuff Disney is already making.

“Well, that’s nice,” you might say, “maybe they want a pony, too?”

And yeah, it’s kind of funny, until you realize the internet has allowed shitty people to be shitty on a far greater scale.

See, they’re trying to hold Star Wars hostage to get Disney to do what they want.

How? They have vowed that they will spoil each and every spoil-able moment in the new movie as loudly and as broadly as possible (which, today, is pretty loud and pretty broad), if Disney doesn’t cave.

You’ve probably seen those image memes on Facebook or whatever, asking people not to spoil the movie. I have, and thought “yeah, it would suck to be spoiled ahead of time.”

Because that can happen by accident. Well-meaning, happy, enthusiastic fans can get on the internet and broadcast out to their friends, joyfully exclaiming about all the stuff they loved about the movie, and accidentally spoil something for someone who hasn’t seen it yet, because how have you not seen it yet?!?

This isn’t that. This is not an accidental thing. This is not your friend loving the movie so much he spills something.

This is a guy standing outside the movie theater before The Empire Strikes Back, waiting for the line to form, and then telling every single person in line “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad.”

Except the guy has a megaphone the whole world can hear, if they aren’t careful, and he shouts the message at unexpected times.


I’m telling you about this, because it already happened to me, and I don’t want it to happen to you.

I leaned about this little movement of spoiler-fans via a friend’s post on Google+.

The very first comment to that post was one of these guys, and all he posted was a spoiler, and I am pretty sure he spoiled probably the biggest plot twist in the movie for me.

Now, obviously, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so how do I know?

Let me put it this way: if that guy who came up to you in line at Empire Strikes Back had said, perfectly straight-faced “Darth Vader is Luke’s dad,” would you have believed him?

Maybe you think about it a bit, and it syncs up with everything you know about the movies thus far, and it syncs up with what you’ve seen in the trailers, and it just seems like a very Star Wars-y plot twist.

Maybe you don’t believe it, completely and totally, but you believe it enough that you will sit down in the theater and, basically, spend the whole movie waiting for that moment to come. Or not.

Even if it doesn’t, you will not have enjoyed the movie as much as you might have, because you were distracted. And if it does happen just as that guy said? Well.

That’s the kind of thing this guy posted. One line. Ten words, and there goes my 100% unmitigated enjoyment of the new movie.

Now, shut up: this isn’t about me. Yes, you’re very sorry about this happening. Yes. I love you. Thank you, now shut up for a sec.

Listen.

These fuckers are out there. They are doing this on purpose. They’re enjoyment of their pile of stuff has been somehow – idiotically – damaged; Disney made their Masters-level knowledge of a made-up universe less important than it already was, so they have decided to shit on every other person who wants to enjoy the new movie, because (apparently) “Fuck anyone who is enjoying themselves, if I am not.”

I don’t care about me. I’ve watched Empire Strikes Back probably thirty times, if not more, and I know – know I will enjoy it when I watch it again, because I’ll be watching it with my kids, and the shine hasn’t come off for them.

Because of that, I know I will enjoy this new movie when I watch it, because I will be watching it with my kids and even if I don’t feel the same sense of surprise and wonder as I might have, they will, and I will still get to feel that, through them.

And I know they will get to feel that, because I’m going to protect them from these… infantile man-children and their shit-spattering temper-tantrum.

Now: why did I write all this? Because I want to try to protect you, too.

When you see spoiler warnings, heed them. Stop thinking of spoilers as “that one little thing my super-happy friend let out after he saw the movie” and start thinking “halitosis-reeking stranger who wants to dip his filthy index finger in my morning coffee.”

From here until you see the movies, absolutely avoid comment sections on any Star Wars-related post on any kind of social media.

Just… for a few days, expect people you don’t know to be kind of shitty for no good reason.

I realize that’s kind of a downer message, but seriously: I want you to enjoy the movie.

And also, yeah: I want those petty fuckers to lose, because fuck them.

(Comments on this post are disabled, for obvious reasons.)

Another good article on how people enjoy games

Money quote: "And so help me, if you try to explain the difference between buy-in and immersion and engagement in my comment space, I will find you and I will kill you."

I think that's entirely fair.

Gaming for Fun (Part 2): Getting Engaged | The Angry GM
The Angry GM delivers advice to players and dungeon masters of fantasy role-playing games with humor, snark, and attitude. Game masters and players are sure to find something of use, whether they are playing AD&D, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, 5E, Pathfinder, D&D Next, or any other role-playing game.

Very interesting read on game design

Definitely looking forward to Part 2, and (of course) I've started looking at my own gaming and that of those close to me to see how they line up to these theories.

Gaming for Fun (Part 1): Eight Kinds of Fun | The Angry GM
The Angry GM delivers advice to players and dungeon masters of fantasy role-playing games with humor, snark, and attitude. Game masters and players are sure to find something of use, whether they are playing AD&D, D&D 3.5, D&D 4E, 5E, Pathfinder, D&D Next, or any other role-playing game.

RPGs with my Family: Dungeon World

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a chance to play any “of your cool games” with my niece and nephew (see here for the last time), but my family was coming out, and I’d been informed that they definitely wanted to play SOMEthing.

They didn’t really say what, so I talked it over with Kaylee and after some back and forth, we figured we’d go with Fate Accelerated if they really wanted to play using the same system we’d used last time, and Dungeon World if they didn’t have a preference. (Kaylee was keen to do Dungeon World in a freeform setting, rather than the Dragon Age game we played about twelve sessions of this summer – she thought that setting would be “too rough.”)

Unlike last time, I’m not going to get into an actual play, because this time wasn’t much like last time.

For starters, we didn’t get nearly as much time to play as we did during the last visit; last time was during the holiday break, my sister was out for most of a week, and our two youngest kids were at daycare for several of the days, so we had all kinds of uninterrupted free time. This time, we had eleven people banging around the house, only two evenings where the kids were all staying in the same house, and we weren’t able to even talk about the game until about 9pm, both nights.

But WITH THAT SAID, I am still really impressed with the background and story Malik, Jadyn, and Kaylee were able to put together in very little time playing Dungeon World – a game meant to represent a genre my niece and nephew knew only as “pretty much like The Hobbit.”

IMG_20150829_232619

We basically started from nothing, with no background at all. The kids picked out characters to play from the stock list. Once we got to the part where everyone defined Bonds with each other, I started asking questions, and their answers created everything about the situation and the world we were playing in.

I could go into some detail, but the upshot is that after maybe a half hour of Bonds-related questions, we had a bustling, cosmopolitan city ruled by a noble class secretly infected by vampirism over the last decade. Our heroes (a former-noble thief, bard with expertise in the undead, and priest of secrets, magic, and mayhem) were dead-set (heh) on exposing the vampiric nobility to the masses and bringing down the secret regime.

This from a 10, 12, and 16 year old – two of which don’t have any real exposure to the genre, at all.

Many of the newer RPGs out there suffer (in my opinion) from a kind of assumption of familiarity from the players. In some (worse) cases, the assumption goes further, figuring the players will not only know the genre(s), but get the irony of the game/setting/mash-up — in most cases, it makes the game uninteresting or unplayable for my young family members.

In this case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a game that could take real newbies and help them get a solid game going.

We didn’t get enough time to play – not a fraction of ‘enough’ – but we certainly wished we could, because the game we’d come up with (thanks in no small part to the way Dungeon World is set up) was engaging and exciting and, put simply, fun.

Five of five stars, will definitely play again.

Getting caught up on #RPGaDay2015

http://autocratik.blogspot.com/2015/06/rpgaday2015-this-august-it-is-happening.html

August 1 : Forthcoming game you're most looking forward to

My daughter +Kaylee Testerman and I are both excited about the Legend of the Elements rpg, for reasons I believe will be obvious.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/686114674/legend-of-the-elements

August 2 : Kickstarted game most pleased you backed

In terms of a kickstarter that's resulted in the most play-time for me, I think that probably has to be either the Fate kickstarter, or the one for Dungeon World. I've gotten more play out of Fate, though, so let's call that one the winner here.

August 3 : Favorite Game of the last 12 months

I'm saying Dungeon World here, even though it's not new to anyone but me and my daughter. It's still new for us, and fun, and that's enough for me.

August 4 : Most Surprising Game

That's Monster of the Week, which I really didn't expect to care about very much, and which I really, really like, and want to run.

Legend of the Elements by Max Hervieux — Kickstarter
Max Hervieux is raising funds for Legend of the Elements on Kickstarter!

Elemental magic, martial arts and wuxia action meet in this tabletop roleplaying game inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender!

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #4: Lines and Veils

The title for this post doesn’t have anything to do with the story of what happened in the game. It has everything to do with what happened with me and my player.

“Lines” and “Veils” are terms originally used in this context with Ron Edwards’ Sex and Sorcery, a supplement for Sorcerer. The basic idea is there’s a line that marks subject matter that isn’t allowed in-game, and a “veil” behind which lie events with are allowed, but not described in detail.

I try to be the best dad I can be, but sometimes I miss the mark. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Dragon Age that there’s some subject matter that doesn’t suit everyone, either because it’s a bit too graphic, or (more often) because it plays hardball with the emotions, and sometimes I don’t successfully identify what those elements are, and need them pointed out.

It’s like this: every time I’ve run any tabletop game based in Thedas, someone at the table has teared up. Once it was over a dog, and I stuck to my guns. Once it wasn’t, and I realized I’d missed the mark.

This time, I flubbed up or nearly flubbed up a couple times, so by all means learn from my mistakes.

Before we played, I made a few notes about the main NPCs in this part of the story, and what they wanted, so I could act accordingly. The two main ones:

  • Arl Rendon Howe – wants to “reclaim” the seat of Highever that his family once held (many generations ago). He will stop at nothing to accomplish this, up to and including the murder of innocents. He has orchestrated a situation in which he has the overwhelming advantage, playing on the trust Teryn Bryce Cousland has in him.
  • Duncan – needs a strong Grey Warden candidate to bring back to Ostagar. He has several options within Castle Cousland, and won’t leave without one of them, unless staying means the failure of his whole mission.

Howe Treachery

In the night, Arl Howe’s “delayed” troops reveal themselves and attempt to seize the castle. This force vastly outnumbers the skeleton crew of Cousland guards within the keep, and it’s only through the quick thinking of one (now deceased) guard that the Howe forces don’t take the castle and kill everyone in a matter of minutes: most of the attacking troops are still outside, trying to bash their way through the keep’s heavy portcullis and front gates, both of which have been secured with deadman weights that take a dozen men to lift.

Although she went to bed early, Elana does not sleep well. Her rest is troubled by a disturbing dream in which she relives the earlier conversation with her father, while the face of a simpering Arl Howe transforms into the narrow, long-nosed mask of one of the fat grey-bodied rats she fought in the pantry.

It’s almost a relief when Wolf’s ferocious barking wakes her. Normally, she’d try to keep him quiet, as her quarters connect via a large common room with the other family apartments (one suite for her mother and father; the other for her brother, his wife, and their son), and she’s gotten in trouble for her furry companion’s noise, in the past.

She shushes her pet, but he won’t be entirely silenced, and continues to growl menacingly at the door to her room. Elana remembers both the pantry and her “Arl Howe as Evil Rat” dream, and both things prompt her to action: she eases out of her bed and over to a chest where she’s tossed her armor and other weaponry.

Finally, she shushes Wolf properly, and prepares to pull open her door to see what’s going on out there.

Kaylee doesn’t know why yet, but this action triggers a Defy Danger move, and I have her roll.

No one, least of all the two soldiers on the other side of the door, were expecting the result.

She nails the roll, and pulls open her door just as the soldier outside was about to kick it in. He sprawls in the doorway, doing a painful split, while his companion (holding a nocked bow), gawps.

To her credit, Elana’s first instinct isn’t to run a helpless man through. She demands to know what’s going on, but the only response is the man on the ground scrambling back and getting to his feet (she notices the emblem of Arl Howe on his shield), and the other man growling “kill her!”

Kaylee pulls a nice little tactical move, drawing back to the right and hard against the wall, so the archer has no angle on her and the closer soldier will have to come partway into the door to engage her, blocking his ally.

After some goading, the guy with the shield surges in, head on a swivel, and he locks in on Elana.

Unfortunately, he forgot about Wolf, who rushes him from the side, and with that distraction, Elana is able to run him through, just above the neckline of his armor.

This was the first point where we hit a slight disconnect between Kaylee’s expectations and the fiction. She’s played tons of games with me, but they’ve almost all been supers genre, or inspired by stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender or pulp adventure. In short, they may have a lot of action, but generally, no one’s dying.

Basically, this more brutal fantasy setting was a surprise to her, and she hesitated more than a little when she realized her character had actually killed someone. It didn’t freak her out, exactly, but it set her back on her heels a little bit.

The archer had pulled back further into the common room, and Elana didn’t have any desire to charge a drawn longbow. Much better to engage in kind. Elana’s bow was still on the chest, on the other side of the room, so Elana dove across the doorway to get to it.

I called for a Defy Danger + DEX, and Kaylee blew the roll (and got a point of XP!). I asked her if she was going to get hit, or if Wolf was going take the damage for her (and be out of the rest of the fight) – the bow sang, Elana pushed Wolf ahead of her, and the arrow went halfway through her calf muscle. OW.

Kaylee’s character actually got the crap beat out of her during this and the next session – by the time it was all done, she was down to single digit hit points and I was skimming the “Last Breath” move.

Another side note: There’s actually a Ranger move that lets your animal companion soak a hit for you, then recover later. I wasn’t using that move (Kaylee doesn’t have it), but simply giving her a hard choice on her failed roll. Kaylee really doesn’t like her pet taking a hit in her place (also, he really does help with the fights).

Elana gets her bow while the bowman taunts her. She readies her arrow, holds Wolf back by his collar, and then whispers “Go.” Wolf charges through the door, and Elana steps out (onto her good leg) and Kaylee rolls Volley + Dex, getting perfect boxcars. The archer wastes his shot, missing Wolf, and drops before the war hound even reaches him.

Elana calls the dog back immediately and scans the large common room. Two more guards are pounding on the double doors leading into her parents apartments, making a great deal of noise (they’ve almost gotten through and are shouting threats at whoever’s inside). They haven’t noticed what’s going on on behind them.

Kaylee wants to sneak out and surprise them with her bow, and a successful Defy Danger lets her do a called shot and take one guy out before they realize she’s there. The other guy dies before he can reach her.

She rushes to the door and calls out, and her mother responds, then forces the door open. She’s donned armor as well, and has a well-worn (if not recently worn) sword in hand. Her eyes go wide at the arrow sticking out of her daughter’s leg, and tears up a sheet to make bandages while they catch each other up. Elana’s father never came to bed – he was up talking with Arl Howe, and he mother doesn’t know if he’s even still alive. If he is, he’s probably in the main hall, defending the main entrance into the keep. Her mother, once shown the Howe blazon on the soldiers’ shields, is livid and swearing a blue streak.

Her mother then has Elana bite down on one of her own arrow shafts while she works the other shaft out of Elana’s leg, bandages the wound, and tells her they need to get to the main hall.

Heading back down the common room, they see the door to her brother’s rooms, broken off its hinges, and two bodies on the floor within – one woman, and one child.

We stop there for the night.

On the whole it was a good session, and Kaylee was really into the scenes and the tactics of it, but a few minutes after she went to bed, she called me in and told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep playing.

I asked her why, and she told me that she wasn’t used to the kind of fighting we were doing. I’d been going into lots of detail about what was going on the fights, but thing is, I was going into the wrong kind of detail – stuff she wasn’t comfortable with. I told her that I could be more vague about certain things – saying “he goes down” or “she out of the fight” to kind of soften things up (put it behind a “veil”), but the setting was the sort of thing where people were going to die, so we needed to be at least okay with that, or we should stop.

She was okay with “vague death,” but then went on to say she really wasn’t okay with what looked like her character’s six year old nephew getting killed. This was much more of a “lines” kind of conversation, and I reassured her that while things were pretty grim in her brother’s room, they weren’t as bad as they seemed, and if she’s trusted me to do another session, we could work through that.

So: some stuff goes behind veils, and some stuff needs to be behind a line and just not get touched. In hindsight, I should have guessed all that ahead of time, but I got wrapped up in (a) getting the narration to work with and for the rules “right” and (b) the setting and the story. My bad. I have to say, I came away from the after-session conversation very impressed with how Kaylee was able to articulate exactly what bothered her and what she wanted to do about it.

And the next session ended up being pretty darn awesome for both of us, even though…

Well.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #2: Dungeon Age? Dragon World?

So I’m pondering Dungeon World with only one player, but player characters in DW need bonds with other characters, and maybe I can solve this with… companions? Persistent NPCs the player’s character can interact with in depth? This tickled something at the back of my brain – a region scientifically known as “that bit that makes me give BioWare too much money.”

As I’ve mentioned, I like Dragon Age (the RPG) and that’s at least partly because I love the setting for the Dragon Age video games – Thedas is a rich setting, and more than that it manages a potent mix of fresh invention and classic tropes – one might almost say cliches – of the genre; in many ways, there’s nothing especially new about the world BioWare presents in Dragon Age. Rich history, countries VERY OBVIOUSLY AND DIRECTLY based on real-world cultures, a rising evil, and a hero leading a motley band of misfits to save the world. It has, to put it lightly, been done.

But BioWare does it really, really well (most of the time). Then they do it again, then again, then again…

In short, it occurred to me that if I wanted to front-load some kind of heroic fantasy “thing” in a world with which I was quite familiar and which I already associated with the kind of “hero plus a double handful of role-play-linked NPCs”, I could hardly do better than starting with Thedas.

Thedas

With that said, there are all kinds of potential red flags with using this sort of solution with Dungeon World, mostly having to do with the fact that the game expects a lot of world building to emerge in play. But I had a pretty solid counter argument to that:

“Fuck it, it sounds fun.”

Still, I needed to make sure Kaylee agreed, so one evening we sat down and I went over the setting from roughly -6400TE to Sometime Yesterday Afternoon to see if anything in there sounded cool.

Result: LOTS of stuff sounded cool to her. The challenge then shifted to narrowing down to one or two places (both physically and temporally) that really grabbed her. We eventually winnowed it down to:

  • The Qunari arrival in the lands of Thedas (Zen-Communist Utopia Warriors invading evilish wizard empire).
  • The Grey Wardens (secretive organization dedicated to stopping the recurring arch-demon-led “Blights” that rise up to wipe out all life – who seem to know the only way to stop the Blights, with members from all sentient species and all disciplines).

We also talked about the various countries, and she really seemed to dig the reverse feudalism of Ferelden (where a noble’s job – one they can easily lose through incompetence or negligence – is essentially to protect local land owners and other civilians from predation, in return for… you know, payment).

So knowing she was into Grey Wardens, thought the Qunari were pretty cool, liked the idea of fighting a Blight, and liked Ferelden, it seemed pretty obvious we could basically start off in the same time-frame for Dragon Age: Origins, and then see how far we can blow those events to smithereens and do our own thing.

Thinking on it some more, I came up with a basic list of things to watch out for, and how to deal with them.

  • Don’t let the game run on video-game rails. This one is pretty obvious, but luckily it’s also pretty easy to deal with. The thing with Dungeon World (and, conveniently, my own play style) is that rather than some kind of meta-plot of events, you want to focus on people (well… “people”), what they want, and what they’re currently doing about it (see also: Towns in Dogs in the Vineyard). Anyone who’s played Amber with me knows that my between-game prep was basically just flipping through a complete deck of trump cards for all the NPCs (and places) and thinking about what they were doing either on their own or in reaction to whatever happened in previous sessions, and then playing accordingly in the next session. This is pretty darn close to how DW suggests managing the game’s “Fronts,” and conveniently, after mumble-hundred hours playing DA:O, I’m familiar with the various Fronts in that storyline, what they’re up to, and what they’re planning to do to get what they want. Out of necessity, the video game presents this stuff linearly, with set points in the story where interference is possible, but I can just wash all that cruft away and let the thing live and breathe. Spend a few evenings sketching out Fronts in the Dungeon World style, and I’m prepped.

  • Don’t try to map every event directly. Or: “don’t try to play through every single fight in DA:O.” Again, obvious, but worth keeping in the back of my mind. I want to focus on important social and martial conflicts, focus on the fiction, and focus on what my player is doing.

  • No custom playbooks to match the setting exactly. This may be something that makes both Dragon Age purists and *World hackers shake their heads a bit. In short, I’m just going to use the “classic” classes presented in Dungeon World – the ones pretty much any fantasy RPG player knows: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard, Ranger, et cetera – and shoehorn them into the roles presented in the Dragon Age fiction. There will be some tweaks made to Paladins to focus more on anti-magic stuff (since paladins will be templars) and basically all other magic-users (from Clerics to Wizards to Bards to whatever) will, within the fiction, just be different flavors of Mages (either Circle Mages or Apostates), and I’ll probably tweak the settings on multiclass moves so the lines between the spellcasting classes are a bit fuzzier, but otherwise, that’s about it. Dwarves won’t be clerics, and I might drop clerics entirely in favor of Circle Mages who use a move to learn spells from the Cleric list, just to keep magical healing roughly in line with the setting as presented.

But mostly, I don’t think I need to customize things. As much as I like the Dragon Age RPG, there are lots of different game-system ways to present Thedas, if you focus on the fiction.

“Focus on the fiction” is one of those tricky rules-that-don’t-look-like-rules that tend to crop up in Lumpley games, and it kind of tripped me up in our first session, which I’ll write about next.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #1: Just Figuring out What to Play

My gaming with Kaylee is fairly well documented and, in general, we’ve been pretty happy playing Fate or Fate Accelerated. It’s the sort of game that let’s me play pretty fast and loose with prep, and Fate Accelerated in particular gives us the flexibility to run pretty much any weird genre mashup Kaylee comes up with. All cool.

With that said, I’ve had an itch to try some different games. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Famliarity. While it’s easy to get excited about a new setting or story, it’s a little more difficult to get excited about the game system, since she and I are both quite familiar with Fate at this point.
  • “Same-Same.” Part of that familiarity brings along a sense that all of the obstacles and in fact the characters are a little bit… similar. Five aspects. Same numeric range on the same six approaches. Same numeric bonuses from the same number of Stunts. We can mix that up a bit by going for the more detailed Fate Core version, or something like Atomic Robo, or something even just a little more detailed like Jadepunk, but there’s an increase to overhead in there that doesn’t appeal to either of us at this point.
  • Tiny bit more crunch. I don’t like the way Fate “extras” are written, and Gear is gone in the current iteration, so if I want “stuff” that doesn’t just feel like a couple more aspects and stunt to keep track of, well… It’s hard to have them not feel like that, because in Fate that’s what they are.
  • Better failure incentives. Fate actually has decent incentives for failure. The problem is, the incentives for success (and the fuel – in the form of Fate Points) are stronger, and the mechanics are such that (at least in my experience), if you fail, it’s almost always because you let the other side win, like someone’s uncle “racing” their five-year old nephew across the backyard. Success is super easy, the instinct to win is natural and strong, the ability to do is right there, so while failure is often more interesting, it’s just as often disappointingly rare.

So, in short, we’re looking for something a little different not out of any lack of love for Fate, but just to shake things up a bit, ignite some excitement for a new system to go along with a new game, and maybe get a bit more “classic crunch” in there.

Now with that said, it’s no easy thing to just grab some other game, because I’ve got some counter-criteria.

  • Relative Simplicity. Kaylee can easily deal with any game system out there, I think. Certainly, something like 5e wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s always the chance Sean will pop in and want to play. I want to make that happen, and as I’ve explained before, my guideline for relative rules simplicity is “can a four year old manage it?” (This is one of the other reasons Fate Accelerated isn’t working really well right now: the +/- of the dice, subtraction that can go into negatives, et cetera definitely does not work for someone in Pre-K One.

  • Low Prep. I have the time and ability to prep a game at the point, I suppose, but I’d really rather have something that’s 25% prep and 75% happening in the game, at least in part because playing with Kaylee is extremely hit or miss: She might be tired, I might be tired, something might get in the way, and it might be weeks or even months before some big-prep thing actually sees the light of day. The return on investment for heavy prep is just not there.

  • Two-Person Friendly. – A whole bunch of RPGs want a handful of players, minimum. I could pull out DnD 5e (and I’d be happy to do so) and run Princes of the Apocalypse, but at that point either Kaylee is running three or four guys (with minimal attachment to any of them), or I’m using a spreadsheet and rebalancing the whole thing for one character which… no. No, I’m not doing that.

So, the mix of all these things eliminates a lot of games I’d normally be quite happy to run or play, under other circumstances.

  • DnD 5e. I like a ton of the stuff I’ve seen and read and heard about this game, but both prep and rebalancing encounters for a single hero is non-trivial.
  • Burning Wheel. I’ve read some great “solo hero” actual play reports, but again the prep (for someone not entirely familiar with the rules, due to lack of playing) strikes me as a way too much. Lots of stats for everything means a lot of prep. No.
  • Mouseguard. Hits a lot of the necessary criteria (prep is a dead-cinch, I know the system, I know what I’d change, and the mechanics and setting are Sean-friendly), but it’s a bit too far the other way in terms of interesting failure – solo MG would be brutal, and frankly that’s not what I feel like doing right now.
  • Dragon Age. I like the rules, and the simplicity, and the stunt system. Honestly I just like this game a whole bunch, but balancing to one player seems like an exercise in frustration, even more so than DnD.

I toyed around with The Strange a little bit, but Kaylee didn’t seem to find the premise very interesting. I’m not confident the Heroquest dice mechanic would be very… approachable. The One Ring is great, but again I don’t think the game is really balanced for solo heroics.

I kept coming back to Dungeon World (rulebook’s been sitting on my shelf since the kickstarter shipped ~mumble~ years ago), a fantasy adaptation of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. The system is light and fast, and while the dice mechanic isn’t as simple as “count how many high dice you rolled”, adding three small numbers together is doable for any potential player in my household. Its fans trumpet the ease of prep, and in one GM’s words, running and playing the game is kind of like “a diceless game that sometimes go to dice” which, to put it mildly, fits pretty well inside my comfort zone.

It all seemed to work for what I needed, except that the characters need to have Bonds with other player characters. However, I thought I might be able to make that work, assuming I could provide Kaylee with a rich array of persistent NPCs to interact with – a band of companions or something, but without the overhead of “the GM is basically playing a half dozen other fully-statted PCs.”

A band of companions…

That gave me an idea.

June Game Day

Nice game day yesterday with +Dave Hill, +Kay Hill, +Margie Kleerup, +Kim Stone, +Tim White, +Kaylee Testerman, +Kate Testerman, +Mary Oswell, +Stan Pedzick, +Izabella Schafer, and roughly a half dozen G- folks in attendance.

We played:

* Love Letter. Remains a favorite pick-up for me. Quick, light, and fun. Three of four new players and a close game meant it ran a bit long (we finished 4-3-3-2), and some of the depth and nuances of the game didn't start to appear until near the end, but a fun game. Several good laughs throughout.

* Power Grid. Didn't play this, and while I can't read introverts worth a damn, the folks playing it certainly seemed to be intently invested.

* Tsuro of the Seas. – Tsuro is one of my favorite family-friendly games – we've played successful games with players ranging from 5 to 91, and everyone loves it. It's quick and fun, but tricky enough to keep everyone interested, and there's a kind of zen peacefulness to each move that I really like. Tsuro of the Seas is… a fine design that will sell more game boxes to folks that find Tsuro a bit boring. Too fiddly and random for my tastes. Felt like someone had erected a half-dozen neon billboards in front of my favorite Grand Canyon overlook.

* Night of the Grand Octopus. – Never heard of this, and didn't play it. Near as I can tell, it's sort of "demonic teddybear minons serving a giant cartoony Octopus/Cthulu, and everyone's trying to out-minion each other." It played very quickly – that table unboxed it after we unboxed Tsuro of the Seas and wrapped up at the same time.

* Sentinels of the Multiverse. – Kaylee and I have both been playing this (on iPad and Android, respectively), and looked forward to Dave bringing over the tabletop version. I need another play-through with four, rather than five players, while playing someone a bit more interesting than Legacy (who is fairly dull on the tablet, where you're running all four heroes, and mind-numbingly boring on tabletop, when he's your only guy), but my first impression is that the electronic version is much more enjoyable, for two reasons: 1. It's faster, for a multitude of reasons. 2. The electronic version has the rules coded right in, and doesn't have to deal with the INCREDIBLY VAGUE rule book and SUPER-POWERED INCREDIBLY VAGUE cards. (We were trying to stop Omnitron, whose gameplay only becomes somewhat clear after a half-hour of post-game Google searching.)

Hell, the only reason the game didn't make me even more frustrated was because I'd learned the rules and knew what to do thanks to the tablet version. If I'd come into the card game cold, I'd have walked away deeply disappointed.

* Ultimate Werewolf – We've been playing some version of Werewolf/Mafia since 1998 (we used to play it before playing Amber, to get everyone in the right mind set), and I would say One Night Ultimate Werewolf is the best iteration of the quick-and-dirty version of the game (for long versions, see all the various trust/betrayal games that have come out since then, like Shadows Over Camelot, The Resistance, or Dead of Winter).

"Best of breed" does not mean flawless: the little rulebook could use about two more pages on actually starting the game, and needs an editor to rewrite it along the lines of "this is the information people will need, in the actual order they will need it." Probably, no one notices this, because once you limp through one game, it's easy to see how it's supposed to play, and you can replay from there, no problem.

We could only play one time, though, so… yeah – the smoothing-out process did not occur. I played purposely poorly/suspiciously, just to get people talking and accusing and pointing fingers, and while this meant I died at the end, I was amused that Stan won the whole thing (leaving both the werewolves and villagers in the losers circle) by getting his Tanner hanged alongside my poor, misjudged Seer.

* Forbidden Island. Once the guests had gone home, the littles got to bed, and the kitchen was cleaned up, Kate and Kaylee and I pulled out Forbidden Island, one of our go-to favorites when we have a half-hour before bed. (Weird thing: despite rabidly loving this game, Kaylee never plays the version on her iPad. It's the reverse Sentinels of the Multiverse.)

Despite misremembering the rules during the first turn and giving the Island back-to-back flood phases following a Waters Rise event, we still managed to pull out a win. Might be time to start playing on the next harder setting…

All in all – a great day spent with friends. Even if I kvetch about this or that flaw in a game, the simple fact of the matter is that games are a bit like sex – even "relatively mediocre" is miles ahead of nearly anything else you could be doing.

Playing Hero Kids with my Hero Kids

Last night, in lieu of normal bedtime activities (reading Winnie-the-Pooh, Justice League I-Can-Read books, or our new favorite, Bone), Kaylee and Sean and I played some Hero Kids.

Hero Kids

For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.

This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.

2014-11-15

Epic battle in a makeshift downtown.

But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.

The Four-Year-Old Test

Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:

Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.

By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.

  • No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
  • No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).

Roll. Find biggest. Done.

It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)

Example Character

The level of complexity a player deals with increases in direct proportion to how much of the character sheet they understand.
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.

And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.

MG-knight

Another example…

So, About the Actual Game…

The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.

Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]

As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).

There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.

The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.

“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”

“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”

“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”

“Why don’t you girls handle it?”

“Us?!?”

“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”

The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.

Kill Ten Rats

What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.

2015-03-10 - playing hero kids

I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.

  • Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
  • Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
  • Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
  • Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
  • The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
  • Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.

“What are you going to do, Sean?”

“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”

  • The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
  • The high-fives when King Rat went down.
  • Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.

This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.

“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”

“I sure do, bud.”

“With King Rat?”

“Yup.”

“I think… we should play that again.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”

So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.

2015-03-10 - hero kids

GotG: the Avengers Campaign

"So I’ve got this headcanon that Guardians of the Galaxy is really the Avengers playing a table top roleplaying game, where Bucky’s the DM who suffers through heaps and loads of trolling "

Mostly from Steve.

Especially from Steve.

Judd Geeks Out
sperari:
“ foundloveinbudapest:
“ obsessiforge:
“ bluandorange:
“ so I’ve got this headcanon that Guardians of the Galaxy is really the Avengers playing a table top roleplaying game, where Bucky’s the…

Superhero mini battles, take two

At Kaylee's request, which I count as a success for the "system."

This time with a mat and no tape measure.

… And no 15-month-old randomly rearranging the battlefield like Batmite on a sugar bender.

 

New Must-Get Game

Holy crap. Temple Run + Forbidden Island + Cooperative play = TAEK MAH MONEH AND GIVE TO ME NOW!!!

Also: Rampage. Totally need that yesterday.

Home
Escape Der Fluch des Tempels. Release Oktober 2012. Download von Trailer und Anleitungen

The D&D 5e Monster Manual is probably the best Monster Manual ever made for the game

… and yet it can hacked, updated, modified, and otherwise screwed with in many fascinating ways, which is what Zak's doing right now. Following his awesome Old One-ification of the Aboleth, he's on to Angels, and it's good, good stuff. I particularly like ranking the things based on old Hebrew lore.

Playing D&D With Porn Stars: …and Gygax Saw The Angel
Angels (split into deva, planetar and solar and all barely distinguishable) come right after the aboleth in the manual and have a similar problem–since they, too, strongly rely on a monotheism for their impact. Plus they’re good which means there aren’t a lot of reasons to fight them.

Zac's Ongoing Series on Gameable Art History

The whole series is great – just wonderful stuff – but part nine on "Cultures we don't know much about, really" is especially-super-excellent.

Playing D&D With Porn Stars: The Known Unknowns
“…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of …

Mulling Over *Mountain Witch* mashups

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on stuff related to the Mountain Witch, specifically:

  1. Prepping for a traditional “ronin samurai” play-through of the game, hopefully on Hangouts, hopefully soonish.
  2. Pondering various settings hacks for the game, including Dwarves/Dragon, Adventurers/Castle Ravenloft, Spark Prisoners/Escaping Castle Heterodyne, and so forth.

The basic criteria with these settings/setups are:

  • Protagonists have been, until the start of this game, pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do, and what they do isn’t usually very nice.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skill (for instance, having a bow lets you be a combat threat a much longer range than with the default daisho).
  • Trust – who you trust, how much you trust them, how that changes as the story progresses, and how that trust is used for or against you – is a huge deal.
    • Related to that: there is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters, so that the trust everyone has for each other is a bit uneven, right from the outset. (In the baseline game, it’s based on the zodiac of your birth, in the dwarf version it’s based on your birth stone, with Adventurers it’s… I dunno. Something something handwave figure it out before we play.)

A new setting hack occurred to me today, though, that’s really pretty interesting – the basic idea is using Mountain Witch to run The Hunger Games.

  • Protagonists are or have been pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skills (which is why everyone’s scrambling for special supplies at the outset of a Game).
  • Trust and how it’s used is a huge deal.
    • There is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters; in this case replace the Zodiac with the Districts, with a similar network of “you start off trusting these guys, and not these guys” for everyone, plus a bonus “and you really trust (or really don’t trust the other person from your own District).

At this point, all I’d need to do is map the basic outline to the four acts that Mountain Witch defaults to, with bonus points if the game actually starts well before the beginning of the Game itself (in the Capitol or something).

Well, that and change the two default questions players answer during character generation.

Double-bonus points if it’s not literally Hunger Games, but something in that general ‘survival YA’ vein.

#rpgaday Day 8: Favorite Character

I've pretty much never got to play a character more than 1 or 2 sessions, with the exception of the D&D 3.0 living campaigns that took over gaming convention in Denver for about 5 or 6 years.

They gave me the opportunity to be a regular player for the first time ever, and that leads me to my favorite character: Gwydion Caddock, kilt-wearing bard (with a few levels of barbarian) – what I referred to as a Skald.

Fate of the Four Nations (playing FAE in the world of Korra and Aang)

My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.

Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…

bolin begs
Ugh, if you’re gonna beg…

Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.

I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.

So:

  • Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
  • I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
  • In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.

What’s a basic Bender look like, then?

For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:

  • Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
  • Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
  • Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
  • Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.

Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:

Earth

  • Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.

Water

  • Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.

Air

  • Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.

Fire

  • Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
  • Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.

The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.

You never know what an untrained bender will do.
You never know what an untrained bender will do.

What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)

That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.

Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).

Thoughts?
Thoughts?

Wildstar Tabletop Gaming, by way of FAE/Jadepunk

“You should do a Wildstar game,” opined my daughter.

“Sorry?” Her comment confused me, both because Wildstar is an MMO and because I was distracted at the moment due to the fact that we were both playing Wildstar at that moment.

“Like you did with DC Universe,” she explained. “A Fate version of Wildstar. That would be cool.”


I’d actually already had the idea, and had muttered incoherently about it to Ryan M. Danks while we jawed about his new FAE game Jadepunk over on the Googles. Ryan’s played a bit of Wildstar, and easily spotted the parallels between the MMO and his game.

SO, prompted for a write-up by a now-overwhelming list of two whole people, here’s a quick-and dirty hack of Jadepunk for running a Fate version of Wildstar… probably the … well, one of the most edge-case, limited-audience thing I’ve ever written a blog post on, and the competition in that arena is stiff.


Disclaimer: I’m really not much of a game hacker/designer. It’s not that I don’t have any inclinations in that direction, but for me it’s more rewarding to take a game as-written and make it work for a particular setting than it is to change a game around until it’s a perfect fit. For example, most “using Fate to run a supers game” hacks leave me cold, as it always feels like a lot of extra fiddling for something you can do with the game-as-written.

So… there won’t be many changes to baseline Jadepunk, here; this is more a mental exercise in using what’s already there to do the thing you want to do.

What We’re Starting With

At some point, I’m going to actually write about Jadepunk itself, why I like it, and why I didn’t think I would, but for now let’s just focus on what it is:

Jadepunk is a sort of elemental wuxia/gunslinger/steam- clock-work/Legend of Korra mashup built on the lovely, powerful-yet-lightweight Fate Accelerated system. My impression (which may differ from others) is that the primary differences between it and vanilla-FAE are:

  • A slightly different focus for the five main character aspects.
  • A reskinning of the six character Approaches, adding flavor and intent that matches the setting.
  • A more structured, “ads/disads/point buy” system for building “Assets” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

If you love the loosey-goosey build style (I do), then the Assets system may be a bit of a culture-shock, but luckily I also love fiddly “build-it-yourself” power systems, so it didn’t take me long to both grok and enjoy playing with that system.

The titular jade is one of the main rules-constraining setting elements: it (via the five basically elemental-themed colors) functions as both magical power source for strange effects and technology-analogues (see: white-jade-powered wireless telegraphs, or red-jade shell casings) and conflict driver.

Finally, you’ve got the default setting of Kausao City, home to the rarest kind of Jade (black, a sort of magic omnigel) and a kind of Shanghai-meets-Babylon-5, ripe with the sort of corruption that sees the wealthy strangle the middle- and abuse the working-class. The PCs are (by default) assumed to be those who’ve decided to fight against those wrongs in a very “you have failed this city” kind of way.

Note: I don’t in any way need to reskin this game to Wildstar to make it worth playing – the rules, setting, and setup all make me quite happy – it’s good stuff.

Where We’re Trying to Get

Wildstar, by contrast, is a far-future sci-fi setting. The basic idea is a bunch of sentient races that have all been (to greater or lesser degrees) messed with by a elder, hyper-advanced race (referred to as “The Eldan” to make it easy to remember), now loosely divided into two “Alliance vs. Browncoat” factions.  The Eldan have long since vanished, and both of the sides in this conflict have recently discovered the planet Nexus, initially thought to be the Eldan homeworld but, in reality, more likely the site of the Eldan’s great (and apparently “successful”) multi-pronged attempt to achieve a technological singularity that (if nothing else) shuffled them off the perceivable wavelengths of our mortal coil.

Having found this place, both sides of this perpetual war are now poking around the remains of these massive Eldan experiments, trying to recreate the whole bloody mess, while shooting at each other, because what could possibly go wrong with that?

Similarities to Jadepunk include:

  • Similar “approaches” (professions)
  • Similar wild west, cobbled-together-tech feel
  • Similar elementally-themed power sources for said technology
  • The kind of setting that lends itself to the Assets system that Jadepunk uses.

Differences:

  • Class- and level-based character progression.
  • “Magic”
  • Different story focus: Jadepunk is a game about doing the right thing; Wildstar is a game about unlocking mysteries perhaps best left buried.

So Here’s the Hack

Differences aside, let’s say I want to run a quick and dirty Wildstar game. What do I do?

1. Throw out the idea of Wildstar classes, profession, and trade skills.

We’ll get there, but we’re going to come at things sideways. Read on.

2. Leave Character Aspects (p. 31) as is.

You’ll either need to fill in a lot of history for the players, or they’ll need to be familiar with the Wildstar setting, but once that’s done, it’s really no problem coming up with Portrayal, Background, Inciting Incident, Belief, and Trouble aspects that work.

3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)

  • Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, and Scoundrel are fine.
  • Professions aren’t Classes. Treat the Professions like sliders that indicate what your character is focused on. A warrior will probably lead with Fighter, sure, but so might a combat-focused Engineer (who ranks Engineer and Explorer at 2) while another “similar” gear-head goes Engineer 3, Scientist 2, Scoundrel 2… and is all about raiding old Eldan laboratories. You could have a whole party of “Stalkers” who play very differently…
  • Rename Scholar to Scientist, make a note that it’s a go-to profession for using Create Advantage to identify/create Environmental aspects during a conflict (“Hey, if we bombard these big flowers with gamma radiation, they create a remarkable low-gravity field…”), and carry on.
  • Replace Aristocrat with Settler. Settler has all (or most) of the same social applications, and is also used for building stuff that isn’t some sort of new invention (Engineer) or discovery (Scientist), all of which overlap or enhance one another in various ways.

The Settler creates social networks (villages, townships, even outposts), often by building the infrastructure that supports them. Despite their life on the “lonely frontier,” a Settler is a social creature, willing to speak up at a town meeting, step out on the dance floor at the next hoe down, negotiate trade agreements and land rights, and stand up for a new settlement in the face of a Red Sun Mercenary gang looking to shake down some farmers.

Overcome: Settler is used to influence others to do work together (or for you), either through charm or coercion, and to establish connections with others. Storytellers charm their audience, deputies interrogate suspects for information, and store owners barter their goods or services.

Create Advantages: Use Settler to create advantages representing infrastructure improvements (barricades, town walls, armament emplacements, hardened power grids) or populace-wide emotional states (Enraged, Emboldened, Shocked, Hesitant, Joyful, or Excited). You could give a speech to Inspire, stir a crowd into a Crazed Mob, find someone Talkative or Helpful, or get everyone working together to get the Jury-Rigged Missile Defense System operational before the Dominion air support shows up…

Attack: Settler only performs attacks as part of social duels.

Defend: Settler defends against any attempt to damage your reputation, change a mood you’ve created, tear down the infrastructure improvements you’ve built, or make you look bad in front of other people.

4. Do pretty much everyone else you want to do with Assets

Want your Granok to have extra tough skin? Want your Aurin to be especially good sneaking around in natural surroundings? Want to specifically emulate one of the skills from the MMO? Do all that with Assets.

  • Scanbot: Ally (Professional: Scientist 2 , Explorer 1, Sturdy 1, Resilient 1, Independent, Troubling: Easily Noticed) – basically a scientist teamwork-bonus following you around
  • Taunting Blow: Technique (Exceptional: Reduce damage shifts by 2 to apply “Taunted” aspect to target that can be used either to compel target or as a defensive boost to anyone the target attacks, other than the character.; Situational: Only on Success with Style; Situational: Only with Melee weapon/or/Only with arm-mounted Plasma Blaster)
  • Bruiserbot: Ally (Professional: Fighter 2, Explorer 1, Sturdy 2, Resilient 2, Independent, Troubling: Random Aggro)
  • Spellslinger’s Gate: Technique Focus: +2 to Explorer: Create Advantage – Stunned on Target(s) you either appear next to or which you were next to before you gated away.; Flexible (sort of) Create Advantage roll (less the +2 bonus) also counts as Overcome for character moving to adjacent zone (line of site required); Limited: Once per scene)

And the Assets system doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to combat. Assets are a great way to address some of the bonus skills provided by professions, or Wildstar’s trade skills… though some of those might be easier to do with a basic FAE stunt, with no Flaw. (“Because I am a Relic Hunter, I get a +2 to Overcome with Explorer (or: Scientist) when extracting useful resources from otherwise useless/broken Eldan artifacts.”)

A Word about Healing

Several of Wildstar’s “healing” classes focus on creating (or restoring) temporary shields around the targeted character, and I’d focus entirely on that for the Fate version: make Create Advantage rolls to create “Refreshed shields” effects that your ally can invoke for free on their next defense roll, for example. Assets along these lines might allow for a Create Advantage on an ally when you Succeed With Style (and take -2 shifts) on an attack on an adjacent enemy (or vice versa, for the defensive-minded)… or even create a temporary “device” asset on your ally with Sturdy: 2.

One of my favorite Medic abilities (the healing probes) would be something like “Exceptional: affects all friendlies in zone; Sturdy: 2; Limited: Requires Resonators; Situational: Success with Style; Troubling: Angers any enemies in zone (aggro).”

And that’s it

No, seriously, that’s about it. Most of tweaks are in character generation – once you’re playing, it’s pretty much just Fate as-written, and focusing on “tell me what you want to do, and we’ll figure out what to roll later.”

Hangouts/Roll20 Gaming: Past and Future

As most of you know, I finished up a Fate game about a month ago that ran via Google Hangouts and the Roll20 plugin (session videos here). I’d originally thought it would run around 6 sessions (my rough estimate for a face to face tabletop environment with ~3.5 hour sessions), and it ended up at 9, not because Hangouts made it take longer (if anything, Hangouts and Roll20 sped things up) but because we ran shorter sessions of about 2 to 2.5 hours each.

It took right around 3 months to get in 9 ‘weekly’ sessions which, for adult gamers with many commitments, isn’t at all bad: 9 sessions in around 12 weeks, with one player suffering technical problems and another who lost a family member and was unavailable for a couple weeks. I entirely attribute this session/week ratio to the flexibility Hangouts gave us – no one had to travel to the game location, and thus no one had to budget extra time for packing up their stuff, getting presentable, driving over, and getting home after: they just logged at the right time, logged out at the end, and boom – they’re home already and there’s no gaming group to clean up after.

wifi
And you can play pretty much anywhere.

(Honestly, Hangouts made the game possible in the first place: player locations ranged from the east coast to Alaska.)

This setup (short-ish scenario, running to conclusion over a limited period of time) worked well, and based on that, there are at least a few other games I’d like to play pretty soon with, if anything, even shorter arcs. These include:

  • The Mountain Witch, which is pretty much designed for playing in two to three sessions, and which has a pretty non-crunchy system with nonetheless brutal mechanics.
  • Fiasco, maybe several times, using different play sets. I’ve never played this, but I have high hopes, and as a GMless game it appeals to me. I’ve actually built an “Amber Throne War” playset that I’d like to play…

That said, I can also see a couple decent ways to do longer running campaigns, and I might try one of them fairly soon, as well: I’m thinking of an Atomic Robo (Fate) campaign with a couple basic guidelines:

  • Scenarios that either wrap up in one session or which everyone understands may not resolve the very next week.
  • A rotating cast of characters.
  • A slightly larger pool of involved players than I’d want to GM, if they all showed up.

The idea here is a sort of “monster of the week” setup, where we play with whichever Tesladyne employees are available that week, and no one stresses out if they can’t make it. This would let us run regardless of schedule conflicts (potentially improving the session/week ratio even more) and, if we didn’t wrap up in one session, we’d have the option to continue that arc whenever that same group of players were available (maybe allowing in an additional action scientist in part 2 as surprise backup or whatever), rather than forcing a delay until all those same players could make it.

(Also worth considering: with the folks playing, there’s a better than normal chance that some sessions would have a guest GM and I could just play, which would be awesome.)

Pretty much the same setup would work (I think) with Ryan M. Danks’s Jadepunk (which is built mostly on the very pickup-friendly Fate Accelerated and Ryan’s own design kung-fu), though I’m pretty sure some kind of over-arching metaplot would creep in on that one, just because of the setting. I consider that a feature.

I plan to pitch this (these?) to my Google+ gaming peeps pretty soon and see who’s interested.

Why I haven't Blogged about Wildstar Yet

… as explained by Tycho at PA. (See link and disregard first paragraph, which is mostly about something else.)

"When I try to write about Wildstar, I get stuck in a sort of spiral. I don’t really know where to start, because everything refers to some other part. It’s interlaced in a way that reinforces everything. […] So where do I even start? At what point of the spiral do I bring you in, and begin to chart it? Maybe I’ll figure it out if I log in and play this instant."

Yeah. It's pretty much like that.

For me, Wildstar has created one of those vanishingly rare situations where, if I have a question about how something works, I would rather log in and spend two hours playing with that thing to figure it out… than take twenty seconds looking up an answer.

I'm still looking for the element or aspect of play – a class, a path, a trade, something – that I can point at and say "There. I do not enjoy that. I would not want to play a character with that as a core facet."

I have eight 'main' characters because so far, I haven't found it.

Penny Arcade – The Cool Of The Pool
Club PA. Ad Free Experience; Club PA Pinny Arcade Pin; Staff PA Podcast; And 10+ more benefits. Learn More · Penny Arcade · News · Comics · Read. Penny Arcade · Read. The Trenches · Read. Camp Weedonwantcha · Read. PA Side Stories · Read. PA Presents · Archive · Forum · Shop …

The Creepiest Option is Probably Best

This is for all those well-meaning #hailhydra nerds out there who are trying to mash-up the HYDRA logo with SHIELD.

This is a HYDRA logo:

HYDRA
#hailhydra

This is one of the two commonly seen SHIELD logos (I have been theorizing about the reason for the two different shield logos we see in the movies and TV show for the last year; pity Kate, who’s had to listen to most of it):

Shield Logo #1. Note the crisp, clean, and most of a STRAIGHT lines.
Shield Logo #1. Note the crisp, clean, and most of all STRAIGHT lines.

This is the other SHIELD logo, which is somewhat more dated in appearance and seems to originate from the formation of the organization – in other words, that point in the group’s history when it was first [SPOILER].

Shield Logo #2: Note the soft, curving, one might even say tentacular wing elements.
Shield Logo #2: Note the soft, curving, one might even say tentacular wing elements.

If you, well-meaning fan that you are, decide to mash HYDRA and SHIELD together, don’t use Shield Logo #1 – it just looks silly.

HYDRA + SHIELD logo #2, however?

Now we're getting somewhere.
Now we’re getting somewhere.

To make this slightly gaming related – the SHIELD/HYDRA upheaval in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Great setup for a super-spy espionage game, or best setup for a super-spy espionage game? Discuss.

First #fatecore #gaming session with +Kim Stone, +Dave Hill, +Reggie Sanders, and +Amanda Brueschke, playing a vivisected version of The Demolished Ones

Post just before we start session two.

Originally shared by +Doyce Testerman

First session with +Kim Stone, +Dave Hill, +Reggie Sanders, and +Amanda Brueschke, playing a vivisected version of The Demolished Ones.

I linked the video on youtube when it first went up (Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One) – this is the written actual play.

Random Average » Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One
You wake up in a room. The floor is cold, stone, dry. The lights – three bare bulbs dangling from the rafters – do little to dispell the gloom. It takes time for your eyes to adjust. You stand, brushing grit and dust from the front of a tailored jacket you’re sure you’ve never seen before.

Post Ludus Analysis: (Fate) Gaming with Kids

Almost all of the RPG gaming I’ve done recently has been with kids 14 and younger.

All, in fact, of the face to face gaming; only my google+ gaming has involved adult majorities at the table.

After wrapping up the Supers game I ran with my daughter, niece, and nephew, I scribbled down some notes, combined them with some thoughts I’d already had after playing solo with my daughter, and… well, here they are.

Fate Accelerated

Bar none, one of the best pick-up game systems I’ve played or run. As I demonstrated in the “Escape from Brainiac” scenario, you can quite literally sit everyone down with blank character sheets and begin playing immediately, teaching the game and building characters as you go. I think the basic outline for the game went something like this:

  • First Scene: The Golden Rule: “Describe it first, then we figure out what to roll.” Set High Concept. Use (and set) first (and maybe second) Approach. How do dice work. How are roll results determined. First Stunt. Different action types explained, as they come up, determined by The Golden Rule.
  • Second Scene: Trouble Aspect. First Relationship Aspect.
  • Third Scene: Second Stunt. Working together (Create Advantage). Using Aspects with Fate Points, the basic idea of Boosts as ‘flimsy aspects.’ Consequences. Second Relationship Aspect. Additional approaches rated.
  • Fourth Scene: “Personal Goal” aspect. Character basically complete, barring final stunt. Recharge Fate Points.
  • Fifth Scene: Dealing with opposed rolls. Overcome checks. Dealing with the concept of Armor.
  • Sixth and final scene: Everything comes together in one big scene.

And, despite being “light and quick,” it’s satisfying. The six approaches are quite broad-stroke ‘skills’, but Aspects and Stunts give the characters lots of individual flavor and impart the sense of growth. Also, it’s worth noting that having only a few Approaches means that those +1 bumps to an approach every 2 or 3 sessions feels like a really significant ‘level up’, compared to the same thing in Fate Core, where looking at a character with ratings in 10 skills out of possible 18 makes the +1 feel good, but not quite as huge.

The Golden Rule is Especially Critical

Most uttered phrase in any FAE conflict with me and my daughter: “Just tell me what you want to do.”

The Golden Rule in Fate is ‘Figure out what you do and then figure out what to roll.’ For kids, this goes double-triple-quintuple times. My daughter loves the rules for Fate and FAE, and tries to grapple with them for every action she wants to take – it hampers everything going on in the story, including her enjoyment of it. (And mine.)

When we remember “Just describe what you’re doing, make it cool, and then we’ll figure out what to roll,” things are fantastic.

To be honest, I find that’s a very good thing to remember when gaming with adults as well – it makes the play much better – but experienced adult gamers will do the imaginative heavy lifting in their heads, on their own, if necessary, because they’ve learned they usually have to.  New players and kids won’t have learned that, so their enjoyment of “announce action, roll, announce action, roll…” is much lower.

Which is good: it enforces the need for the Golden Rule – a good rule for any system, really.

They’re Going to Get Hit More, Hurt More, Bleed More

New players/kids don’t hit Aspects quite as much, don’t Create Advantages as much, don’t make use of existing ‘free’ aspects or Boosts as much. They just don’t. They’re less likely to use Fate points aggressively, and (from what I’ve seen) tend to keep them on hand to reduce the effects of a bad roll or getting hit hard more than to buff up one of their big hits. As a result, they’re characters fail more than (in my experience) most experienced gamers do when they play Fate, simply because they don’t invoke Aspects with the same aggressive abandon. (1)

((1) That means, by the way, the kid’s games are generally more enjoyable and exciting than Fate games I’ve played solely with adults, because failure – especially failure in Fate – is cool and interesting, as are Stress and Consequences. In my experience with Fate Core and FAE, failure is almost always a thing you have to let happen to your character, and most adult gamers don’t, which is a shame.)

All of this is fine, but there are a few things you’ll have to take on as the GM that you normally wouldn’t need to when running a game of Fate with more experienced players.

  1. Reminders to be awesome – let the dice fall where they may and then ask whoever rolled if they think one of their Aspects would give them a bonus to what happened. Because of the sorts of board games that kids are familiar with, the idea of tweaking a die result after the fact will be unfamiliar – they’re used to rolling and taking their lumps, good or bad.
  2. You’re the one who games probability curves. You as the GM probably need to take on the decision on whether or not to use an aspect invocation for a bonus (do this on any roll -2 or better) or a reroll (if the dice came up -3 or -4).
  3. You Must Remember Compels – most experienced gamers really engaging the Fate system will remember their Aspects and suggest compels when the opportunity is there – they like getting Fate points. This is great for a GM, because you don’t have to keep track of 5x+y aspects.  Kids and new gamers, on the other hand, generally aren’t looking for ways to screw their characters for a few Fate points, so you need to help them with that. Keep an eye on everyone’s stack of Fate points and when someone starts getting low, glance at that PC’s aspects and figure out a way in the current or next scene for them to earn a FP with a compel. Repeat this continuously – in my experience with kids, this will probably remain your job – most won’t aggressively do the work for you for a long time, though they’ll quickly become more accepting of the basic idea.
  4. You Are the Acting Hand of the Golden Rule. They will never tell you they want to Create an Advantage. Ever. Never ever. Make them tell you what they want to do, and YOU determine if something is an attack, overcome, or creating an advantage some other player can then exploit.

Remember: They’re Kids, and Kids Will Drive You Crazy

I think it’s clear that I love gaming with these guys, but still… yeah, it’s exhausting. My wife and sister thanked me dozens of times for ‘handling the kids’ over the holidays, because (a) playing Fate was pretty much the only thing the kids wanted to do when they had free time and (b) the other adults could see it wore me down over time.

Don’t get me wrong: they’re amazing, clever people, and consistently brought a steel-melting level of enthusiasm to the table. I love that.

But they’re kids. There’s certain inevitable consequences of that fact.

Focus (especially when it’s more than one kid) will be a huge, frustrating issue: more than once I announced (or said to one or another individual) I was going to go do something (anything) else if they couldn’t pull it together and show some respect for the game we were all playing.

Player Bravado is another thing I’d forgotten about. All that stuff you may or may not remember from gaming AS a kid with other kids the same age? You didn’t imagine any of it, and it wasn’t just you and the other idiots you played DnD with in high school. Arguing with the other players about whether or not their guy could beat the other player’s guy… bluster about which powerful NPC would leap to the attacked PC’s defense… randomly announcing they were going to join the bad guys once they got off the ship…

… that last thing was pretty cool, to be honest. But whatever.

And not all of the ‘kid’s habits’ I remember from my youth are terrible: I was able to make use of one the day after we wrapped up the Brainiac scenario.

Everything Can Be a Game

One of the things me and my gaming group (really: my best friends) did back in high school is stat everything.

And I mean everything. Cool movies. Bad movies. TV shows (they were all bad, I think). Characters from books. Character from comics. Every single person we had to read about in the history section of Social Studies. We statted EVERYTHING… then we argued about it.

And I think that was a good thing. We understood the system(s) better, and it helped us start to deconstruct both characters and stories analytically (something I find more than a little useful today).

So, the day after we wrapped up the game, we got to talking about how characters really work in Fate, what Aspects are supposed to do, long term, and I got the bright idea to give examples from books and movies they knew. Both Malik and Jadyn are huuuuuge Hunger Games fans, and if there’s an easier modern YA novel to stat out for a game, I don’t know it. High Concepts. Trouble Aspects. Relationship Aspects. Personal Goals. Gear. Conditions. Compels.

So easy.

And, as we talked about it, even though they’d been playing Fate for the last three days, you could see new lights going on – new understanding. New ideas.

Good, good stuff.
Good, good stuff.

The Point Is…

The point is, there’s “kids” stuff you handle (focus), stuff you just ignore or ask them to waste time on later (that bragging nonsense), and stuff you can and should engage. I think it’s all an inevitable aspect of new/young players and a game they’ve just learned to love.

And they do love it.

And it’s so worth it.

And I would absolutely, instantly, jump in to do the whole thing again.

Character Progression in Fate Accelerated

One of the complaints/problems I've run into with previous incarnations of Fate were with character advancement. To be blunt, there wasn't any, or it wasn't satisfying for those familiar with more mainstream RPG gaming.

That is, without a doubt, a 'fixed problem' with Fate Core and FAE. The best demonstration of that I've found have been with write-ups like these: Conan's entire career as a series of FAE milestones.

A couple other great examples are Batman: Year One (http://station53.blogspot.com/2013/10/this-post-is-inspired-by-dt-butchinos.html) and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6 (http://mdpaste.appspot.com/p/agdtZHBhc3Rlcg0LEgVQYXN0ZRjZ6xgM).

Character Highlight: Robert E Howard’s Conan – Through His Career (FAE)
Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.” – …

Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn

So I'm thinking about Area of Effect attacks in Fate, and came up with a stunt for same. 

AoE Junkie. +2 to any Magical attack action where you split your final total between multiple targets.

The basic idea is a Stunt that makes attacking a few people at once a decent option, while still resulting in attacks that are weaker, on a target-by-target basis, than a single-target version would have been. Thoughts?

[I reallly want to add follow-up "Lina Inverse" stunt that gives an additional if you target allies as well as enemies, indiscriminately. :)]

#gaming   #fate

FATE: The Goddamn Batman

So there are ways to stat out Batman as a starting character. But (a) someone already did that and (b) I need an NPC version of Bats for a game where he’s one of the Big Three and the PCs are playing newly minted players on the super-powered stage.

So basically I started with the idea that Batman is a ‘skills’ character, and his best skills are going to be about 2 better than the best a ‘normal’ super can bring to the table, solo. That gave me a skills pyramid that peaks at “Fantastic” and literally includes every skill in the setting, even “Lore” (used for magic), which Bats understands the theory behind, even though he doesn’t have the requisite mojo (aspects) to cast spells.

My personal favorite bit is using the Cover Identity stunt from the new Fate System Toolkit to make Bruce Wayne, and then give Bruce, not Bats, the high Resource skill — Bruce is where the money is, after all.

As for the rest, I basically went with Batman as he’s portrayed in stuff like New World Order and Tower of Babel.

BatmanBatman_0683

Aspects

High Concept: World’s Greatest Detective
Trouble: Bruce Wayne is my mask
Dark Knight
All Those Wonderful Toys
Bats are great survivors

Skills
Fantastic (+6) Investigation
Superb (+5) Stealth, Provoke
Great (+4) Fight, Knowledge, Notice
Good (+3) Athletics, Will, Craft, Shoot
Fair (+2) Physique, Piloting, Drive, Contacts, Survival
Average (+1) Empathy, Burglary, Deceive, Lore, Rapport, Resources

Stunts
Elementary. You can pick apart a lie by analyzing the details. Use Investigate to defend vs. Deceive.
Utility Belt. An array of useful little things. Whenever you need something, you have it, provided it’s not something too unusual (for you) or too large to fit in a pocket, belt pouch, or backpack. When you say you have something, the GM should be likely to agree.
Batcave. Get a +2 to Craft or Knowledge for creating advantages or overcoming obstacles, provided you can access the cave.
Where did he go? You can roll for concealment even when being directly observed, provided any sort of “distraction”-type aspect can be invoked.
Secret Identity (see Cover Identity, FST): Bruce Wayne. [Aspect: Billionaire Playboy. Apex Skill: Resources (plus Deceive, when defending the identity.)]

FATE: Statting out Supers, because why not?

Inspired by Ryan’s work on representing the Avengers and the JLA in Fate, and because I’m getting my head around this to run a DC Universe “Brainiac Invasion” game, I’ve been fiddling around with statting out various established characters in Fate Core and Fate Accelerated. I figured I’d share some of them here.

Black Widowblack widow

This version of Ms. Romanov is a bit of a mix between the classic comic book leader of the Avengers and the Black Widow we see in recent movies (who gives up the swingline/stinger bracelets for a glock). I think it’s a pretty good write-up, one of the easier ones I did, and the nice thing is that with a different set of aspects, this basic character skillset + stunts ports remarkably well to the Bat Family in Gotham.

Aspects
High Concept: Russian Superspy
Trouble: Dangerous Liasons
Natural Leader
Red Room Conditioning
I’ve got red on my ledger…

Skills
Great (+4) Stealth
Good (+3) Athletics, Shoot
Fair (+2) Fight, Investigate, Deceive
Average (+1) Burglary, Notice, Drive, Will

Stunts
Swingline. You move two zones for free in a conflict without rolling, instead of one, provided there are no situation aspects restricting movement.
Deadly Romance. Get a +2 to Deceive when seducing a target.
Flawless Interrogator. Get a +2 to Investigate when questioning someone.
(Optional) Widow’s Sting. Once per combat scene, spend a Fate point to force your target to take a Consequence rather than using Stress from a ranged attack.

Refresh: 3 (or 2)

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Sneaky
Fair (+2) Clever, Quick
Average (+1) Forceful, Careful
Mediocre (+0) Flashy

Stunts
Because of my Red Room Conditioning, I get a +2 to Sneakily Attack in melee range.
[Two others as you like, or rework some from Fate Core.]

The important thing to remember about working out supers in Fate is that, as Ryan mentioned in his exploration of representing Iron Man’s suit, Aspects are always true, even if they aren’t currently being invoked. Black Widow is always a superspy, with the abilities and so forth that the super-soldier serum convey. Always. She gets to use her bracers to shoot stuff even when she’s not invoking her stunt, and in the same vein, she can use her swingline for stuff that isn’t just about moving quickly from zone to zone in combat. From “I have a gun and knives because super spies have guns to knives” to “I’m practically Immortal” to “I’m bulletproof“, the rules are there to follow the story and lend it mechanical weight, not the other way around.

250px-X-Men_Storm_MainStorm

I’m not particularly well-versed in X-men lore (I got the basic idea for Storm from the latest Marvel-branded RPG), so there are a few aspects and stunts that can be filled in by someone a bit more motivated or knowledgeable, or when Storm shows up in play, but as a baseline, it’s a pretty fun start.

Aspects
High Concept: Mercurial Mutant
Trouble: Claustrophobic
Strong-willed Leader
Goddess of the Storm
[open] (Former street thief?)

Skills
Great (+4) Shoot
Good (+3) Athletics, Will
Fair (+2) Notice, Physique, Lore
Average (+1) Investigate, Stealth, Burglary, Empathy

Stunts
Emotional Link. When you create any “high-emotion” aspect on yourself, you get two free invokes from it, if it pertains to your powers.
Weather-born. +2 to defend against attacks based on temperature extremes or electricity.
You know what happens to a toad that gets struck by lightning?. +2 to create weather-based advantages.

Refresh: 3

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Flashy
Fair (+2) Forceful, Sneaky
Average (+1) Clever, Quick
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
Because I am a mercurial mutant, +2 to Forcefully Attack if I have an aspect indicating my emotions are high.
Because I am the Goddess of the Storm, +2 when I Flashily Overcome a social obstacle.

[Another  as you like, or rework some from Fate Core.]

Wolverinecan I help

Because who doesn’t like Wolverine?

Aspects
High Concept: Weapon X Feral Mutant
Trouble: Mysterious Past, Even to Me
I’m the Best There Is at What I Do
Masterless Samurai
Beerserker

Skills
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Will, Physique
Fair (+2) Athletics, Notice, Provoke
Average (+1) Drive, Stealth, [2 others as you like]

Stunts
What I Do Isn’t Very Nice. Once per scene, when you force an opponent to take a consequence, you can spend a fate point to increase the consequence’s severity (so mild becomes moderate, moderate becomes severe). If your opponent was already going to take a severe consequence, he must either take a severe consequence and a second consequence or be taken out.
Claws. Weapon:2
Regeneration. Spend a Fate Point to downstep a Mild or Moderate consequence.
Admantium Skeleton. Armor:2
Animal Senses. +2 Notice when scent is a Factor.

Refresh: 1 (In story terms Wolverine needs to have things go against him for awhile before he really gets rolling.)

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Quick
Fair (+2) Forceful, Flashy
Average (+1) Sneaky, Clever
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
Because I regenerate, once per session I can shift a consequence down a notch from Moderate to Mild, or Mild to gone.
Because of my Admantium Skeleton, I get +2 to Forcefully Defend vs physical attacks.
Because I am a Feral Mutant, I get a +2 to Cleverly overcome obstacles where my senses are a factor.

Finally, remember that Aspects are always true: Wolverine regenerates, whether he spends a fate point on it or not, so all he needs is a short rest after a conflict for his Consequences to shift to their ‘on the mend’ versions.

… and that’s it for now. Just playing around and figured I’d share.

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.

FATE?

Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.

Mechanics

For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.

FAE?

As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice – Putting the Play into Practice (4/4)

Whew.

Okay, let’s see if we can pull all this musing into some kind of coherent plan for missions. There’s a lot here, so let’s boil it down.

Here are the parts of the topic already covered:

  • Part 1 and Part 2 talked about the fundamentals of PvP in Eve (as broken down by Ripard Teg), and how those could be applied to new missions.
  • Part 2.5 answered some questions that parts 1 and 2 generated.
  • Part 3 talked about the ways Ripard’s “stages of PvP” could map to “stages of a mission.”

From that, I want to boil down some of the rules and guidelines for making new missions based on the precepts of Eve PvP.

  1. Current PvE missions are kind of terrible. Outside of the UI, it is in PvE mission content that Eve truly shows its age: dated, primitive, simplistic, and boring.
  2. Aside from being boring, all but a few of the missions teach piloting behavior at direct odds to every other part of the game. Yes, running missions will teach you how to interact with Eve’s UI, but in all other respects missions actively train that player in ways that makes them demonstrably and steadily worse at every other kind of play in the game, including:
    • Poor ship selection. (Bigger is better! Battleships beat everything! Gear determines success!)
    • Poor ship fitting choices. (Cap rechargers! Propulsion modules are pointless! What’s a Warp Scrambler?)
    • Poor target selection/situational awareness. (Shoot the battleship first: it’s got the biggest bounty. What do these icons over my HUD mean? Nevermind, don’t care!)
    • Poor threat assessment. (There’s only fifty of them and one of me. No problem!)
    • Poor or non-existent manual piloting skills, let alone an understanding of transveral and/or signature/speed tanking. (I’ll just approach the next acceleration gate and slowboat that way as I kill everything.)
  3. I’m not talking about missions getting harder, unless by “harder” you mean “requiring some preparation and thought.”
  4. I’m not talking about replacing all the old missions, because the old missions form a backbone of salvage that the market needs. That said, those missions where you’re fighting 50 on 1 should CLEARLY MENTION that you’re not fighting a credible threat like capsuleers, and mention this OFTEN.
    • Corollary to this: mission agents should be dismissive of the threat of normal fleets to a capsuleer, and if anything overreact to the possible threat from even a small group of ‘capsuleer’ NPCs in a mission.
  5. Higher level missions do not automatically (or even often) equate to ‘you need a bigger ship’.
  6. The level of the mission should determine how much “ship fitting” hand-holding the player gets beforehand.
    • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a bad time.”
    • Level 2 missions: ”This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to perform [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
    • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
    • Level 4 missions: ”This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give us eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

Important:  This is about bringing the skillset of the PvE pilot closer to skillset of the PvP pilot, so that acclimation from one mode of play to another is easier and, thus, more likely to see crossover.

This is not about moving higher level missions to low- or null-sec. Doing that won’t ‘force’ anyone in the game anywhere, except “out of the game.” It’s a GAME, people will play how they want, and if you try to force them, you’re just hurting the game.

Now, with all that TL;DR summary in place, let’s talk some specifics.

1. It’s Not the Size of the Ship…

Different ships fit different roles. Each class of ship has areas were they excel, and others where they are weaker. Bring only one type of ship to a fight, and you are that much more likely to encounter a “hard counter” that will annihilate you.

Missions should drive home an understanding of the strengths of various ship classes.

FF (Frigates): Excellent Tackle. Excellent Scout. Decent bait, provided support is nearby. Moderate to Good EWAR platform. Not-bad support option, in some situations. Reasonably good damage mitigation versus larger ships, thanks to high speed, but otherwise comparatively fragile. Comparatively poor damage.

DD (Destroyers): Serviceable tackle, if nothing else if available. Serviceable Scout, if nothing better is available. Decent bait, provided support is nearby.Generally poor EWAR platform. All but non-existent support capability. Moderate to poor damage mitigation (tank can be matched by some frigates, too slow to speed tank very well.) Comparatively OUTSTANDING damage: Excellent versus frigates or other destroyers. Excellent cost-to-damage option versus larger targets.

CC (Cruisers): Generally poor tackle versus smaller targets, good “heavy” tackle versus bigger targets. Not recommended for scouting, but often decent bait. Potentially excellent EWAR platform. Potentially excellent support capability. Good to great damage mitigation. Good to great damage (though you probably won’t get that AND good mitigation). Great all-around ship versus moderate resistance, and can tweak fittings to deal with many different types of ships. Best versatility for cost.

BC (Battlecruisers): Generally as a cruiser, but more so. Exceptions: poor EWAR or support except in gimmick small-gang fits. Even more flexible options in terms of modules makes it potentially more versatile than a Cruiser (giving up less to get what it needs) at higher cost that may or may not be worth it.

BB (Battleships): Poor tackle. Terrible scout. Obvious bait. Rarely used as ewar, except on dedicated ships. Support options are often somewhat gimmick fits. Great damage mitigation. Great damage (and can easily do both at once, by comparison to smaller ships), though applying damage to any smaller targets may require specific modules (webs, scramblers, target painters, et cetera).

One of the main reasons to make sure missions continue to ask for all classes of ship, regardless of mission level: it helps players understand that no class of ship ever becomes ‘useless’, regardless of the level of play you reach.

2. Your Role in this Mission, Should You Accept It…

Damage: We have a lot of missions like this already, and if any more are added, they should be against “capsuleer”- grade opponents, to teach pilots to access threats in way that more closely represents every other part of the game: one-tenth the number of ships for the same amount of overall threat.

1v1: Get capsuleers challenged to 1v1 “duels” versus NPC capsuleer opponents (or arrange for them to “challenge” an NPC via the agent). This can be balanced by level of mission, with ship restrictions to ensure the player doesn’t steamroll. Even better: don’t worry about the ship restrictions, and just have the NPC warp out if you show up in an inappropriate level of ship or bring backup. Have this sort of thing cause the failure of the mission, since the point is to get the guy to fight, pin him down, and kill him, whereas scaring him off will “set our pursuit back by months, if not years.” HOWEVER: if you can get a scram on the guy and THEN bring in backup, that should work. It does in the rest of the game. Honor-shmonor.

I’m not going to do more of these, because most of them show up in some other area: Damage dealing is requisite.

Wait, one more consideration: Range. Some missions should specifically call for sniper fits, mid-range fits, or brawler fits, and what the means should be different for different classes of ships.

Long range artillery: Awesome, though maybe not THIS awesome.

Tackle: Oh what fun we can have here.

First guy through the accel gate. Sort of like ‘cheating’ at the 1v1 above. The idea is to go in on an otherwise superior opponent and get a tackle, holding it until your (NPC) backup arrives. Higher level missions provide the NPC target with webs, neuts, scrams, smartbombs, backup of his own, and may mean the backup takes longer to arrive.

“I was there.”

Speaking of giving your NPC forces a chance to warp in, why the hell don’t we have a mission like this?

That would be cool.

“There are pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.” – I’d love to see a way to do this right in high-sec, right on the station where the Agent is at. “Enemy” NPCs show up outside the station. You need to get tackle on them so NPC support can come in and finish them off. Instant-undocks can make getting away from the fire of the ship much easier (maybe an earlier mission walks the player through making one for a ‘scouting/lookout’ mission). Get tackle and let the NPCs mop up. All NPCs involved would be impossible for others to shoot without being CONCORDed, to prevent mission griefing.

In-mission variation: The mission is in a non-gated deadspace pocket, and the pilot is encouraged to warp in at range to land on top of the offending ship. Those that don’t do that get a quick lesson in how to spiral approach. 🙂

In fact, seeing the way in which the UI can be affected by the new scanner overlay coming out soon, I have NO DOUBT that a ‘how to spiral approach’ tutorial missions could be built, with blinky box overlays on the HUD to show where to manually pilot in order to keep from getting splatted by a distant sniper.

Catch that guy before he gets out of range! Basically, get scram/web tackle before the NPC leaves. The best idea here is if you have a mission where the enemy have set up a Stargate (See: “Halt the Invasion”) and the enemy ships appear through the stargate and land in your trap. If you get both scram/web, the target dies. If you get only one, he might make it out. If you get neither, he’s gone, and you fail.

EWAR/Support: Sometimes damage isn’t the point. In this situation, you’re asked to come in as support for an NPC gang or even a solo pilot. Specific types of EWAR will probably be called for, and the reasons for the need given:

  • “We need target painters to get a bead on those little bastards.”
  • “We need tracking disruptors so we can get under the guns of those big bastards.”
  • “We need energy neutralizers to break the enemy’s self-repair capability.”
  • “We need ECM so the enemy rages in local and leaves.”
Support modules (repairs, etc) are called for in something like one training mission to sort of ‘resurrect’ a damaged ship. It’s terrible. Missions for logi/support pilots should exist, and thanks to the new support frigates and tech1 cruisers, can start right away. The job is simple: wait for the NPC to shout for help, get in there and keep him standing. Alternately, warp into an ongoing battle and try to turn the tide of the fight with your amazing rep skills.
Medic!
Scouting/Bait

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side — a great player skill to train. This is an excellent opportunity to build missions around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose, so you get an idea of what’s needed (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Asteroid belt on Planet 1 at 50. Now the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

"Clearly, I am a harmless loon. Come fight me!"

Non-bait scouting might be more of a tutorial, and teach the player to use d-scan on 360 max range, narrow beam long range. 360 short, and so on.

Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”

Combine any of the tackle/bait ideas with a “prototype (nee: civilian) cynosural field generator” and have the player call in their backup with a full-blown cyno. (No beacon in local, and ‘works’ in high-sec — hence “prototype”.)  This is a mission — one of the few — that should send the player to nearby space held by the enemy faction. Some missions might be a “bait, get them to attack, then light the fire and hope you live” situation, while others would be more of a ‘sneak our forces in behind enemy lines” scenario which, if done correctly, would result in no combat all. “Tiptoe in, tiptoe out. Like a cat, one might say.” Obviously, as with the rest of the game, any size ship might be appropriate for a cyno job, depending on the type of mission.

There is, not for nothing, an excellent opportunity here to tie this kind of mission into the lore of everything that’s happening in New Eden right now. Tensions between the empires are rising, and these sorts of behind the scenes sneak attacks would be great to get into the game.

Would it be cool to be able to call Hot Drop O’clock on an enemy force you tricked into engaging? Sure.

You know what else would be cool?

What if you take a mission from the Minmatar, and they want you to sneaky-cyno a fleet of their ships into Gallente space? No combat, of course — it’s all just ‘training maneuvers’ — completely legitimate. Still, probably better not to ask any questions, though you might be able to guess their reasons.

So…

All classes of ships used, in all levels of missions.

Jobs to perform that mirror the roles you play in PvP, and the play priorities.

Sometimes, the need to run after you win. Sometimes that means having missions where you kill a specific target and get out, and sometimes it means MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about a few minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

No real changes to the current missions. (Except making sure players understand that non-capsuleers are NOT in the same classes as the pilots “like you”… and making low-sec mission rewards actually provide rewards comparable to the risk/cost of living in lowsec, so they’re worth it.)

Fitting priorities and expectations more in line with every other part of the game. Basically, short and brutal fights where mobility, buffer, and burst tanks far outweigh the importance of cap stability, and tackle modules actually AFFECT THE NPCS. (I’m looking at you, Faction Warfare destroyers that fly 5500 meters/second while scrammed. So stupid.)

What do you guys think?

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (3/4): Stages of a Mission

So let’s continue this conversation about how to create new PvE missions in Eve that are more engaging, interesting, and just generally “better” by applying the fundamental rules of PvP as explained by Ripard Teg over here. This is the last the of “mapping” posts; the final post will give examples of the kinds of missions we could get out of this method.

Stages of a Mission

From Ripard:

All PvP in EVE comes down to five basic stages:

  • Preparation
  • Travel
  • Engagement
  • Combat
  • Disengagement

Make no mistake: all PvP in EVE operates within these five stages in one way or another. If you’re not the one following these steps, your enemy is.

Preparation

This is where you decide what ship you’re going to bring for the job at hand, and a place where Eve Missions truly fail to reflect every other area of the game. Missions as they stand right now are simple: bring the biggest fucking thing you can squeeze through the acceleration gate. I if doing level 4 missions, just make sure you ship can put out some combination of sustained tanking + sustained damage that equals about 1000 dps. The end.

This teaches terrible lessons to a new player to the game in terms of making good ship selection for the task at hand.

“There are war-dec pilots camping our station in snipe battlecruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“We have hostiles on our static wormhole in cloaky tech 3 cruisers.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“The FC is doing a frigate roam.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“There’s an enemy destroyer in the Medium Complex in system.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“Does anyone have a cyno ship handy?”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

“I need someone to scout ahead of the fleet.”
“I’ll get my battleship.”

It also leads to frustration on the part of anyone dealing with such a pilot, because they say things like:

“Man, I feel so cheap and ghetto in this frigate.”

Consider: the guys you’re flying with might spend 90% of their time in those ghetto frigates you’re talking about, successfully killing idiots in Battleships that think they can beat every other sub-capital ship in the game. You are not endearing yourself. Some of the best solo and small-gang groups in the game fly frigates ninety percent of the time, not despite the fact that frigates are twitchy, hyper-responsive, relatively fragile, and the ship class most unforgiving of mistakes, but because of that.

We can address this issue in new missions in a number of ways, but the main one is this: Disconnect the size of the ship from the level of the mission.

Instead, the level of the mission should determine how much personal research the player needs to do to figure out what sort of ship they need to bring to the mission.
  • Level 1 and any Training missions: “Okay, this is the situation, in Detail. Because of those Details, that means you need a ship that can do X, Y, and Z. So: get a ship of [this class] and [this role], which includes ships like the [names here], and make sure that it has [this module], [this module], and [this module]. If you don’t have that stuff, you’re going to have a rough time.”
  • Level 2 missions: “This is the situation, in Detail. You will need to do [These Things], which probably means [this general ship class] with appropriate modules to do [X, Y, Z]. I leave it up to you to make sure you can perform as needed.
  • Level 3 missions: “This is the situation, pretty much. This is what you have to be able to do. Handle it.”
  • Level 4 missions: “This is what little intel we have. Further instructions once you arrive and can give use eyes on the site. Good luck. We trust you.”

To quote:

Your first job is to understand what kinds of ships the FC wants and to comply with that. If the FC is asking for cruisers and below, respect that. Do not bring your battleship.

Some of the requirements of the missions may hinge on:

  • Flying style — “Hit approach and F1” should not be the only tactic people need to know.
  • Range of the engagement (brawling, point range, skirmish range, sniper range).
  • The job you’re supposed to actually perform.

Travel

Holy crap do some high-sec people bitch about having to travel a couple jumps. They’re like the New Englanders of Eve. Sometimes trouble will come right to you and you’ll fight in your home system. But sometimes you need to travel.

Why the HELL are the missions always defensive? If, in Gallente missions, I’m fighting Amarr anyway, why the hell am I not being sent on away missions to Amarr space sometimes? Genesis is, like, five jumps away! Take the fight to them once in awhile. Sheesh.

The way missions work right now sets up bad expectations in pilots encountering PvP for the first time.

“Where are we going?”
“Roam’s forming in Rens. We’ll check out twenty or thirty systems in Great Wildlands, then up into Curse and maybe Scalding Pass, then we’ll see how it’s looking by then.”
“I… think I’ll sit this one out.”

I’m not saying every mission should be 15 jumps away, but cut the fucking apron strings sometimes: take some cues from the Gurista and Sisters of Eve epic story arcs. Travel is a part of (say it with me) every other part of the game.

If you really want to do something unspeakably cool: set up a mission where the pilot gets to take a Titan bridge. That would be excellent. Bonus points if the mission agent chews you out for bumping the titan out of position.

And how about gate-to-gate-to-gate escort missions, designed on the lines of basic fleet scouting? Yes, some mission griefing is possible in that situation, but it could be mitigated by making sure Players shooting the escort NPC was a Concord-able offense.

Engagement

Setting up the conditions of the fight to be favorable to your side.

This is an excellent opportunity to build a mission around flying around a system “Looking like bait.”  Try to get the NPC enemies to engage you by looking helpless and alone, then tackle them when they show up and your backup jumps in. Level 1 versions of this mission might lead you by the nose (“Warp to Planet 1 at 100. Now Align to the Sun. Warp to the Sun at 0. Now warp to the Acceleration gate and jump through. Hold there. Here they come!”), while higher level missions merely tell you “Get their attention and lure them into the complex before you call us in.”

Try to look helpless.

Combat

We already have LOTS of fights where you have to kill everybody and their pet dog. Far more interesting and useful are situations where you’re getting messages from your Mission Agent about different targets. Level 1 missions start out with one guy you need to kill and can then leave, while Level 4s might get to the point where you need to tackle two different guys and put damage on a third to keep him interested until your NPC backup arrives, followed by methodically working through a randomized list of named targets.

EXPLAIN, IN THE MISSIONS, WHAT THE HELL “Yellow boxed” and “Red boxed” are, and what they indicate. Have Aura do a damned tutorial, with proper animations.

(Unrelated: for your colorblind players, the UI really needs to be updated so players can change the colors for “yellow” and “red” boxes… and damn near anything else.)

For Bonus Points:

Have fights where your job is logistics, with NPCs calling for reps. Start with Logi frigates and one guy you need to protect, to level 4 missions with Logi Cruisers, 30 friendlies on the field, and randomized broadcasts for repair (this would need some kind of UI additions, probably, but it would still be extremely valuable and pretty damn fun).

For MORE bonus points:

Have missions where you don’t get support from NPC repair ships without using your fleet “Broadcast” buttons and/or hotkeys.

Disengagement

Sometimes, winning means knowing when to get out. That means (a) having missions where you kill a specific target and GTFO, but it also means that many, MANY missions should have stupidly overwhelming backup arrive on the field about [rand(7-15)] minutes after the last NPC dies. Angry backup.

The enemy now knows exactly where you are, exactly what your composition is, exactly how many of your ships they have destroyed, and they are probably watching you. You are extraordinarily vulnerable at this moment.

Mission Agents will direct you to recall drones, “scoop loot”, and will be advised to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. If an allied NPC fleet of ships is on the field, they may advise you to stay fairly close to them until they’re “ready to leave.”

These new missions, the way they are structured, will not substantively add to the overall “NPC Loot” intake in the overall game: we have missions for that, so these missions are about ISK, Loyalty Points, and a few nice drops off a few key ships. These are not missions where it’s a good idea to reship into a Noctis.

Almost Done!

Did any of this give you cool ideas for new missions? Share them in comments, and I’ll add them to the fourth-and-final post.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2.5/4) — Answering Questions and Comments

The last couple posts have attracted some good questions and feedback, and raise some points I want to address before I move forward.

The questions came in from all over, however, so apologies if I don’t attribute the questions to the right speaker in all cases.

Narol Decyg:

I would personally LOVE for missions to get harder.

That’s… fine, but it’s really not what I’m talking about. When I said the mission NPCs should get about 10 times harder, I also said there should be about one-tenth as many of them. That isn’t about difficulty, but about teaching players in missions that five ships can be a credible and dangerous threat, so that when they see five players coming at them, they don’t think “oh, I can tank 50 NPCs — I’ve got this in the bag.”

More about his further into the post, actually.

Druur Monakh

One core aspect of PvP is evaluating and taking a risk against ultimately unknown odds – namely your human, unpredictable opponent. No AI will ever be able to emulate that, no matter how PvP-like the mechanics are. PvE would have to simulate the inventiveness of real players to clear this hurdle, and I don’t see it happening in any game.

Absolutely. There’s really no way the AI is going to get as good or as hard as playing against another good player (it can easily simulate fighting a bad player, though) — you can rebalance the NPCs to be generally harder to defeat, however, and use fewer OF them, to teach players better threat recognition.

Also, far more of what I’m talking about for these missions is about what the player’s are called on to do, not what they’re going to fight. Missions right now are stupidly, stupidly simple: go in, kill everything, and (sometimes) grab A Thing and bring it back or (rarely) deliver a thing to a box. It’s fucking terrible.

More on that further down.

Niamh Aideron

… or move more missions to low sec but increase the rewards to reflect the increased risk from PvP ambush.

Two thoughts on this:

1.

I don’t personally believe that moving currently-highsec missions to lowsec will do any good — ultimately, I think it will harm the game, to be honest, because there are people playing the game who, if forced to travel to Low or Null sec to continue doing what they enjoy doing (missions), will simply quit playing. Most of us know we don’t want that, and the people that say they do are idiots. Multiplayer games only work with multiple players.

With that said, I do think missions in low-sec should have higher payouts than they do currently. Missions given in highsec but going to lowsec should pay better than highsec going to highsec, and lowsec-located agents sending you to lowsec should pay very well indeed — in Loyalty Points, especially.

I don’t believe in forcing players a certain direction, but I do believe in luring them. 🙂

2.

What I’m advocating in this series of posts are mission changes that call for techniques and ship fitting philosophies that have use and merit valuable in areas of the game OTHER than PvE.

I don’t care where people live. At all. I definitely don’t see the ‘natural flow’ of the game to be High -> Low -> Null. That’s just group-think from a (very) organized minority in the game.

What I do care about is whether or not players feel as though they are suitably equipped to take a weekend roam into low-sec, or spend a month ‘deployed’ to the constellation controlled by Mordu’s Legion. Missions don’t do that right now, they could, and really they should.

MBP

I don’t agree that you can improve EVE PVE content by making it more like PVP. PVE players and PVP players want different things and trying to turn one into the other will just annoy both.

There is already one type of mission in the game which meets most of your criteria: the universally reviled low sec courier mission.

Forcing some hi-sec distribution-mission-running hauler to go into low-sec for a mission isn’t “making the missions more like PvP” — that’s just taking someone and throwing them into an environment where they don’t know what to do. That’s not what I’m after at all.

As I said, I have no interest in trying to force all high level missions into more dangerous space. That is often the solution that people talking about this come up with, especially if they just happen to be from nullsec. I think, personally, it’s a bad solution.

What I’m talking about is changing the design of PvE missions so that they can be completed following the same basic approach and fitting philosophy as PvP. For instance:

  • Mission runners should know the difference between a Warp Disruptor and Warp Scrambler, why you’d want one over the other in different situations, and how it interacts and/or complements a Stasis Web… or a tracking disruptor… or whatever. More, there should be missions that call on players to use one or the other (or, for a real challenge, both at the same time on two different targets).
  • One of the primary design differences between PvP and PvE fittings is Cap Stability, or how long you can run everything on the ship before you run out of juice. Standard Mission Fits go for 100% cap stability forever, because slow and steady wins the day. In the process, however, you sacrifice so much on your ship fitting that your ship is laughably easy to destroy in PvP. PvP ships, conversely, aim for about 2 minutes of functionality in a solo or small-gang situation, and if they get more that’s either a specialty-fit ship or a happy accident. Active Capacitor Booster modules are a mystery to Mission Runners, because why would you use something that only keeps you Cap Stable until the charges ran out… and fill up your hold with the Charges in the meantime? THAT’S WHERE MISSION LOOT GOES.  Conversely, passive Cap Rechargers are horrible, horrible things to see on a ship that’s intended to be used against other players, and I see them on people’s ships ALL THE TIME. I think Sleeper-killing PvE ships are quite close to a happy medium between the two — closer to the sweet spot for PvP-teaching PvE content than anything else out there right now: my alt’s Drake can run everything on the ship for about eight minutes, which is just about enough to clear a Class Two sleeper site, solo. If I’m not solo, it’s even easier, because I can flip off some of my tank in between, and more to the point, I’m fit in such a way as to be a semi-credible threat if I happen to get attacked while running sites.

Those are a couple examples. I’ll have more in part four of the series.

The point of all that is this: when a pilot decides to join some friends for pvp roam, and the FC says “Just bring something fast with short range guns, MWD, scram/web, and a buffer armor tank”, the pilot in question can say something besides “Whut?”

Gor

Your posts got me thinking about one of the things I’ve always disliked about Eve.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve. If a ships material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

I don’t know if you agree or disagree, but I’d love to hear you address the ship size/cost imbalance in PvP.

Man, there is so much to talk about here that it could easily be its own post, but I’m going to stick to my guns and get all these comments addressed.

So let me just break this into tiny parts and talk about each one.

5 low investment, low cost ships can and will demolish far more massive and expensive ships.

First, I will challenge the term “low investment.” If you’re talking about skill points, Frigates use EXACTLY the same gunnery, missile, and tanking support skills as battleships. Especially when it comes to tanking skills, a well-skilled Frigate pilot and well-skilled Battleship pilot are IDENTICAL.

Further, with the skill tree changes, there is very little training time ‘distance’ between a well-skilled frigate pilot and a well-skilled battleship pilot in terms of just flying the ships around. The Navigation skills for a good pilot of either are identical, and training distance from level 4 Racial Frigate to Level 4 Racial battleship is ~12 days.

So the only truly significant difference in training time is the guns, because right now, if you want to shoot tech 2 large guns, you need to train both tech 2 small guns and tech 2 medium guns. I think it’s important to mention that because once the new expansion drops, guns will be only thing in the game that works that way. Missile systems and Drones have never worked that way, and all the Ship skill trees that work that way today (you need tech2 Assault Frigates to fly tech 2 Heavy Assault Cruisers) are being changed in a month or so. I think it won’t be long before the Gunnery skill tree changes as well — it sure as hell should change, because it’s stupid to have it work differently than everything else in the game.

Anyway, ignoring guns (which I am), you’re talking about less than two weeks of training time between a well-skilled frigate-only pilot and well-skilled battleship pilot, so I’m dismissing the idea of “low investment” in terms of skills, because in the “five frigates versus one battleship” example you give, the amount of training represented by either side is — all other things being equal — vastly in favor of the five frigate pilots.

What about cost?

There’s a tendency, when comparing ships, to just look at hull costs, and that’s terribly misleading, because ships have fittings, and those fittings narrow the cost gap between ships immensely, even if you fight on a budget.

For example, almost every one of the frigates I fly — all of whose naked hulls cost about half a million isk, give or take — will be worth about 12 to 13 million isk once they are fully fitted and supplied with appropriate amounts of ammunition for PvP (read: enough for two reloads, most of which will never be used before the ship explodes). If I’m flying a Fed Navy Comet (which I can acquire for rougly 1.5 million isk via Faction Warfare, but which retails on the open market for roughly 13 to 14 million for just the hull), the value of the ship goes up to about 22 million, all told — roughly the same value as the Destroyers I fly.

(Yes, you can fly them cheaper. You can also fit them more expensively. I’m using my fitting standards as the baseline, because it’s what I know.)

By comparison to my average Comet, this Vexor we killed is actually the cheap ship — the hull plus fittings were only 15 million. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost Tormentors  more expensive than that, and I don’t really even like Tormentors.

“But,” you protest, “that’s a bargain basement fit for a cruiser. That’s hardly a fair comparison to your frigate, which is fit with mostly tech 2 modules.”

Sure. This Thorax is closer to 40 million — about the cost of three of my frigates or two of my destroyers, and as a general rule I would think it fair to expect it to BEAT or drive away three of my frigates or two of my destroyers in an otherwise-even fight.

But if three frigates brought exactly what they need to fight a thorax (read: a lot of tracking disruptors and enough webs to keep me from jumping a gate), I might die without killing any of them. That’s just preparation on their part and poor target-selection on mine: that particular thorax is a terrible choice for fighting frigates, and in any case that’s not what I built it for. (I didn’t build it to fight two battlecruisers and two tech 3 cruisers either, unfortunately, even though that’s what I ended up facing.)

On the flipside, I might take a Vexor (which is now entirely comparable to and a better brawler than the thorax) against worse odds — three destroyers, for example — and hope to kill one and escape the other two. These things happen.

Let’s get to bigger ships, though. How about this Myrmidon? Aside from some changes I’d made to the tackle modules, there’s really nothing wrong with that fit as far as PvP goes — it’s a fairly traditional triple-rep Myrm, and comes in at right around 105 to 110 million isk. (I’m adding a bit, because of the drones he was attacking with that don’t show up on the kill.) Based on the value of the ship, that should be the match of 8 to 10 of my 12-13 million isk frigates, right?

Maybe. Or maybe it really isn’t that hard to find a single frigate that’s worth just as much. Are those two ships comparable? Could one kill the other?

Is the Isk value any kind of indicator of the correct answer?

Of course not.  That’s no more relevant than the fact that Guardians in LotRO have really expensive gear and Loremaster’s armor is relatively inexpensive by comparison. Remember one of the Principles from yesterday: You are not your ship.

To this day I think that the cost of ships is out of balance in Eve.

Bottom line: don’t try to tell me that the Isk value of the ship’s naked hull is any relevant indicator of its threat level. If you point me at a Battleship, I’ll point you at a frigate that cost more, and I won’t even have to look that hard — that fight was last night, and frankly I’d rather try to solo the Armageddon than the Hawk.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude.

The fittings on the ships level out actual difference in ship values in many cases, and even if they didn’t, ISK value is no indication of actual worth, any more than Plate Mail should mean that you always beat the guy wearing the robe. It helps, but it doesn’t determine the winner.

Second, when it comes to little ships killing bigger ships, I have two words for you: Star Wars. Here’s another two: Battlestar Galactica. How about…

Actually, no: it’s easier to say that the idea of smaller ships being able to hurt larger ships if they can get in close enough to get “under” their larger, slower guns is one well-established in the genre, and leave it at that. Big ships expecting to fight smaller ships either need support from smaller ships, or need to fit themselves in such a way as to be able to deal with little ships.

Which brings me to…

Third, when you’re talking about battleships getting demolished by five frigates, your usually not talking about a PvP-fit battleship — you’re talking about a PvE fit battleships who think they are badass and are actually incredibly poorly fit for PvP.

The video’s sadly been taken off Youtube because of the background music used (which is stupid: that background music encouraged me to buy three of that band’s albums), but I’ve seen a solo Dominix pilot fight a gang consisting of a Brutix, Hurricane, three Rupture cruisers, and a Stiletto interceptor, kill all but two of the ships, and leave the field intact.

Would I do as well in such a ship? No, obviously, but that’s on me, not the ship — I’m bad at Eve. With the introduction of the Micro Jump Drive, battleships really have a new lease on life in solo and small-gang PvP, because they can force engagements into their best effective range (where things like Heavy Neuts can be applied to pesky small ships) or, if their opponent won’t come in and hold them down, they simply leave the field with the MJD. And all of that really ignores the updates coming to the Battleships with the summer expansion.

Battleships are better than frigates. Frigates cannot be fit in a such a way as to deal with every eventuality, from fighting a battleship to fighting frigates. Battleships can be – making them quite literally a bristling island of threat versus whatever they might face.

Can they deal with 50 opponents at a time, like they can in PvE?  Of course not, because PvE missions are incredibly misleading.

If a ship’s material cost is going to be 10x more than another ship, it needs to bring the firepower, armor and abilities at 10x the magnitude. Eve doesn’t do this, except in PvE.

This is where a tremendous amount of the disconnect comes between PvE missions and PvP. Missions set a terrible expectation for new Eve pilots, and the first time a PvPer shows them the reality of the situation, it is a cold slap in the face.

The problem is, I know exactly why the missions are set up the way they are and (worse) given the reason for it, I can even understand and conceptually agree with it.

The thing you ABSOLUTELY MUST remember about current mission NPC is this:

You Are Not Fighting Capsuleers

Now, as soon as I say this, everyone who knows anything about the lore of the game will nod their heads and say “right, right…” but how often do you really think about that in the game? Almost never.

But the fact of the matter is, YOU are playing someone who, with little or no crew (depending on the size of the ship) is controlling a space craft the way you would control your own body. It is your body, for all intents and purposes, and when you face mundane ships crewed with mundane humans, who all have to do everything so incredibly slowly, you fucking destroy them, because you are quite literally a god among mortals — an adult challenging first graders.

This is you.

Yes, you are the match for fifty or sixty or even more of these insects. Good for you.

The problem is, you kick the shit out of grade-schoolers for months on end, and you start to think this is normal — that this is how the whole universe matches up to you — 50:1, with the advantage to the 1.

Suddenly you run into someone else like you.

They aren’t slow. They aren’t weak.

And they haven’t been spending their time fighting seven-year-olds at recess. They’ve been fighting with other grown-ups.

I call this the Amberite Issue — a tribute to the Amber series by Roger Zelazny — also known as “What do you mean there are other gods?” In short, you are immortal and impossibly powerful to nearly anyone you’ll meet in whole universe… except for the other people like you. To them, you’re just another young punk who needs to get his ass whupped a couple times to learn some respect and actually become marginally useful.

NOW this is you.

I know why CCP does this: you are a god, and you should get a chance to feel like one. I get that. Some of those ridiculous “50 vs. 1” missions need to stay, if only for flavor.

But when they come, they should REALLY be pointed out by the mission agent.

“Listen, they have an entire fleet defending this base — support craft, battleships, missile batteries, everything — but they don’t have any capsuleers, so really this is going to be a walk in the park.”

(I mean, that’s why Sleepers are so nasty — they’re almost capsuleers.)

Then do a mission where the whole defense force is, say, “a small squad of five novice capsuleers” and have it be just as hard as the full fleet of normal pilots.

When that’s done, make sure the mission agent mentions that while that was hard, at least they weren’t actual full-fledged capusleers like yourself.

Make sure they say that, and make sure they say it a lot.

That, plus getting the pilots some experience with tactics and modules, might help with the shock of trying PvP.

That’s it.

More soon!

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (2/?)

So here’s the premise:

  1. PvE mission content in Eve comprises some of the weakest PvE content in any MMO, and is inarguably one of the weakest, least-fun parts of Eve itself.
  2. PvP in Eve is pulse-pounding, adrenaline-dumping, heart-beating-like-sneakers-in-a-clothes-dryer stuff.
  3. We can improve the PvE in Eve by adopting some of the fundamental guidelines of PvP, and in the process make it much less of a shock for a PvE-experienced player to PvP.

In the last post, I talked about how a couple of the fundamentals mentioned by Jester can apply to missions, specifically:

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose 

Bigger is not always better. In Eve, going Bigger can be a wildly inappropriate and/or stupid choice. Missions should call for lots of different sized ships, depending on the mission and irrespective of the LEVEL of the mission: there is no reason we can’t have Level 4 missions where a tech 1 Atron frigate is a viable option — maybe the best option — and many good reasons why we should have them.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock

Variations in mission content should surprise pilots routinely and cost pilots resources beyond ammo. Sometimes ships blow up. Some missions (like the one in “Advanced Combat” Tutorials) should require a ship be sacrificed for the greater good.Truly demanding missions where death is likely should have commensurate rewards if you can pull it off without losing the ship.

In fact, why not get rid of the idiocy of Ship Insurance and just have missions with a high chance of ship loss pay out at least as well as Platinum Insurance on the most appropriate class of ship for the mission? That way, you’re compensated if you lose the ship, and dancing a jig if you don’t.

“But what if the pilot brings friends?”

YES. WE SHOULD PROBABLY TEACH PLAYERS THAT BRINGING FRIENDS TO HELP WITH TOUGH FIGHTS IS A GOOD IDEA.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation

PvE players learn no sense of PvP threat scale from doing PvE: they tank 15 battleships, 20 cruisers, and 10 frigates in a mission and can’t figure out why five condors flown by regular players can kill them in about three minutes. Back-of-napkin calculations suggest PvE mission opponents should be ten times more dangerous and one tenth as numerous, ballpark.

But that’s just the last post. What about Jester’s other fundamentals?

Don’t blame others for what happens in PvP

I’m not really sure what you can do with this in PvE, except shutting down appeals for losing a ship to a mission you had no business taking. HTFU, people.

I know someone who lost a cruiser when they charged into their first Level 3 mission. They appealed it, and the GM replaced the ship.

I was, in a word, appalled. I’m plenty new-player-friendly, but come on. The player fucked up, they should deal with the consequences. Obviously. If they don’t want to lose ships, they should stay docked.

If you are flying with an FC, the FC’s word is law 

This isn’t even that complicated: LOTS of MMOs have complex instructions for their missions; by comparison, the missions in Eve are insultingly simple and boring. Give the players complex instructions for missions and either penalize the HELL out of their rewards if they screw it up or (just as acceptable) provide large bonuses if they get them all right — think of it as Hard Mode for a mission, with rewards for better performance, and the stuff the agent asks for is the same stuff that is routinely required in (say it with me) every other part of the game:

“Shoot only Target X. Leave everyone else standing. Yes, even the annoying bastards webbing you. Focus. Fucking. Fire.”

Sneak into the complex. Stay cloaked. Get within 10 km of Your Target, decloak, and Activate your [Mission Cyno]. Try not to die until the Module stops running, then warp out, but even if you get blown up, mission accomplished.  Forgot to stay cloaked, or just tried to kill everyone yourself? Everyone warps away, and you fail.

“Shoot Target X. STOP! Shoot Target Y! STOP! Shoot Target X again! X! X X X! Now Z, but keep a web on X! WEB ON X! STOP SHOOTING Z AND KILL X! KILL! X! GOOD! X is down! NOW RUUUUUUUUUUN!”

Movement is life

This goes back to ideas for several of the other principles. Small, fast ships should sometimes be the perfect solution for high-level missions. Also, with mission NPCs should be tougher, harder hitting, and less numerous, making movement more effective as a defensive measure.

PvE mission runners should understand that sometimes just getting to Point B as fast as possible is “Winning”, and they should learn that even when you bring a big ship, slow = dead. Afterburners are just as much a damage mitigation module as they are movement boosting.

Related to this, get rid of the 40-minute slugfests. Any “real” fight in Eve that a solo pilot or small gang has the slightest chance of winning  is going to be Nasty, Brutish, and Short. PvE pilots should have the same expectations in this regard as PvP pilots: if a fight goes past 5 minutes, it’s probably because something is going wrong, and they should consider getting out before reinforcements arrive.

(Yes, I know big fleets are sometimes different, but solo PvE teaches solo PvP in this case, right?)

Maintain situational awareness

Since we’ve got fewer NPCs on the field, we can make them meaner. More Neutralizers. More Webs. More Scrams. More Ewar. (Fewer ships on field mean that even the much-hated ECM NPCs can be dealt with with some Eletronic Counter Countermeasures ‘tank’ and target prioritization.)  Teach the pilots to pay attention to everything that’s happening and react to the problems in order of threat level, not just “shoot the biggest guys first.”

You are not your ship. You are not your pod

This just goes back to not flying what you can’t afford to lose. Ships are disposable, when it comes right down to it, and while losing them always sucks, quite often the win you pull off by sacrificing your ship makes the loss MORE than worth it. Big rewards for ‘sacrifice’ missions will take the sting out of it, I suspect: people are running missions to make isk, after all.

Learn from your defeats. Learn from your victories

Mission-writers can do some heavy lifting here. If the pilot takes a mission where ship-loss is highly likely, but saving the ship is possible, and the pilot fails to save the ship, have the mission-agent offer some tips and advice on how NOT to lose their ship the next time – yes, this is an opportunity to talk about transversal, spiral approaches, gun tracking, optimal ranges, and other such advanced stuff.

But That’s Not All…

I suspect this series will be in four parts. Part Three will cover the five Stages of a Mission, and I’ll wrap up in Part Four with suggestions for new missions, stolen directly from common solo and small-gang PvP scenarios. See you then.

Life in Eve: You Play How You Practice (1/?)

When I first started playing Eve in earnest (which does not count the attempt some seven years ago) I went through all tutorials (this was only a few years ago, right after the new avatars, but before Incarna, so the tutorials weren’t as utterly terrible as they had once been), then did the Sister’s Epic Arc, and then started running missions.

I mean, that’s what you do in MMOs, right? Tutorial, then the mission chain the tutorials send you to, then take missions from whoever seems interested.

Mostly, I did those missions on my own, but I was sometimes joined (and often advised) by Gor, who was a veteran of High-sec PvE and any-sec industry. I remember the first time he actually rendezvoused with me in a system (Nine jumps away! The vast distance! Travel takes so long!), stoically floating next to my trusty Vexor cruiser in his slowly pulsating Megathron Navy Issue battleship. Many times, he would lead the way into a mission, knowing the massive bulk of his ship could handle virtually anything the NPCs could throw at him, and that I could safely proceed to pick off the small stuff without fear of reprisal.

Time passed, and I became interested in Exploration and eventually Wormholes. Once I’d gotten to what was probably the absolute BARE minimum level of skill for handling the most basic of Wormhole anomalies, I went hunting for them, and convinced Gor and CB to come along on a little daytrip into the first uninhabited system I found.

Gor brought one of his mission-running battleships.

It wasn’t pretty.

Gone was the idea that anyone was ‘safe’ in the site. Anyone on the field was a valid target, because the Sleepers switched primaries randomly, and even if they hadn’t, none of us could really handle the incoming damage: if you had a hole in your defenses – ANY kind of hole – the sleepers found it, bored in, and tore you to pieces from the inside.

After a dozen attempts at the site, we finally prevailed, looted the field, and limped back to known space. I’m fairly sure most of us were on fire.

Gor was, to put it mildly, peeved. Insulted, really. The way the sleepers had manhandled one of his best mission-running ships was just… well, it was clearly broken, is what it was — it was just ridiculous — he hadn’t been that close to losing a ship against an NPC in years.

Eventually (it didn’t even really take that long) we figured out how to fit ships that could handle sleepers, and we adapted our play to their little foibles as well. There were some painful losses along the way (and not all or even most to Sleepers), but we managed. Eventually, it all became routine — even the most challenging of PvE in Eve is pretty predictable, manageable stuff.

Later, I dropped into a random site in known space and was struck (shocked, really) by how EASY it was — compared to Sleepers, these known-space NPCs were a walk in the park. I even ran a couple missions — easily destroying objectives in an Ishkur frigate that I had once struggled to complete in a Myrmidon battlecruiser. Some of that was my increased training, yes, but far more was the simple fact that I’d been forced to up my game.

“I understand your frustration now,” I said to Gor. “These guys don’t prepare you for Sleepers in the least.”

“I know,” he said, sounding disgusted. “I almost didn’t come back to wormholes when you wanted to try again.”

Now imagine how much worse the shock is if, as someone new to PvP, you jump into a fight thinking that missions have prepared you for what’s to come.

You expect this.
You get this.

What’s that going to be like for the new PvPer?

Well, they’d be insulted. The way the other player(s) manhandled their ship was just… well, it’s clearly broken, is what it is — just ridiculous.

And that impression is not the fault of the PvP — it’s the way in which missions (and really any of the currently designed PvE) completely fails to prepare you for everything else in the game.

So how can you fix that in such a way as to make the PvE suck less (it is, honestly, quite poor — ironically the worst 10% of the game, yet all that 90% of new players ever experience) while preparing players for the sorts of the gameplay you’ll regularly encounter in PvP?

You Play the Way You Practice

Recently, Jester started up a PvP 101 series that I’m going to use as a sort of brainstorming blueprint for improving PvE in Eve. Jester’s guide is very good, and the things he mentions a player needs to consider are important regardless of what you’re doing in the game, so why not use the missions to teach those lessons, since that is where players coming in from other MMOs will start anyway?

The goal is three-fold, and the results are all beneficial: reduce or eliminate the profound culture shock that players experience when moving from missions to PvP, actually familiarize them with the skills and techniques they’ll use in that environment (beyond just “this is what a web is”), and improve the missions themselves by making them more interesting and engaging.

But… why?

Jester said this best, so let’s just let him explain it:

Player-versus-player combat in EVE is a rush that is very difficult or impossible to duplicate in other games. Your first few times in PvP battle, your heart rate will go up, your hands will shake, and you will have a visceral emotional reaction to what’s going on. Even after months or years, from time to time you will still have this reaction. When you are killed, you will feel compelled to obsess about why it happened and when you succeed, it is something that will cause you to smile for hours or days afterward.

Compare this to Eve’s PvE experience, which involves missions so boring that players routinely fall asleep if they run them for too long, and win anyway.

General Principles

Don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose.

One of the first and most profound differences between PvP and PvE in Eve is that, with PvE, Bigger is Always Better. This calls back to most traditional MMO designs in which the bigger and badder a mission is, the bigger and badder you need to be to defeat it. Think of any MMO where someone figures out how to beat a high-level mission on a low-level toon, and that method will quickly be labeled an exploit, a patch will be applied, and the innovative player in question should count themselves lucky they weren’t banned.

That’s… not how Eve works.

First of all, innovation in play is sort of the point.

But more importantly, this idiotic ship progression requirement in missions is teaching players the best ship for any given situation is the biggest fucking thing they can undock, and that is simply not the case in any other part of the game. Sometimes, you need something small and fast. Sometimes, you need something tough, and damage doesn’t matter. Often, you need something that’s got a bit of a bonus for a particular role.

Some faction warfare missions kind of work this way: in almost all of the highest-level faction warfare missions, the best ship for the task is the incredibly fragile stealth bomber frigate. That’s a fine start, but it’s ultimately a bad example, because it’s still just one ship type that must be used.

There’s a mission, for example, called The Reprisal, where you have to kill a commander flying a battleship. It’s one of several missions of this type in Faction Warfare, but in this case the target you need to kill flies quite fast (reducing the damage sustained from the bomber’s torpedoes) and actively repairs damage (eliminating what little damage he does take).

The solution to this problem in every other part of the game would be to get a fast interceptor or attack frigate to haul ass after the target, get a web and a warp scrambler on the guy, and pin him down while the bombers do their work.

Doesn’t work. NPCs don’t work like real ships, and can just go as fast as they like for as long as they like. Scramblers don’t work to shut down the high speed of the target, and without that a web doesn’t work nearly well enough.

So: the mission fails to teach players anything about how every other part of the game works.

How do the players deal with it?

They just decline the mission, because it’s terrible. Not worth the effort, and introduces no interesting game play.

Solution: change around the missions to let pvp modules (and pvp-style fittings) have significant impact. Have agents offer hints and suggestions to that effect. Level 1 missions might be as simple as flying a tackle frig in and holding down a target until the NPC battleship can land and take him down… but the exact same mission can be offered at level 4, except now the target in question has a web he uses on you, a heavy neutralizer he uses to cap you out, and let’s say five aggressive frigates flying escort that you need to deal with WHILE keeping the target pinned down.

That would be interesting. More, it would mean that the best solution for a level 4 mission isn’t whatever damned battleship you have in the hangar. Sometimes you need an Ares interceptor.

Assume what you’re flying is lost the moment you undock.

And sometimes, you need something cheap and very, very disposable, because you know you’re going to lose it.

THAT is the thing that all but one mission in the whole game fails to teach:

Ships blow up. Pods blow up. They aren’t you and it isn’t the end of the world. You are immortal, so act like: reship and get back in the goddamn fight.

Frigates are just like any other consumable, and roughly as durable as these soda cans.

Missions should have unexpected twists and unknown triggers that may result in ship loss. To be somewhat balanced, those unexpected twists should happen more often when (a) the best ship for the mission is cheap and/or (b) the mission level is higher, or where the threat is clear and obvious in the mission text.

Adjust rewards to compensate, if you like, but ship loss should happen, and it should be no big deal.

90% of PvP in EVE is preparation.

Thanks to the eve-surivival website, you can prepare up to your eyeballs for missions, but the preparation you do is completely unrelated to the preparation you do for any other part of the game.

Missions set up some of the most unrealistic expectations in terms of your ship survivability.  How many level 4 missions in the game involve warping into a site and seeing a kitchen sink collection of fifty ships on your overview, from frigates to battleships?

You know what mission runners do in that situation?

Target the closest guy and start firing. They already know they aren’t going to lose the ship.

You know how that same fight goes in a PvP situation?

Without support, your ship will be scrap before you lock your first target.

Imagine the culture shock when some experienced mission runner jumps through a gate, sees five pirates on his overview, and those five ships — one tenth the number of NPCs he just destroyed in his last mission — wipe him out before he can even get back to the gate.

“Unfair. Broken. Unfun. Impossible. Never going to do PvP.”

Solution: First, change up missions (again) so you aren’t always bringing your biggest, most expensive ships. Second, use the missions to set realistic expectations. That means cut the number of opponents in missions by a factor of ten, but increase the relative difficulty of “pure combat” missions by 10%, overall. A player familiar with missions should have learned how to assess threat levels in every other part of the game by participating in missions — it should be fun, but it should also bestow relevant experience.

There’s a mission — I think it’s the second to last mission in the Sisters of Eve epic arc — that kills a lot of ships. It’s a tough fight, especially for one player in a tech1 frigate.

And it’s just one guy.

Just one.

“One guy,” this mission says, “can be a credible threat.”

It’s a good mission. It has value.

… and then you get done with the arc, and you go to normal missions, and get something called The Barricade and learn you can ignore all that “single ship is credible threat” bullshit.

But Wait, There’s More

This post is going on a lot longer than I’d expected, so lets break it up into multiple posts and see where we end up.

More soon.

In the meantime, grab a frigate, look up a friend in game who does that scary PvP stuff, and see if you can tag along.

Believe me, it’s not that bad.

Life in Eve: Voting for CSM 8

The elections for the eighth Council of Stellar Management (the CSM: a  group of players elected to represent player interests, face to face, with CCP) are coming up, and I wanted to talk about them a little bit; something I haven’t done with past CSMs.

Does the CSM even matter?

One of the common threads of complaint about the CSM is that it’s all just a smokescreen for CCP: the CSM doesn’t have any real say, they aren’t taken seriously as stakeholders, they squander their influence on stupid things, or gain influence only in exchange for shilling for CCP to the player base at every turn.

Maybe that’s all be true, or maybe none of it’s true.

Doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the mere existence of the CSM is an unprecedented thing in the MMO industry. It may not be the perfect iteration of elected player representation and/or conduit to the developers, but the first company to try something very rarely gets it all right. The point is, it’s an opportunity that very few players in very few MMOs are given at all, and Eve players would be stupid not to take advantage of the opportunity it presents.

Eve players are not known for being stupid, nor are they known for passing up the chance to take advantage of any possible opportunity.

Put another way: get off your ass and vote.

Speaking of which, what’s up with the Trickle-down voting system?

There’s a new voting system in place for this year’s election. It’s a bit odd: the only thing I’ve seen that even kind of sounds like this is the way Oscar voting is handled, which may be the only overlap on a Venn Diagram of “Oscar Race” and “Eve Online”, ever.

Basically it goes like this.

  • Every active player account gets a Single Transferable Vote, or STV.
  • Instead of voting for a single candidate, you pick up to as many as 14.
  • Whoever you put in your #1 slot will get your vote unless they don’t need it (either because they’re already in the top 14, or they have no chance in hell of getting into the top 14).
  • If they don’t need your vote, it will slid down to the 2nd person your list, and keep sliding down through your list until it gets to someone who can benefit from the vote, or your list is exhausted.

Some people will tell you that it’s important to fully fill out your preference list to 14, to ensure that your vote does something, but I disagree with this. For me, this system breaks the candidates into three groups:

  1. Candidates I think would really bring something special to the CSM, especially given the new design strategy that CCP is using for their upcoming releases, who might not get on the CSM without my support and the support of non-bloc voters.
  2. Candidates I don’t want to get my vote, who I refuse to put on my list anywhere, because I don’t want to run even the slightest chance they will bring their input to the CSM.
  3. Candidates who I don’t feel need my vote, because they should be able to get on the CSM with the help of their support base, or not at all. In short, this means that while I personally think Banlish is a good CSM candidate, I’m not putting him on my list because he’s the official TEST candidate and frankly if he can’t get his Alliance all pointed the right direction at the voting booths, that speaks to his overall effectiveness — it’s not a hole I’m going to dig him out of.

So who am I looking at?

  • Candidates excited and motivated to participate. Every election, the CSM seems to acquire about 5 active members, and 9 hunks of deadwood.
  • Candidates that bring a strong, coherent vision of the game that is different from the inevitable nullsec bloc candidates.
  • Candidates that are knowledgeable and communicate well about many aspects of the game.
  • Candidates that aren’t there to represent a single aspect of the game. CCP is now rolling out expansions with broad themes that will encompass changes to all aspects of gameplay in New Eden: there will be no “Wormhole Expansion” or “Nullsec Expansion” — as such, a single-flavor candidate is too one-dimensional for me, so no wormhole candidates or other specialty candidates with no obvious knowledge of other aspects of the game are getting my vote.

So here’s my picks.

#1: Ripard Teg

The number one position on my list is going to go to the person I think is an absolute must-have on the CSM, and that means Ripard. One only has to read a fraction of his blog to realize that he’s hugely invested in the success and growth of the game, has great skill as a communicator, and knows a great deal about many different aspects of the game: He’s a small gang pvper who pays his way with Industry efforts far more complicated than anything I’ve ever even tried; he’s done Incursions and PvE content extensively; he’s lived in wormholes for a good stretch of time (and did mining and other industry therein); he’s lived as a Sov nullsec resident. In short, he knows the game as well or better than any other candidate.

Best of all, while I don’t always agree with everything he says (he’s got a weekly feature on his blog that now ends with a disclaimer he added because of a long argument we got into), I can always understand why he sees the topic the way he does, and why he came to the conclusion he did. Sometimes he even changes my mind.

#? Ali Aras

Ali’s running on a platform aimed at improving new player experience and getting new players to move into currently-dreaded areas like Nullsec. Also, not for nothing, she’d be a feminine voice on the CSM, which I personally think is something both the CSM and Eve desperately needs. I like her views on the game, and I like her ideas on how to get new players into nullsec. If Ripard doesn’t need my vote, I’d be happy to see it go to Ali.

#? Mike Azariah

Mike may be perceived as more of a high-sec carebear roleplayer, but the fact is he’s done pvp, he’s done Nullsec soldiery, he’s even done some wormholes. His commitment to the game is clear. I think he’d be a really great workhorse for the CSM.

#? Roc Weiler

Roc’s a tough candidate to love, as his in-game persona is a little… off-putting. That said, the player behind the character is smart, knowledgeable, has a lot of relevant real-world experience, and obviously communicates well. He meets all the criteria I have for a good candidate, and he hope he makes it on — I just want Ripard on more.

#6 Mangala Solaris

To be blunt, Mangala will be my catch-all candidate. I’ve flown with the guy, I know the kind of play he represents as, basically, the RvB candidate, and I know I agree with a lot of what he has to say about the game. That said, he’s not my first choice, mostly because his stance on many topics seems a little half-formed. He’ll probably do fine once the rubber hit the road, but maybe not, and I don’t feel like risking higher-ranked votes on that chance. Like true bloc candidates, he may not need my vote, but if he does, and no one else does, he’ll have it, and be (at least) one voice on the CSM that doesn’t represent Nullsec power blocs who think everyone else in the game is a 2nd class citizen.

And That’s It

Only five candidates, but the candidates I’ve picked are those I feel strongly about and who I think are going to need my votes. Realistically, only one of these will have the votes it takes to make it on the CSM, let alone the coveted “always going to Iceland” top two positions. I consider it HIGHLY unlikely any of my votes will be wasted — someone on this list should need them, and if they don’t, I’d rather the votes fly off into the void than strengthen the position of anyone else on the field.

Life in Eve: Local is Fine, and Here’s How to Fix It.

First, a brief background, for the non-EvE players:

Like most MMOs, Eve has a number of text-based chat channels built into its user interface. The ones likely to see the most use are whatever corporation and/or alliance you’re part of, any player-made channels created for specific purposes or interests…

And Local.

Now, to the outsider, the concept of a “local channel” doesn’t seem that big a deal: most games I’ve played have some version of this: a channel that can only be seen by the people currently visiting a particular city are common, for example (though there’s usually some question about whether or not anyone pays attention to it).

In Eve, that Channel is called “Local.” It’s always on, always there, and always includes whomever is currently in the same solar system as you.

The reason this matters (for the purposes of this post), is that all the channels in Eve have a Member List displayed alongside the chat window.

Like so.

In some less-common situations, the member list only shows people who have actually spoken in that channel since you logged on, but in most cases, including Local in all of known space, the member list automatically updates to show everyone who’s currently in the same solar system.

This means that, in Eve, within known space (wormholes work differently), the very second that anyone enters the same solar system you’re in, you know, thanks to Local.

As a result, Local — specifically, Local’s member list — is more often used as an intelligence gathering tool than it is a means to chat with the unwashed masses of whatever backwater shithole you happen to be flying through at the moment.

I actually shrink the window so that the member list is the only thing I see.

Not everyone likes this.

There have been great fiery debates about whether or not Local’s member list should remain immediate (like it is now) or delayed (the way it works in Wormholes and some private channels, where no one knows you’re there unless you say something).

Which led to this conversation today:

“Man,” Em said. “I really wish we didn’t have automatic local out in the war zone. It’s so lame to have that much intel at your fingertips. It’d be so cool to see guys on directional scan in a complex and have NO idea of they were friendly or hostile — no Local list to compare it to and say ‘Well, I see three ships, and there are only two hostiles here and three friendlies, so it’s probably friendlies.'”

“Sure,” I replied. “Though it would suck for us as well if they changed it.”

“We’d cope,” Em said. “Hell, we already deal with that every day up in the wormhole.”

“Definitely, but that’s the wormhole. Things should work differently up there. I mean…” I pondered. “We’re in low security space, but it’s still Empire space, you know? The infrastructure is kind of messed up, but it’s still functional.”

“Empire?” Em replied. “Why would the Amarr or Minmatar or… hell, anybody provide intel about their own troop movements to anyone and everyone who can see the Local member list?”

“Well… they wouldn’t,” I said. “But I don’t think it’s really up to them — that’s just part of the deal with the technology. I don’t think they control it.” I shrugged. “Maybe CONCORD controls it.” I frowned. “Actually, I think it’s tied to the stargates somehow — like they’re relays or something — which is why the member list breaks out by star system, and why there’s other channels like one just for the local constellation of systems you’re in, and why it works the same way in High sec and Low sec and Null sec — all the same stargate technology.” Finally, I added, “That’d be why it doesn’t work that way in wormhole space — no stargates.”

Bringing people together in more ways than one.

There was a pause in the conversation. I turned back to the ship fitting I’d been assembling.

“You know what would be cool?” Em said, voice almost dreamy.

“I –”

“What would be cool,” he continued, “is if Local didn’t add you to the member list until you either used the channel… or used a Gate.”

I stopped, turning that idea over, then offered my analysis. “Huh.”

“I mean…” it didn’t even seem as though he heard me. “If it’s all attached to the stargate tech, and you didn’t use a stargate to get there, then…” He shook his head. “MAN that would be cool.”

“Wormholes,” I said, picking up on the idea. “You could — I mean, when you dropped out of a wormhole into a system in known space…”

“No one would know you were there,” Em completed the thought. “It’d make all those shitty class two systems with exits to Null sec SO much more fun.”

There's a hole in your sky...

“It’d be like having a black-ops drop capability for people who can’t fly black-ops ships yet.” I blinked. “Actually…”

“… black-ops jump bridges bypass gates.” Em finished.

Widow likes the idea. (It's smiling - trust me.)

“Regular Titan bridges too,” I said. “I mean –”

“– you’d see the beacon go up, but–”

“– you wouldn’t know who came in, or how many, without more recon. You’d just know a jump bridge happened.”

"Who left the door open?"

We were quiet for a while.

“Wow,” I said.

“Not like wormholes,” Em said, “still it’s own thing, and for most people flying around, it’s basically like nothing really changed, because as soon as you use a gate to jump into system, you’re loaded into Local, but… better than it is now.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. I shook my head, blinking. “You know what?”

“You’re going to write about it.” Em sounded amused.

“We need to tell people about this,” I replied. “This is a good idea.”


TL;DR: Wouldn’t it be cool if, in known space, you stayed off the Local member list if you could manage to bypass the stargate when you entered the system? As soon as you use a gate (or talk in Local), you show up, but until then…

Not quite how it works now. Neither is it the way it works in wormholes. Provides a really neat way to work around the current system, in-character.

Dunno about you, but I like it.

Life in Eve: Gambit Roulette

Regardless of the game, I’ve never been particularly drawn to stealth classes. Rogues, Burglars, Assassins… you know the type. The long setup. The slow creep. The careful maneuvering. The final violent burst of action that was, for all that, almost anticlimax to the preparation that got you there.

I could do it well enough. I just didn’t enjoy it all that much, or at least not as much as I did other possible options. I got my ‘single bullet kill’ achievements in Hitman II, but there were at least as many missions where I crashed the game because the engine couldn’t render that many dead sprites at the same time. That one where you dress up as the fireman? With the axe?

Oh, bank lobby killing spree: you complete me.

Which brings me to wormholes.

About a year ago, I started to get… itchy, when it came to living in a wormhole full time (which I had been doing for roughly a year and a half). As interesting and inspiring as blogs like Tiger Ears were (and continue to be), I found myself increasingly dissatisfied.

To be fair, wormholes aren’t for everyone. Wormhole living requires a lot of specialized knowledge about certain areas of Eve: the perpetual scanning; the living out of a player-owned-starbase that feels like camping full time out of twenty-year old modular tent with missing pieces; the ritual-and-requisite paranoia. No, it’s not for everyone. It’s not even for most.

But that wasn’t really my problem. I’d just gotten tired of playing a stealth class.

There are certainly examples of other kinds of combat that happen in wormhole space, but day to day, for most pilots, that’s the exception rather than the rule. In the life of a dedicated wormholer, pvp is about finding a target and, having found them, doing something with that knowledge before they know you’re there.

The slow creep. The long step up. The careful maneuvering. The final burst of action. Stealthy stuff. It had taken me awhile to recognize it, but when I did it was a bit obvious.

So I left.

Well, Ty left, anyway, and CB decided to come with me. The wormhole stayed just as active as it had been, but we were off to explore other options, which led to Gambit Roulette: our foray into Faction Warfare.

Gambit Roulette: A convoluted plan that relies on events completely within the realm of chance yet comes off without a hitch.

If your first reaction to seeing the plan unfold is “There is no way you planned that!”, then it’s a gambit roulette.

The reason for giving the corp this name was straightforward: I didn’t know what I was doing. Anything that looked like intentional success was obviously going to be, in truth, blind chance.

The first month of the corp’s existence wasn’t exactly draped in glory. I think we destroyed two enemy ships and lost seven.

I did a lot of solo flying in the months that followed, and managed to turn the kill/death ratio around, though never by any particularly stunning amount. 21:7. 18:4. Then right back down to a mediocre 11:9.

Through the early months, I was struck by the fact that, while there were obviously many groups flying around the warzone, I wasn’t *in* them, and getting in — becoming someone known and trusted — was going to take time.

“How’s that faction warfare thing going?” asked my buddies in the wormhole.

“Pretty good,” I said, and it was true, for all that I mostly on my own. “There’s always something to do.”

“Nice,” came the reply. “Maybe I’ll bring an alt down and join you or something.”

“Sounds cool,” I said, because it did, but at the same time I thought: I need to pave the way for my friends — to find the way into the good groups, and learn which are the bad groups — so they don’t have to do that slog work.

Something of a breakthrough came in that next month, as a veteran FW pilot I’d flown with a couple times invited me to a channel he seemed to use to sort out newer pilots he thought were worth the time.

He got me in my first fleet with the Order of the Black Daggers, a group of pilots who had fun, didn’t get too riled up when things got hard, and (most importantly) had a good leader and times when they regularly and reliably “did stuff.” I was happy – thrilled, really – to fly with them. Gambit Roulette ship losses per month increased by a factor of three; ship kills increased by a factor of six.

On fire, half dead, and limping away with the stuff off the other guy's wreck.

More importantly — FAR more importantly — I had found a group of good people to fly with. If my friends from the wormhole ever decided to check out this Faction Warfare thing (they did, and not on alts), I could simply say “these guys are with me,” and that would be that. (And it was.)

First, we were two.

Then another guy joined us. A stranger, though someone who’d read the blog, started in a wormhole, and wanted to try something else.

“If he wants in the wormhole,” CB said, “hell no. But if he wants to come out here? Sure. Blood for the blood god.”

Then our old corp mates joined us. Em and Div and Shan and the rest, with a few particularly dangerous souls staying behind to keep the lights on back in Anoikis and destroy the unwary.

We joined Daggers in their alliance – Ushra’Khan – and joined the fight for the Eugidi constellation: the first time the war really felt like a war and not a roaming free for all.

After days of fruitless efforts to find an Amarr opponent, Em got a fight with a neutral pilot in a complex — a guy who just wanted a fight; wanted to try something new in the game.

“Recruit him,” I said.

“Already talking it over with him,” he replied. “Going to get his buddy in here too.”

That recruited pilot got in on a Titan kill a few weeks later.

We have our up months and down months. January was quiet, with many of us traveling.

February, which saw two new pilots join — former wormholers looking for something different — was not quiet. Record number of ship losses, and if the number of kills didn’t spike by quite as much, we’ll chalk that up to the learning curve. We still destroyed as many enemy assets as I did the month I started flying with Daggers.

More importantly — far more importantly — we’d found more pilots we really clicked with.

And suddenly it’s now, nine months since this thing started, and we are the small group of pilots “doing stuff” on most nights.

This month, halfway through, we’ve nearly doubled the value of destroyed enemy assets from last month, with half the losses. Ignoring that crazy titan kill, it’s already our second most productive month, behind only the Eugidi war.

And best of all, it’s fun. It’s fast.

And we rarely need a cloaking device.


The five-character Corp ticker for Gambit Roulette is IMPRV.

Some people read that as “Improv” and assume we’re just making things up as we go.

Some people read it as “Improve” and think we’re all about trying to learn and get better.

I think: Why not both?

Life in Eve: Heavy Hangs the Head

This bit of reflection came out of a (sadly) half-finished conversation with Dave and Margie, where we were talking about my time with Faction Warfare in Eve, and their time playing Ingress.

The Minmatar/Amarr faction war zone has been a little crazy the last few months. Amarr units have been on an organized tear, capturing a sizable chunk of territory — more than I’d ever seen them take over, actually — enough to have a clear advantage in terms of system control. More, they’ve held onto it for quite some time.

Disconcerting, but also (weirdly) a bit of a relief. The last few months prior to that push, our group had been involved in occupying and defending a constellation of systems that, to be honest, we just didn’t have quite enough people to manage, especially in the face of the previously mentioned Amarr offensive. We held on fairly well, and even managed to push our side’s war zone control back up to tier 4 (out of five) for awhile, but it was exhausting, and eventually we just wore out and retreated to an area where we had more allies and fewer systems to worry about.

Now, with the pressure to hold ground gone, we’re left fighting roving battles across a landscape that, thanks to Amarr taking a bunch of systems, suddenly presents many more targets of opportunity. This, like the rest, is a new experience for me. I came into the war at a time of Minmatar dominance (selecting Minmatar over Gallente primarily because I wanted to shoot slavers more than I wanted to shoot corpo-fascists), and often had to wander over to the Gallente/Caldari war zone and fight with my allies, because with the Amarr holed up in fewer than five systems (out of ~70), there just wasn’t much to do. Things have changed: with half the war zone in Amarr hands, the question isn’t what to do, but what to do first.

The current situation has given us many opportunities for spirited autocannon debate.

And in some cases, “what to do” ends up being “recapture lost systems.” This opportunity arises because (as we’ve learned and the Amarr presumably are now discovering) holding big chunks of territory is kind of… wearying, and that seems to be by design.

See, a lot of the ‘draw’ of being on the winning side in a conflict is the idea that you’ll reap nice benefits. This is true in faction warfare… to a point. It turns out dominating the whole war zone isn’t really a good use of anyone’s time. As you approach high levels of war zone control, it becomes far more difficult to hold it and/or capitalize on advantage. The costs of system upgrades increase exponentially, until you get to a point where holding the highest tiers of control cost more than you’re making — you’re better off dropping down to a less resource-intensive, easier-to-maintain, albeit slightly less profitable level.

In short, achieving total dominance is a hollow victory: it’s costly to keep up, the rewards gleaned at the highest levels don’t justify the effort, and if you’re just logging in for some quick and easy fun, the fact you pretty much own everything means (thanks to little enemy territory and a demoralized foe) you have no options for entertainment… which is rather the point of a game.

Conversely, now that the Minmatar are behind the Amarr in terms of war zone control, we have lots to do, but still have a good resource base to work with. It doesn’t hurt that many of the main Amarr groups don’t seem to have much patience for the slog of territory ownership — the lure of a good fight usually prevails, and it feels to me as though they’re getting bored with the drudgery of being on top.

That’s okay: we’ll seesaw our way to the top, if they’re sick of it, then they can take it back, and on and on in perpetual, bloody, entertaining motion. I’ve seen far worse designs.

CCP has struggled to achieve this balance for a long time in Faction Warfare — as my friend Dave has observed, it’s not a problem unique to Eve — and they’ve made more than a few slips and trips on the way, but it seems to me as though they’ve finally hit very near a sweet-spot that reminds a bit of Conan:  Lots of fun and rewards in the midst of struggle, but heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and how willing the king becomes to throw down scepter and rejoin the fray.

I can’t imagine CCP could wish for much more.

Life in Eve: How I Learned to Love Hating “Safe Zones” in New Eden

I didn’t intend to write any more stuff about CCP and the development direction of Eve; it’s not really what I do.

However, I was having a good discussion on Reddit about yesterday’s post (someone put it up there and I dropped in to say hello), and one of the threads of conversation gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea. It started like this. Someone asked:

But don’t you worry that it [restriction on non-consensual PvP] could compromise the unique identity that EVE has built for itself?

I think it’s clear from yesterday’s post that the personal answer I came to in regards to that question is ‘no’. I said:

I love the scams, the free for alls, the Asakai’s, the alliances disbanded from within, the wormhole ambushes, bomber’s bars, freighter ganks on the way to Jita, and the 70-minute logi-assisted lowsec complex brawls. I love it all. But looking at it from CCP’s point of view, I believe they’ve got to be asking hard questions about whether or not they can introduce a few [safe] systems in New Eden… like… hell, I dunno, the 1.0 and 0.9 systems and training systems, or something. That might be all it takes to reduce the number of “tried it, hated it, everyone’s fucking evil on that game” guys who leave four hours into the trial period. If I’m CCP, and I have any faith in the game at all, I have to believe that if I can keep that trial guy around even a little longer, I’ll secure another player.

Except I didn’t say [safe] systems — I said “Mandatory Safeties Green” systems.

Because that’s all it would take, isn’t it? Certain systems where everyone’s safeties get flipped green and locked there until you leave the system. Easy, easy code.

More importantly, it gave me what I think is kind of a cool idea for building a storyline around this. Stay with me.

1. We have pirate rookie ships on the test servers right now.

Pretty cool, no?

2. Based on the existence of pirate rookie ships, we can assume (for a moment) that CCP is seriously considering a way for players to switch their allegiance to a pirate faction.

Y’see,  there’s no way to get rookie ships of a particular faction in the game unless someone in the game is a member of that faction. So it follows that if these rookie ships exist, there’s going to be some way for players to join those factions, sort of faction warfare style.

3. If that happens, imagine a significant number of pilots will do that, and damn the consequences.
I really don't think this is a very difficult thing to imagine, knowing our playerbase.

4. Let’s further assume that being in a pirate faction is more than just vapid window dressing.

If the certain mechanics in the game are slightly different for pirate faction players (such as the stuff Jester suggested a few months ago), you see a sudden and serious upswing in player-on-player violence. I’m thinking specifically of the idea of pirate faction players getting paid bounties by their pirate faction not for killing NPC rats, but for killing empire players — kind of like how faction warfare rewards you with loyalty points when you kill war targets — and paying out especially well against those players with high sec status.

High sec status: that’s important. It means that a veteran carebear who should know how to protect his shit is a far more attractive target than a two-day-old newb in his first catalyst.

5. In response to this upswing in “terrorism” (which, ironically, CCP engineered), CONCORD implements highly intrusive, insulting levels of “security” in certain high-profile areas of New Eden.

CONCORD reveals the ability to remotely lock a pilot’s ship system’s safeties to Green, something they’ve perhaps always been able to do and haven’t had a good excuse to try.

It’s security theatre, and offers no demonstrable levels of increased safety for anyone, but they do it anyway.

As an American who flies frequently, I'm sure I have NO IDEA what that's like.

6. People hate this new restriction, but (at least for the most part), they hate CONCORD for it, not CCP.

This effect can be ensured if CCP drops hints that it’s just a “storyline” restriction — a yoke we will be able to throw off later, if resistance in-game is high enough. In addition to player resistance, you can have some empire factions that rage against it (Gallente, Minmatar), some that seethe quietly (Amarr), and those that openly embrace it as a natural fit (Caldari).

The Amarr: great seethers.

7. The story concludes in summer of 2014 with some kind of in-game event.

In this event, capsuleers band together to say “This is not how New Eden works!” and shuts this CONCORD restriction off.

Seems to me this would:

  1. Be a pretty neat story arc.
  2. Combined with the pirate faction stuff that offers ‘bounties’ for high sec status kills, simultaneously add ‘safe zones’ and make New Eden more violent.
  3. Sort of ‘build the brand’ of Eve – what a great story that would be for the news outlets, when all of New Eden rises up to state, as part of an in-game event: “Nowhere is safe, and we like it that way.” What a neat way to get players to band together: sort of an in-character Summer of Rage, with beneficial effects (press) for the company and the game.
  4. Give CCP a year-long window in which to cushion new players a bit.

I dunno. Seems kind of cool to me. Thoughts?

Life in Eve: Life on the Playground

My kids go to a charter school. This may not mean much to anyone reading this, so I’ll sum up what it means to me by saying that charter schools are basically public schools with limited enrollment, where the parents are encouraged if not in fact required to be more involved. There’s an after school program my daughter’s in that literally would not be running at all if her mom didn’t volunteer every week to come in and help the teacher with it, which she does because she feels it’s worth the time commitment.

And in any case, we have to volunteer: every kid’s family must log at least 40 hours at the school every year.

I do most of my volunteer time as a playground monitor for recess. I like it: I get to see my kids, meet their friends, play the gruff but affable grownup. Whatever.

And I get to watch the kids play, which is always… enlightening. The first time I ever did a session as a monitor, I found out that when my daughter isn’t doing kinematic dismounts off the jungle gym, she plays soccer. Impromptu, full-tilt, free-for-all soccer. On the concrete basketball court. And is – literally – the only girl out there, among a surging riptide of boys who clearly aren’t planning to cut her any slack. She makes her own choices. Good thing to know what they are.

During one recess, I spotted a kid making a different choice. Something of a reverse of Kaylee, he was one of the few boys not playing soccer. Instead, he’d found a railing to perch on, mostly turned away from the rest of the playground, and was eyeballs deep in a story, the hardback book about as thick as The Stand, though probably a bit less apocalyptic.

Oh man, I thought, I’ve so been that kid. And I had. Not always, but if I was in the middle of a really good story and recess rolled around? Kickball could fucking wait, you know?

Then, while I watched, a couple other kids crept over and dumped a backpack full of woodchips over the kid’s head, which kicked my level of empathy up a notch. I’d been there too, once or twice.

What did I, parental playground monitor, do? Nothing. To my mind, as much as it sucks, it’s not so very different from the challenging academic curriculum at the school — it’s the same reason I don’t make the soccer players stop when one of them comes over with basketball court road rash all up his (or her) arm. Choices. Consequences. Good stuff. In any case, the woodchip backpack dumpers didn’t repeat the assault, and the book reader just brushed off the pages and kept reading. If he wasn’t going to reward them with a reaction, I certainly wasn’t going to. A minute or so later, two of his friends (good friends, I think, one boy and one girl) came over and cleaned the wood chips off his head and uniform — he hadn’t bothered, not while anyone was watching — then sat down with him and kept an eye on his six while he read them parts he liked.

(Okay, maybe I wandered over and stood in more direct line-of-sight of the kid’s perch. But that’s it.)

Would I have got involved if the kids had come back with another backpack full? Probably. If the backpack had been full of rocks? Obviously. If the kid had come to me for help? Sure, if only to offer advice. Otherwise? No.

But let’s change the situation a little bit.

What if, instead of recess, this was some kind of independent after-school program: A massive playground, offering virtually every kind of activity any kid could want to do, but at a cost.

Further, I’m not a volunteer in this scenario, but an employee, and there are a bunch of other, competing, similar-but-different programs like this out there.

Does that maybe change the way I approach that situation? Of course it does. It’s not about letting the kids have a ‘tough love’ experience that will hopefully make them a more self-reliant person. It’s not, in fact, about education of any kind — it’s about making money by providing entertainment. It’s about retaining customers, which in turn is about making those customers — all of those customers — happy.

With me so far?

Okay, let’s talk about Eve Online.


The Eve Playground is a product — it exists to make money for those running it, and while as a product it might satisfy many other needs among its playerbase (most of them social), when you get down to brass tacks, the company that maintains it serves no other purpose higher than “Be a profitable business.”

And let’s be fair: Eve is a pretty good product. Eve players like to joke about “this terrible game” (and it’s true that at the end of a decade, parts are showing their age), but as far as full-featured playgrounds go, it’s got a lot to offer: pretty much everything to offer, really, when it comes to playgrounds, whether you want play in a prefab treehouse, build your own treehouse, conduct mock battles between tree house kingdoms, explore the vast woods out back, play dodgeball, crawl around on jungle gyms, play in the big playhouse with surprisingly accurate hardware and fully functioning Easy Bake Oven, or even sit off on the side, your back to almost everyone, and read.

“You can do any of that,” the pamphlet assures the prospective parent, and it’s technically true.

But there are problems.

2012 was about spending time dealing with the things which build up in a game that has been running for nearly 10 years.

That’s CCP Unifex, Executive Producer at CCP. To figure out what Unifex is talking about, look at what the company did with the game in 2012. I think a fair summary would be “make the game more accessible for new players, and give those same new players something close to a fighting chance against the kids who’ve been on the playground a lot longer.” Yes, some of the changes did other things as well, but ALL of them affected new players. All the ship classes immediately available to new players: buffed up across the board. Major “late game” mechanics like logistics, brought down to entry-level gameplay. Improved (if still not great) tutorials. Ever-so-slightly simplified systems. A UI more like the UI of modern software systems. A vastly improved Faction Warfare model (already one of the better new-player-accessible, NPC-‘controlled’ systems in the game).

It’s easy to see why to make the game more new-player accessible, but a lot of the effort with ships and so forth isn’t so much about immediate accessibility as it is leveling the playing field. Why is that a big deal?

Well, this playground is pretty fucking rough on newcomers when you get right down to it.

CCP has always adopted a very hands-off approach to their playground: technically, you have the right to sit off in the corner and read, but at the same time, that other group of kids “have the right” to play dodgeball, and on this particular playground, that “right” extends to the fact that some of those kids will include anyone they feel like in their dodgeball game, even if the kid in question is doing something else and doesn’t have the least interest in dodgeball.

Yes, if they come over and smash the book reader (or the jungle gym crawlers, or the kids playing cops and robbers) in the face with the ball, they’ll get a minor time out, but no one’s going to call their parents, and they will never lose their access to either the ball or the playground. Doing so would deny them the activity they want to engage in on playground, right?

Except their activity, the way they’ve chosen to play it, makes it impossible for those other face-smashed kids to use the playground their way.

To which the free-for-all Dodgeballer says “Fuck those kids. They’re fucking lame anyway.”

Fine.

Except those kids pay to use the playground, too.

In fact, there are a LOT MORE of those kids than Dodgeball kids, ESPECIALLY if you only count the dodgeball kids who forcibly include everyone on the playground in their game. That numeric discrepancy is a real problem if you’re the guys running the playground, because (a) some of those non-dodgeball kids will leave —

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

— and more importantly, a bunch of potential kids who have never tried out this playground never will, because people talk, and what they say isn’t always good. “Come get a fat lip from a dodgeball while you’re innocently playing house,” isn’t a marketable ad campaign.

Welcome to Eve. Here's a free wrench.

(“Fuck em” mutter the dodgeballers.)

See, the kids on the playground are, collectively, pretty much shit at fixing this problem, because kids don’t want to stop doing whatever it is that is most fun for them. Even the most approachable dodgeball players can only go so far as to offer sarcastic advice about how to change the way everyone else plays, or point out how the book-reader’s habits made the face-smashing too much for a dodgeballer to resist.

“It’s really their fault, you see,” they explain. “If they were more like us, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

And they’re wrong, of course. There still would be a problem. If you’re the guys running a playground that says “Here is a place where you can play however you like, but you’ll have to respect this playstyle more than any others”, you will reach a point where everyone who’s likely to find that playground fun is already there.

That’s fine, if you’re playing dodgeball: you have enough people to play your game.

That’s not fine if you’re running the business, because businesses need to grow.

And it could be Eve has already reached that point of saturation. Forget dodgeball: heaven help you if you’re some kid who wants to build their own tree house (and really who hasn’t wanted that at some point in their lives?): all the tree houses are controlled by four or five major tween gangs, and they will gleefully curb stomp anyone who tries to join in without an invitation and/or humiliating servitude. Dodgeballers are a Hello Kitty birthday party by comparison.

This is, if you ask the treehouse guys, not really a problem at all.

So what’s CCP going to do?

Not what they ‘should’ do; I’m not arrogant or blinkered enough to pretend to know better than a company that’s managed ten years of success — I’ll leave that to other bloggers.

No: what are they obviously going to (or must) do?

EVE is a universe where you can do all sorts of things, and we will continue […] expanding on what’s available to do. We’ll do this with releases that are themed around some aspect of the New Eden universe.

This means […] we will find a theme that can connect features and changes that touch multiple play styles in EVE across a spectrum of activities like exploration, industry, resource gathering and conflict.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

So: any expansions they work on, going forward, will (ideally) expand play options for everyone from the book reader to the dodgeballer to the treehouse warlord to the woodland explorer. Smart.

There are some people who […] enable others to have fun in EVE. […] We believe that helping these […] archetypes achieve their own goals is the best way to have the sandbox of EVE thrive. […] We want to make EVE more accessible […] as a way to find new features to develop for play styles or time requirements where we have gaps today.

– CCP Seagull, Senior Producer, EVE Online Development

Eve is a playground, yes. Play how you like, yes.

But Eve is also a product, and CCP needs that product to reach more people. In order to do that, they need to level the playing field not just between new and old characters, but between play styles.

And that means that at some point, it’s not the kid reading the book in the corner that’s going to need to adjust the way they play, for the continued growth of the playground.

Maybe – just maybe – that means dodgeballers find out that it’s a lot harder to involve unwilling participants in their game. Which, as a dodgeballer myself, I think is fine, because we hardly lack for willing players.

Maybe – just maybe – it will mean that it will become a lot harder to hold on to multiple treehouses, and a lot easier to hold on to just one. Again, I think that’s good, because war games are more interesting with more people involved.

Do I think there’s some place in Eve for a safe zone? I don’t know, and guess what: I’m not being paid by CCP to come up with a definitive yes or no answer. I do think it’s a question worth asking periodically: is non-consensual PvP really that big a part of what defines Eve and makes it a great game?

Food for thought: There were two big events in Eve last week, related to PvP — events that verifiably brought in new players when they got out into the larger news: a single-misclick that turned into one of the most massive super-capital fights that low security space has ever seen, and 28,000 destroyed ships in a pre-planned free for all in null-security space.

You know what those two events had in common? They were consensual PvP. Yes, one started because of a misclick, but it was a misclick that — even if it had been executed properly — was meant to start a fight. In fact, any of the really big stories that have come out of Eve in the last 10 years — the scams, the fights, the alliance-killing betrayals — all consensual PvP of one kind or another, as defined by where it happened, or the people and groups involved.

High-sec mining barge ganks don’t make the news; they don’t bring in new players.

What to nail me down on something? I do think consensual PvP is better. More interesting. More compelling. More sustainably fun in the long run, for the largest number of people. I’ve done both kinds, and when it all comes down to it, I’d rather play dodgeball with the other kids who came to play dodgeball.

I didn’t start out playing dodgeball, you know. I was playing cops and robbers in the ‘safe’ part of the playground, and played for long enough without getting face-smashed (much) that I got interested in everything else going on.

But I was lucky.

CCP really can’t rely on “lucky” anymore. They’re going to need a few more monitors stepping in if they want more kids paying the bills.

Life in EvE: “I’m not a Pirate.”

A few nights ago, members of the militia had banded together to work on retaking an Amarr-held system in the warzone. This was a pretty big undertaking, and to pull it off in a relatively short timeframe required round the clock participation; it wouldn’t be enough for our US-timezone-heavy alliance to do it, because any Amarr active in EU and Aussie areas would just undo our work.

So the fleet is a mix of lots of different corps and alliances, with lots of different countries represented. It’s fair to say we all have a slightly different way of looking at how life in the warzone works.

This eventually led to an enlightening conversation.

As we’re capturing yet another complex in the enemy system, recon reported a fairly good-sized fleet coming in, but they aren’t Amarr — it’s a gang of pilots under the Ivy League banner — graduates of Eve University who like to slum out in low- and null-sec space from time to time.

Sure enough, they headed for the complex, jumped in, and started shooting. I’m left with a bit of a problem.

None of them were viable targets for me.

They weren’t outlaws, they weren’t in faction warfare, we don’t have a secondary war declared with them, and they haven’t suddenly been flagged as criminals or “suspects” for engaging our fleet, because they’re only shooting those pilots on the field who are outlaws and, thus, legal targets for the technically law-abiding Ivy Leaguers.

Luckily, two things happened: first, the support ships in the Ivy League fleet started repairing their fleet mates, which flagged them as part of a legal ‘limited engagement’ that I’m somehow part of and, second, our fleet commander called those same pilots our primary targets. It’s like two great tastes that explode when put together.

Long story short, we stomp the other fleet pretty handily. Go us.

Later, I commented that for those of us in the fleet who actually care about our security status, it’s handy — if a bit silly — that the guys supporting the enemy fleet became viable targets for repairing the combatants, even if the combatants themselves never did.

“Just shoot everyone,” says the FC. “If you’re living in Low-sec space and you aren’t an outlaw, you’re doing it wrong.”

“I’m fighting a war,” I replied. “I’m not a fucking pirate.”


So… What Can You Shoot, You Pansy?

One of the things that was added in the most recent expansion was the idea of a “Safety” that, like a gun safety, generally keeps you from doing anything that’s too terribly stupid without a bit of forethought. The basic settings for the safety are:

  • Green: The game won’t let you do anything that would cause you to be flagged Suspect, which in turn lets anyone at all in the game legally shoot at you until the flag wears off in 15 minutes. Not coincidentally, this safety setting also prevents many of the actions that lower your overall security standing.
  • Yellow: The game will let you do things that will flag you Suspect, but won’t let you do anything that would flag you Criminal. This means you can do stuff that will allow player retaliation, but you won’t pick up that flag that will cause CONCORD to instantly destroy you if you wander into High Security space with the flag active.
  • Red: You can do anything, anywhere, and damn the consequences.

It may surprise you to learn that you can (if you want) take part in Faction Warfare full-bore without ever switching your Safety off of green.1 That’s how I’ve chosen to roll, most of the time.2 Here are a list of my viable targets:

War Targets (Faction War) – This one is kind of obvious. If the target is part of the opposing forces in the war, you can do whatever you like to each other. If it’s gold and shiny, you are hereby encouraged to shoot it.
War Targets (Declared War) – This is more of a specialized thing, as it shows up for any member of a group for which your corp or alliance have a privately declared, CONCORD-approved war active. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same as a faction warfare target.
Outlaws – This has nothing to do with wars of any kind — the target simply has such a bad security rating that any and all pilots in New Eden are encouraged to make them explode, and may do so wherever they like.
Criminals – This may seem a bit redundant with Outlaw, but the distinction is important: An Outlaw’s standing makes them a perpetual target, while someone with a Criminal flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Pretty much the only thing in low-sec that will give you a Criminal flag is destroying the pod of a non-wartarget.
Suspects – Like the Criminal flag, a Suspect flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Unlike the Criminal flag, there are quite a lot of actions in Low-sec that will give you this flag — the short list includes attacking non-wartarget ships (not pods) and looting containers or wrecks owned by someone else. This is useful to law-abiding Faction Warfare guys if some non-Outlaw neutral attacks some non-Outlaw militia member – you’ll see the stranger pick up a Suspect flag, and know that he’s become a viable target for retaliation.
Limited Engagement Participant – Of all the flags, this one is the most opaque to me, with the most obscure and possibly goofy mechanics. The basic idea is that it’s supposed to allow you to shoot back when someone you wouldn’t normally be able to attack starts shooting at you. It’s also been set up to flag anyone who helps someone you’re engaged with, such as someone repairing your opponent. If that were all that happened, it would be pretty simple, but what I’m seeing in practice is where the weirdness creeps in.

For instance: I’m in a fleet with Pilot A. Pilot Z (who normally isn’t a legal target) shoots Pilot A. Pilot A is now in a limited engagement with Pilot Z, but I am not — I still have no legal targets. Pilot Y starts repping Pilot Z, joins the limited engagement with Pilot A, and is also flagged as being in a limited engagement with me, even though I still can’t legally shoot Pilot Z, and haven’t done anything to help Pilot A.

I mean, I’m not complaining, because it gives me a legal target, but… what?

Kill Right Available – This is another slightly odd one. The pilot with this tag has, at some point in the past, done something that has given another pilot “kill rights” on that pilot. Typically, this means they either blew up a ship or pod in high-sec, or killed a pilot’s pod in low-sec. Kill rights mean that if you get on the same combat grid as that pilot, you can ‘activate’ the the kill right, which makes that pilot a legal target for anyone for the next fifteen minutes — kill rights now basically deputize the victim pilot for the purpose of dishing out single-serve retribution. In turn, the “kill right available” flag shows up because the pilot who ‘owns’ kill rights has made them publicly available — meaning anyone can activate them. SO: the pilot with this tag isn’t a legal target, but he can be made one.

So: that’s the stuff you can shoot legally, and thus preserve your law-abiding security status.

I’m not a pirate, so this matters to me. Maybe it will to you, too.


1 – Granted, this isn’t saying much; you can leave it green in null-sec or wormhole space too; it doesn’t affect those areas in the least.

2 – When we were ousted from Faction Warfare for a couple days, I fought in one battle against the Amarr in which I had to “go yellow” to engage called targets, and I did, because it was necessary for the war. In all the other fights, the Amarr conveniently engaged me first or were Outlaw enough I could shoot them regardless.

Life in Eve: Getting a Bad Feeling

So this is just a short post and, worse, it won’t make much sense or difference to anyone unless you both play EvE and do stuff in Faction Warfare.

So here we go.

Fact one: The Amarr-Minmatar warzone is getting some new jump gates in December, meant to open up a lot of cut off systems and improve moment throughout the warzone.

Fact two: Despite the fact that it’s currently a pain in the ass to offensively run complexes in enemy systems, the Amarr are hitting a couple Minmatar systems pretty damned hard, as if they would very much like to flip them to Amarr. I wonder why?

Let’s go to the map!

Click to embiggen

Orange is current Amarr territory. The green lines are where the new gates are going to go. The systems circled in black are the ones the Amarr are hitting hard.

I’ll let you chew that over.

Life in Eve: For the Tears?

Forgive me, Gor, but this one was too good to leave in e-mail.

Wait… so choosing be smart in Eve and only engage in fights that you can win or walk away from is a bad thing? Eve PVP is so much about the tears…. If all these Eve players want less risk adverse behavior, decrease the (ship) death penalty.  Oh but then PVP wouldn’t be so much fun, cause I didn’t ruin the other guys day.

I don’t mind someone being careful, but when you get together to spend an evening shooting other people and the guy in charge won’t take a fight — ANY fight — because it doesn’t look like a sure win? That guy just wasted my night, because I want to shoot something — that’s what I set aside my night to do. I wouldn’t have undocked if I didn’t accept some risk, and if I didn’t want the risk, I’d play Wizard101.

The guys that piss me off in the war zone are the guys who are ostensibly part of faction warfare, but who fly around in frigates with no guns on and a ship optimized to make money and ignore the actual war. That bugs the crap out of me, and I make it a hobby to blow them up when I can.

It's really not about the tears.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t do it for the tears — I very much doubt there are any, because that guy probably make 4 or 5 billion isk in the last week — I do it because these guys are crapping all over the area of the game I’m playing in, and I have the means to kick some sand in their face, which I want to do because this particular activity in Eve — for which I have sacrificed time, ISK, and the companionship of good friends who’d rather not join me — is being ruined by these greedy little stains.

Do I do this to miners in high-sec? Or industrialists? Or traders? Of course not! They’re doing what they do; they’re not subverting anything. That guy in the hookbill is turning an arena for a certain kind of play into a lame money-dispenser — paved the park and put up a Qwik-e-mart — and I look on it the same way I look on guys who can-flip and ninja-salvage in high-sec: I’ll kill ’em if I can.

This is tangential, but I don’t think they should decrease the death penalty to allay risk adverse behavior, because honestly the main thing that makes EvE fights exciting (they aren’t, normally) is the risk to your OWN ship). These guys that pussyfoot around, trying for a perfect 100-0 record… it just seems to me that they miss the point. The whole thing is more fun if you have some skin in the game.

No, I don’t care about causing tears, but I do care about caring about the fight. If four guys want to use some ECM so their four frigates can take on a Cynabal and have a chance of winning, fine. I can even stand to be one of those guys, because I don’t see that we’ve negated risk and made the whole fight pointless. If fourteen guys bring two Falcons on every roam and only take on groups of 8 or fewer pilots so they can guarantee none of their opponents can fight back… yeah. No. I get why they’re playing, but that’s no more “my” version of Eve than 1% margin trading in Jita.

I just can't see how it's fun.

I’m not going to suicide into a fight for no purpose — but (for example) I stayed in the fight a few nights ago because I thought we could pull out a win, or at least a draw, and that (plus the adrenaline) was worth it.

An hour after I killed that Hookbill pilot, this happened — and I was just as happy about it, because I actually found someone in a complex who wanted to fight.

These days, that’s like finding the only other guy at a gaming convention who actually came to play.

Life in Eve: A Tour of the Bringing Solo Back Interview with CCP Fozzie #eveonline

I’m often on voice comms while playing Eve, and a lot of the discussion lately has been about the changes coming in the winter expansion.

One of the things I often bring up is the interview that CCP Fozzie did on the Bringing Solo Back podcast (Kil2 and Kovorix), but that gets kind of frustrating. I’ll quote something interesting that Fozzie said, then someone says “where did you hear that?”, I mention the podcast, and no one knows about it.

SO: if you are interested, you can find the podcast over here , but as it’s fairly long (~90 minutes), I’ve provided a bit of a road map to the bits I thought were particularly informative.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t have anything to do with the BSB podcast (other than as a devoted listener) — I’m just doing this to spread the word, because I think it’s hugely helpful in providing context about the changes coming in the winter expansion.


7:30 – PROCESS AND PHILOSOPHY OF SHIP REVISION

8:25 – The “training path” of the new support ships, leading to Logistics ships.
10:23 – A bit more on the process of ship revisions.
14:53 – The “flavors” of each race’s ships — “individuality” balanced against “every ship should be useful for something.”
15:55 – “Some of the old ‘racial flavor’ things… kind of suck.”
17:10 – “‘Good fits’ are often kind of similar.” Some talk about differentiating ships in Eve by finding new niches for them, and where that’s still a problem with redundancy (HACs versus tier3 BCs).

21:24 – THE “NEW” FRIGATES

22:51 – The last three combat frigates: kestrel, tristan, breacher.
27:00 – Ewar frigates. (potential change to ECM coming in the expansion)
29:07 – Support (logistics) frigates.

37:15 – DESTROYERS

37:35 – Small tweaks to current destroyers.
39:15 – The history of random silly numbers in various ship stats.
40:00 – The four new destroyers.

40:45 – DRONES
(really sort of a destroyer tangent that went crazy and became its own topic)

40:45 – Some discussion of drones as secondary weapon systems for Gallente and Amarr.
43:05 – The issue with putting missiles – especially short-range missile systems – on slow, heavily armored ships.
44:00 – Relevant Tangent: “Making active armor-tanking not be so slow.”
46:00 – More on drones.

There is SOME implication (46:10 – he doesn’t say it outright – I am INFERRING) that while the Amarr will use drones almost as much as Gallente for secondary damage, and have roomy drone bays, they won’t have the BANDWIDTH of Gallente ships, who will be able to field beefier flights of drones. “I don’t see us pushing heavy drones to Amarr hulls.” Basically it sounds like “Light fast drones go with slow heavy Amarr ships, and bigger heavier drones with the (eventually) faster Gallente ships that can get in close and THEN release drones.”

46:45 – Why drone speed bonuses are a problem.

49:10 – CRUISERS

50:20 – “We really want tech1 ships to be viable and used a lot.”
50:50 – How the relationship between new tech1 frigates and tech2 frigates demonstrates the kind of relationship and ‘gap’ CCP wants to see between all tech1 and tech2 versions of a ship.
52:14 – Attack Cruisers’ new speeds (roughly a 20% increase in speed to the attack cruisers) & what will make Combat Cruisers attractive?

55:00 – AMARR TANGENT

55:05 – “The places Amarr does well right now […] is the battleships, so a lot of those kind of archetypes are the kind of things you’ll see drop down [to smaller ships].”
58:00 – Adjusting beam weapons.

1:00:15 – ANCILLARY SHIELD BOOSTERS

1:00:40 – “ASBs are definitely a balance issue, right now.”
1:02:00 – “Greyscale is a champion for active-tanking (in PvP).”
1:02:50 – “Increasing the kinds of decisions that people can make [in Pvp] is a good thing.”
1:05:25 – Back to ASB discussion.

1:07:00 – OFF-GRID BOOSTERS and TECH3 CRUISERS MAKING COMMAND SHIPS OBSOLETE

1:07:00 – “Hitting [off-grid] boosting with a GIANT baseball bat.”
1:08:15 – “What’s wrong with links, by your evaluation?”
1:10:20 – “The idea with tech3s was always that they should be good generalists; they do a number of those things at the same time, but they shouldn’t be as good as tech2 [ships]. The area where you see that working really well is EWAR. […] That’s where we would like see them when it comes to links.”

1:11:26 – ECM

1:16:25 – HEAVY MISSILE LAUNCHERS and HML TECH2 AMMO

1:18:20 – CALDARI BATTLESHIP-SIZED WEAPONS SYSTEMS

Life in Eve: Retribution is Coming #eveonline

So last night, I actually found myself online at the same time as Em, and we had time to talk about the changes coming up with “Retribution” — the winter expansion. The upshot of that conversation was that a lot of the stuff that I’d categorized as “everybody know this is coming” was stuff that Em hadn’t heard about yet.

So I figured I’d list out pretty much everything I’m aware of that’s coming with Retribution. A few caveats:

  • I’m not going to talk about Crime Watch and the new Bounty system, because not much has been posted about it yet.
  • I’m going to be briefly summarize the changes, but this is still going to be a monster of a post. Can’t be helped: there’s a TON of stuff coming in this expansion.

Now then, let’s get started:


Faction Warfare

  • WAR ZONE CONTROL – War zone control does not currently encourage players to hold space, only to upgrade Infrastructure-hubs when they need to buy stuff from the LP store (upgraded warzone control gives truly massive store discounts for the limited time the upgrade is in place). The upcoming change removes the  discounts, and modifies the amount of loyalty points you earn doing FW stuff instead.They’re also going to make it harder to upgrade and downgrade the control in individual systems within the war zone, which should make whatever tier you’re at more ‘sticky’.There are a number of things they’re putting in to make this happen, but basically offensively taking out offensive complexes won’t ‘bleed’ the stability of a system’s upgrades quite as hard (though it will still pay as well), defensively plexing in a contested system will actually reward you something other than standing, and guys can’t just farm some system that’s been stripped down to a totally vulnerable state for days on end — vulnerable systems will give offensive plex-runners no payout at all.Opinion: Greed is a good motivator. This should encourage factions to actually keep and maintain desirable levels of zone control for the  LP bonus rather than just push to the max level for 40 minutes every couple weeks to ‘cash out’. More zone control effort = more fights. The changes to the loyalty point payouts for offensive, defensive, and vulnerable-system plexing are very good — see the other FW Complex Changes, below.
  • NEW SYSTEM UPGRADES – Current benefits from upgrading a system are a bit lame, especially in systems with no stations. The new iteration will, per level of upgrade in a system, add:
    • More manufacturing, copy, research, and invention slots in stations
    • Reduction in ship repair costs
    • Reduction in market taxes
    • Reduction in manufacturing times (this one is a pretty huge deal)
    • Reduction to starbase fuel cost (only happens twice, at tiers 3 and 5)
    • Able to anchor Cyno Jammer (only at tier 5 control of the system) to prevent getting an enemy capital ship fleet dropped on you. This is a special item and basically takes about 5 or 10 minutes to spool up, and lasts an hour.
  • FW COMPLEX CHANGES – there’s a whole lot of changes to make it harder or outright impossible to ignore PvP in plexes. CCP wants these locations to be a good hot point for fights (anything to change things so every single fight isn’t on a gate or a station is a good thing, in my opinion), and they’re doing a lot of good stuff to make that happen.
    • The ‘capture’ beacon will be moved a lot closer to the entrance to the complex, so attackers don’t have to first traverse 60 to 100 kilometers of empty space to get within range of their target.
    • All beacon capture ranges will be normalized to 30km.
    • Any hostile pilots or hostile NPCs inside the complex will prevent the capture timer from counting down, so if an enemy shows up, you need to kill ’em or drive them off.
    • They’re adding a frigate-only complex, and reorganizing which ships can get into each of the four types of complexes, focusing on restrictions based strictly on size, not tech level of the ships.
    • Since complexes can’t be captured if there are enemy NPCs active in the complex, you need to be able to kill them, though there will be fewer (only one active a time), so you can legitimately do this technically PvE activity with PvP-fit ships. (Also, they don’t spawn if there’s any PvP happening.) Also, the NPCs will be active-tanked to a level appropriate to their ships size, which means that there shouldn’t be any more situations where a frigate is soloing a battlecruiser-class complex.Opinion: All in all, good changes; a hard counter to the no-gun, warp-away, risk-adverse, plex-farming bullshit going on right now.

Mission NPCs (including Faction Warfare NPCs)

All mission NPCs will get upgraded to the “sleeper AI”, modified somewhat. That means that NPCs in all missions will switch targets based on threat (instead of just aggroing the first guy who warps into the site and sticking to him until killed). They will target drones less than Sleepers do and will, if possible, target ships of roughly the same class as themselves, provided such targets exist.

Opinion: The fact that supposedly hardcore EvE players are whining about NPCs finally obeying “threat” code that’s been standard in MMOs for ten years makes me laugh. Harden the fuck up.


Many Ship Changes are Coming

Well over 40 ships are either being revamped, tweaked, or simply created from scratch. Starting from the smallest and working our way up…

Tech1 Exploration Frigates

These ships are, today, basically used as disposable ships for lighting Cynos, and that’s about it. CCP wants to see them in their intended role: solo running of high-sec exploration sites throughout New Eden — a great occupation for newer players — or to support more advanced ships in low-sec, null-sec, or wormhole space. They’re all getting bonuses to hacking, archaeology, and salvaging so you can use them to both probe and run the “mini-profession” sites. Their combat ability has been directed at drones (3 or 4 unbonused light drones) instead of weak weapon bonuses — enough to kill the rats in high-sec sites (although a combat frig will clear them faster) — fit a light active tank, drop drones, and kite.

Opinion: The only downside to these changes is that it makes all four the ships feel sort of… the same. That said, they should be good at what they’re intended to do, and a good way for a new pilot to practice scanning and make some money. Now, if they’d just change the hull for the Imicus — god that’s a stupid-looking ship…


Tech1 EWar Frigates

Since these were formerly “low-tier” frigates, they’re getting pretty significant buffs to make them ‘as good as other frigates’, while focusing on their given role. CCP’s goal is to see these ships become commonly used by newer players to take useful roles in fleets of many different sizes. CCP has also said they expect to release them alongside some tweaks to certain ewar mechanics themselves (for instance, the Griffin getting another mid-slot for yet more ECM, but apparently ECM’s getting tweaked so that it’s going to balance out).

The Crucifier (Amarr) and Vigil (Minmatar) are being bonused towards longer-range disruption, while the Griffin (Caldari) and Maulus (Gallente) are more medium range oriented.  CCP has also said that some EWar was over-nerfed in the past (hello, Gallente) and will be looked at.


Tech1 Support Frigates — Your first “healer” ship

One of the coolest things CCP is doing with this expansion is establish better ‘training’ paths for certain classes of ships — you want to be the support/repair/buff guy? Well, you don’t have to wait two months to finally fly a viable ship! You can start with Support Frigates, move to Support Cruisers, and then to the tech2 Logistics Cruisers that we all know.

Each race will be getting a tech one support frigate, bonused in remote repairing. (10% bonus to repair amount per level, 10% reduction in capacitor draw for reppers per level, and a flat 500% bonus to remote repair module ranges). They’re also giving them more scan resolution across the board, cutting the cycle time of small remote armor and shield reps in half so that these ships can respond more quickly to the fast pace of frigate combat, and reducing the fitting requirements of these modules. These ships have a max rep range of 28.8km with Tech2 rep modules and are generally among the slowest of the tech one frigates.

The Support Frigates are generally created from the ‘mining’ frigates that no one ever uses for anything, ever. This is perhaps the trickiest part of the winter frigate rebalance, since CCP is creating an entirely new role for frigates in a fleet, and hopefully shaking up frigate and other small-gang combat quite a bit.

These ships are, by design, weaker for their size than Tech2 Logistics Ships. This reflects both the lower cost and Skill investment and the design goal that they add to current frigate warfare without eclipsing all the other ships in the lineup.


More Tech1 Combat Frigates

We’ve already seen the changes to the Merlin, Incursus, Rifter (not much change), Punisher, and Tormentor (the mini-Armageddon — a design philosophy in which CCP acknowledges that the Amarr battleships are the best the Amarr has for PvP, so let’s copy those designs in miniature). These last three round out the Combat Frigate lines to 8 ships, two for each race. All three tend to favor long-range combat.

The Kestrel, in contrast to the heavier-tanked, gun-toting Merlin, is the start of the Caldari training path for pure missile damage. It’s going to do good damage with any type of missiles you can fit on it, with great range. It’s also going to be quite a bit more fragile than the new Merlin, though tougher than the older version of itself. It’s also getting a bit faster.

The Tristan is moving away from being a mix of missiles and guns, to being a mix of guns and drones. It will be able to field a full flight of light drones, with almost a full second flight of replacements or utility. It’s guns are bonused for tracking, to deal with the fact that it will probably fit railguns over blasters (it has a nice bonus to targeting range). It’s about as slow and tough as you remember. It’s going to be a hell of a fun ship to bring on frigate roams.

Finally, the Breacher is another missile-boat. It gets an agnostic missile damage bonus, like the Kestrel, but (and I like this) it’s second bonus is to shield repair amounts, making it a tiny, missile-tossing Cyclone. I approve.


New ORE Mining Frigate (Please name it the Chribba.)

Designed as an entry-level mining ship, this will replace the old mining frigates in the Industry Career Path tutorials. It has an outstanding mining output, capacitor, and mobility, with an astounding (for a frigate) ore hold of 5000 cubic meters. Its purpose is to be a fast hull capable of mining in hostile space (even if the current value of high-sec ore defeats this goal quite a bit). It also serves as an AMAZING gas harvester. With its inherent +2 warp core strength bonus, it should stand a fair chance of doing its job without being instantly tackled and killed.

With it’s bonuses, the ship can do with two mining lasers what it would take any other ship five lasers to accomplish. This means that when gas harvesting, it’s output as good as any gas-harvesting battlecruiser you care you name, with almost twice as much ‘ore’ cargo capacity for that gas.  Even without a propulsion mod, it can be built to be practically unscannable, cruise around at close to 500 meters per second, and align-to-warp in 2.5 seconds.

Oh, and it gets a flight of three light drones.

I will buy these things by the six-pack.


Existing Destroyers Rebalanced

CCP sees destroyers trading resilience and mobility for firepower. Existing destroyers are mostly fine as they are right now, but they are getting a few tweaks, notably the Coercer, which is in sad shape.

The Coercer is getting a second medium slot (finally!), losing a low in the process. It also got more CPU and Powergrid, so it can squeeze on the largest small lasers (once those weapon’s fitting requirements are changed, see below).

The Cormorant swaps one medium out for a new low slot. Capacitor, agility, and signature radius were inconsistent with other Caldari ships and were adjusted.

The Thrasher and Catalyst were barely touched.


Four New Destroyers

The new destroyers keep the same role as existing hulls – anti-frigate platforms. However they use alternate weapon systems to reach that goal, which means drones and missiles. Next to the existing destroyers, they have slightly less mobility, more signature radius, less capacitor, but are a bit tougher, with better damage projection due to the weapon types they use. Price will be roughly the same as existing destroyers.

Amarr: The Amarr destroyer is designed to take down opposition through indirect means. It gets bonuses to drone damage and hit points, and 20% range bonus to energy vampire and neutralizer modules (which will take up some or all of its six turrets with small neuts that reach out to about 13 kilometers). It’s basically sort of a mini-Curse. The damage is nothing special, but energy disruption ability plus drone control makes it, potentially, a real game changer in smaller fights. Like the Arbitrator, it has large bay of drones (able to field flights of five light drones at a time), giving it many options and utility choices.

Caldari: Missiles, missiles, missiles, missiles, that’s what this hull is all about. It spams missiles from eight launchers at quite a long range, and boasts improved explosion velocity to catch those pesky annoying little orbiting frigates.

GallenteCombines both turret and drone damage. Will probably have five turrets bonused for tracking (railguns), with a single utility high slot. Damage is lower than a Catalyst, but much better damage projection (two full flights of lights in its drone bay) — especially with drone damage amplifier changes.

Minmatar: This ship is unique among all Destroyers as it has a bonus that improves survivability – it is designed to zip around in the battlefield at high velocities (it gets a bonus that reduces its signature size when using a Microwarpdrive) while spewing missiles from its seven launchers. As a downside, it’s less efficient at hitting fast moving targets at greater ranges, like the Caldari hull.


Weapon and Module Changes

There have been a bunch, and I’m going to summarize a lot, and probably forget many things. This is the stuff that seems to be attracting the most attention.

Missiles

Light missiles and rockets got buffed. All larger short-range missile systems got buffed either directly, indirectly, or both. Heavy Missile Launchers got ‘nerfed’ so that they perform more in line with long-range weapon system — compared to those weapon systems, they’ll be second highest in DPS and volley damage once the changes go in. Several types of missile launchers got easier to fit. Tech2 missiles generally got buffed, though a few became less useful.

Lasers

Smalls and medium lasers got easier to fit, and several got renamed to be less stupid. (No more small lasers named “medium” something.)

Projectiles

Medium artillery cannons got easier to fit, and some ships (Hurricane) got their powergrid adjusted down to compensate. (As I mentioned yesterday, this ‘hurricane nerf’ isn’t much of one, though there may still be more changes coming.)

Drone Damage Amplifiers got easier to fit.

Ancillary Shield Boosters got nerfed down a bit, because they needed it. Basically, they have the same repair capacity, but they can’t keep it going for nearly as long before they have to reload (and then die).


Ewar Cruisers

These are the Disruption cruisers, inexpensive ewar platforms. CCP is revamping the tech1 Ewar cruisers with similar goals to the Tech1 ewar frigates. Two are focused on pure ewar with range bonuses (Blackbird and Celestis) and two are more hybrid ewar/brawlers for small gangs (Arbitrator and Bellicose).

Arbitrator: Bonus to tracking disruptors and drone damage/hit points. Not many changes, as CCP sees this as a really good ship already. In general it got a bit tougher and the capacitor got buffed. It’s got better weapon options now as well — rather than trying to squeeze on unbonused energy neutralizers in an effort to be a poor-man’s Pilgrim, the Arb pilot can run with two lasers and two missile launchers in its highs, if he wants to.

Blackbird: Bonus to ECM jam strength, optimal range, and falloff. Slightly better tank and capacitor. Now has a small drone bay. Ridiculous base targeting range (85km).

Celestis: Bonus to Sensor Damp effectiveness and optimal range. Big drone bay (two full flights of lights, or a flight of mediums) with the bandwidth to match. With the added drones and two(!) more low slots, it’s even better at ignoring its intended role to triple-web-kill frigates.

Bellicose: Bonus to Target Painter effectiveness and Missile Launcher rate of fire (with four launchers). Complimentary bonuses! Amazing! Way more CPU for fitting. Better shields. Faster. I’ll be having these.


Tech1 Support Cruisers

These are the tech1 remote repair ships designed to operate alongside or instead of Tech2 Logistics ships.
These ships continue the ‘upgrade path’ started with Support Frigates, which new players can follow all the way into T2 Logistics ships (or even carriers). These ships are weaker (both in reps and tank) than Tech2 versions, but they are designed to be capable in a mixed Tech1/Tech2 fleet, when what counts most is participation.

CCP Fozzie:
“If we’ve done our job right, then when a newer player shows up to your Armor fleet saying “I’ve got an Augoror, how can I help?” the FC will respond with “Join our logistics channel, the guys in there will get you set up with the cap chain and anchor“, rather than “LOLN00B come back with a real ship.

These ships are very close to their Tech2 counterparts in range, speed, agility, cap chain ability, and cap stability. They should be able to hang out with a Logistics crew and do their thing, albeit at reduced effectiveness. They also rely more strongly on role bonuses than skill bonuses, so that they will continue to be viable even when your pilot doesn’t have Cruiser 5. (Their repair range and cap chain ability remains basically the same no matter who’s flying the ship.)

Also, as with the the Logi frigate balance pass, CCP adjusted the repair modules at the same time, reducing some fitting requirements significantly.

The downside for their cheapness and low skill requirements will mainly be rep amount (at best, two-thirds of a Tech2 Logistics ship), signature radius, sensor strength, and tank.
Basically, all four ships got:
  • A 15% bonus to either either Remote Armor Repair amount or Remote Shield boost, per level.
  • A 5% reduction in the capacitor use of the appropriate module (remote shield or armor reppers), per level.
  • A flat 1000% bonus to the range of the appropriate module (and to Energy Transfers, for the Augoror and Osprey).

In addition, the Osprey and Augoror get a flat 200% bonus to Energy Transfer Array transfer amount (welcome to the cap chain), while the Exequror and Scythe get a bonus to the repair amount of Logistics drones.

They all get a few more fitting slots, improved power grid or CPU (or both), buffed tank, buffed capacitor, and increased drone capacity. (The Exequror tops the charts on this, as it can field a full flight of bonused medium logi drones, while the Scythe has the weird bandwidth and drone bay values that Scimitar pilots should find familiar.)


Attack Cruisers

Somewhat more anticipated cruisers than Ewar and Support Cruisers. “Attack” cruisers are the faster and lighter of the fighting cruisers.

The gap between Attack and Combat cruisers mirror the gap in the frigate lines, although for cruisers the divide isn’t as sharp. These ships do have less EHP than the Combat cruisers, but can still be tanked pretty well if you sacrifice some of your firepower.

These ships (the Omen, Caracal, Thorax, and Stabber) saw quite a bit of adjustment, though the really lame ones got more love.

Omen: Speaking of lame, boy did this guy get some love. Double-bonuses laser turrets. Another low slot. Improved powergrid and CPU. Roughly a 20% increase in mobility. Much better drone capacity.

Caracal: Excellent missile platform. Improved tank. Two more low slots. Much better powergrid and CPU. A nice fat boost to base speed.

Thorax: Probably adjusted the least of the group. Slight weaker tank, but a big boost to base speed, leaving it second only to the Stabber. A bit more CPU for fitting, another medium fitting slot, and that’s about it.

Stabber: Poor stabber, how you’ve been mistreated all these years. How can we make it up to you? How about being the fastest attack cruiser by almost 20%? Bonused turrets with a falloff buff for better kiting? Another low and mid slot? Better tank?

Can’t decide? Then you can have all of the above!

You still only get that one little light drone, though. No luck there. Sorry.


Combat Cruisers

Last but not least, the Combat Cruisers are designed as front line warships with both solid damage and good staying power. These ships got less dramatic changes than the others. The average tank of the set is only 2% higher than the average tank of the old “Tier 3” cruisers. Their main advantages over the other t1 cruisers are in tanking and a more robust capacitor.

Maller: No longer the useless, over-tanked, under-gunned bait ship! The maller gets a bonus to damage on its five laser turrets and a bonus to armor resists (rather than raw hit points, like the old version) (oops: got this confused with the Navy Augoror). A nice fat boost to powergrid should make fitting the medium turrets a lot easier, too. It picked up a chuck of base armor hit points, and also got about 25% faster.

Moa: Basically the shield version of the Maller, with a bonus to hybrid turrets and shield resistances. Doesn’t look like much else changed on this ship, but I never got the sense that it was that weak — just unspeakably ugly.

Vexor: If it ain’t broke, dont’ fix it. The vexor gets a bonus to both medium hybrid turret damage and drone hitpoints and damage. It loses the utility high slot, but gains both a mid-slot and low-slot, making it very versatile. The extra powergrid may even mean it can fit right-sized guns! Very solid tank (tons of structure hit points, because Gallente) and improved speed.

Rupture: If anything the Rupture was tweaked even less than the Vexor. One less high slot (why even bother making launchers an option), one more mid-slot (yay flexibility!). As with all minmatar, it’s faster than the other ships in its class, and remains a great option.


… and I’m spent.

Life in Eve: Quick Post on the Hurricane Nerf #eveonline

Quoting CCP Fozzie:

Since we plan to reduce the powergrid needs of all medium artillery by 10% across the board, we are also planning to subtract 225 Power Grid from the Hurricane.

The upshot is that […] fitting a standard shield autocannon cane with neutralizers and a Large Shield Extender will require dropping a few guns down to 220mm.

Lots of people are freaking out about this. This is a bit ridiculous for two reasons.

1. The hurricane deserves this adjustment. Like the Drake, it’s too good: better than most any other battlecruiser class in the game.

2. No one actually went and looked at what they could do with a Hurricane with the new powergrid totals.

[Hurricane, Post-PG-nerf 425s Shieldtank w Neuts]
Damage Control II
Gyrostabilizer II
Gyrostabilizer II
Gyrostabilizer II
Nanofiber Internal Structure II
Nanofiber Internal Structure II

Experimental 10MN MicroWarpdrive I
Warp Scrambler II
Adaptive Invulnerability Field II
Large Shield Extender II

425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
425mm AutoCannon II, Republic Fleet Phased Plasma M
Medium Unstable Power Fluctuator I
Medium Unstable Power Fluctuator I

Medium Anti-EM Screen Reinforcer I
Medium Core Defense Field Extender I
Medium Core Defense Field Extender I

Warrior II x5
Light Armor Maintenance Bot I x1

So the current ‘cane has a powergrid of 1687 with perfect skills. Subtract 225 powergrid, and you have 1462.5 powergrid.

This fit:

  • Requires 1461.35 powergrid.
  • Rolls out at 1552 m/s.
  • Does a whopping 698 DPS.
  • Still has a solid shield tank.
  • Still has two medium-sized neutralizers, just like it always does.

In short, with good skills, this really doesn’t change much.

With less-than-perfect skills, you still don’t have to drop down to 220mm autocannons — you just put in a couple Meta3- or Meta4-level 425s to squeeze everything in.

(And even if you do switch to 220s, the damage is quite close to 425s, with better tracking — if anything, this change will make hurricanes even more dangerous as anti-support ships.)

I won’t even talk about the Drake changes — it’s been a long time coming, and if anything I don’t think it goes far enough.

Let’s play a Game

Just because (a) I’m super busy right now and (b) this little quiz (via Reddit) has been running around in my head all day. Here we go:


You’re going to spend 10 years in a 10×10 foot cell. The cell has the most basic facilities; a toilet, cold running water from a tap, a thin mattress and a light. Everyday a basic ration of food is delivered through a small hatch. There is no way to escape this cell. Before you enter you are given 30 credits to spend on some of the following items.

  • Access to a basic gym. It contains a rowing machine, treadmill and several free weights. [10 Credits]
  • A window. The window overlooks a lake. It does not open and you cannot break the glass. [3 Credits]
  • A comfortable bed. Memory Foam Mattress, a quilt and two comfortable pillows. Sheets are washed weekly and delivered through the hatch. [6 Credits]
  • Unlimited alcohol. Either beer or spirits available through a second tap. You must choose what drink you want before you enter the cell and cannot change your selection. Mixer available for spirits. [8 Credits]
  • 42″ TV. You can select 1 TV station to view. You must choose what station you want before you enter the cell and cannot change your selection. [6 Credits]
  • PS3/Xbox360/Wii. You may select one current generation console and 10 games. You must have a TV to play these on. [6 Credits]
  • Gaming PC. You can select 10 games. The computer has no internet connection. [10 Credits]
  • 100 Books. You can choose your selection. [7 Credits]
  • Unlimited takeaway food. Whenever you want you could get McDonalds’, KFC, Burger King, Subway, or any other food from a fast food restaurant. [10 Credits]
  • A companion. Another person to spend the time with. You may choose the sex of the person and general age. [15 Credits]
  • 32GB MP3 player and speakers. Loaded with your favorite music. [5 Credits]
  • Tennis ball. Think of the fun you can have! [2 Credits]
  • Fleshlight and unlimited lube. Vibrator if you’re a lady. [5 Credits]
  • Glory hole. Insert penis, receive blow job! Opposite for the ladies. [6 Credits]
  • Netflix. You must have a TV or PC to view it on. As new films are released they will be available to view. [2 Credits]
  • A cat. The cat will receive as much food and vetcare as it needs. [5 Credits]
  • A dog. Mans best friend. The dog will receive as much food and vetcare as it needs. [4 Credits]
  • Access to a read only archive of Reddit. [2 Credits]
  • Hot water. Available in a shower cubical attached to the cell. [3 Credits]
  • Access to a garden. The garden is the same size as the cell. It is surrounded by 15ft walls which are impossible to climb over and escape. [9 Credits]
  • Double the cell space. Have a bit more room to live in. [4 Credits]
  • Get out 1 year early. You may buy as many of these as you like. [4 Credits]
  • $2million when you leave. You may buy as many of these as you like. [3 Credits]
  • Healthcare. If you get ill, whether it’s a cold or full blown cancer, you will receive the best medical care possible. [5 Credits]
  • Youth. Don’t age a day while inside the cell. [5 Credits]
  • Knowledge. You will have the chance to study for 6 hours every day in a subject of your choice. A tutor will be available once a week. [7 Credits]
  • Guitar. A guide to how to play is included if you don’t know how. [6 Credits]
  • Leave immediately card. You can use this to leave the cell straight away. However you will forfeit your ability to see. You’ll be free but blind. You can choose whether or not to use this item. [1 Credit]

So: what do you pick and why?

I’ll post my answer in a few days, so as not to skew replies.

Funcertainty

This is sort of a general gaming post, though it’ll end up talking about EvE very specifically at the end, which is only fair since EvE is where this whole line of thought began.

A few days ago I was doing an interview with Anton Strout for the Once and Future Podcast and (because the ‘cast is equal parts about writing and the rabid nerdity of the guests) Anton asked me when I first got my start with gaming.

For the sake of my own dignity, I won’t get into hard numbers, but my answer involved the novelization of the movie E.T., and me begging my mom to buy me the pink DnD boxed set from the Sears catalog. It was a while back, is what I’m saying.

On the long march between then and now, I ran a lot of bad games, for which I will make few apologies, because at the time I don’t think any of us realized they were bad games. Me and my high school gaming buddies (who dodged typical mid-eighties nerd hazing by also being most of the starting offensive line for the varsity football team) might have gotten the rules wrong as we stomped through Castle Ravenloft, but that didn’t stop it from being a good time. Monsters were vanquished, horrors were driven from their places of power, and the village graveyard acquired more than a few fresh headstones in the process, each marble slab engraved with the name of a beloved player character (levels 3-5) who’d failed a save against poison, fear, or (most often) death.

Thing is, getting a rule wrong was never (directly) what made the game bad. After all, when you’re talking about a game (any game) the only real qualifier for “bad” is “not fun.” Misruling could lead to that, sure, but most of the time, a lack of fun came from two places:

  • Something social, outside the game itself.
  • The absence of uncertainty.

I’m not going to talk about the Social thing right now — that’s well-traveled ground. I do want to talk about that second thing.

Ask any gamer about the best moments they’ve had in their gaming, and you will usually hear a story about some nail-biting conflict.

My crazy barbarian decides to try to trip the dragon he and his allies are fighting, despite horrible odds — and it worked.

My buddy’s knight takes on an evil paladin wielding a sword that can kill him with a single unlucky hit, and the fight comes down to a mutually fatal roll of the dice.

Our team has to hold the western flank against the the advancing Imperial forces on Hoth to give the transports time to escape, then get away themselves… by stealing Vadar’s shuttle.

Good times.

You know what no one’s likely to mention?

“This one time, I walked into a room full of 50 goblins with crossbows, but my Armor Class was so good they couldn’t hit me and I just used Great Cleave and killed all of them in like… two turns.”

“I walked into this hook-and-chain trap that was supposed to do a bunch of damage to a group of people, but it was just me, so the damage for a whole group hit just me and basically turned me into a pile of giblets, instantly.”

“We tried to talk the King into letting us do something, but we couldn’t convince him, because the GM had something different planned.” 1

I think you can see the core difference between those examples, but I point it out anyway.

Certainty.

In my opinion, certainty is the death of fun in most any game, and it may be one of the things that separate “games” from “sport” (where certainty of victory comes via skill and ability and lots of hard work, and is justifiably celebrated).

If you’re on the winning side of things, certainty is boring. The classic example of that is the old “Monty Haul” campaign, where the GM is basically there to make sure you find all the treasure he put in the dungeon, and never have to feel the sting of defeat. Fun as a powertrip, maybe, for awhile, but ultimately coma-inducing.

If you’re on the losing side of things, certainty is — at best — frustrating. When there’s no chance at all of success, even the ‘live to fight another day’ kind, then you might as well check out of the whole thing now and save the time you’d otherwise waste on caring about the outcome.

Over many (many) years of gaming, I’ve managed to figure out (one situation at a time) when something I was doing was killing fun by making the results (good or bad) a foregone conclusion. (Sometimes this was a question of mechanics; sometimes it was a question of “the inviolate plot.”) It also helped me identify what was going wrong when I wasn’t having fun as a player, both at a table or online.

Slamming my head against the same raid boss over and over, when it’s clear we don’t have the right group or the proper gear to succeed? Not fun.

Fighting that same raid boss when we’re this close to pulling off a win, and every attempt might go for us or the bad guys? Exhilarating.

Farming that boss once we have all the best gear, know the fight backwards and forwards, and all the surprises are gone? Boring.

Wandering around the newbie starter zone with my max-level character, picking flowers to level my Herbalism? Boring.

Sneaking through a zone 10 or 20 levels too high for me, running for my life in an effort to get a specific location or find a special macguffin? Fun!

Getting insta-killed out of nowhere when you unknowingly walk your new character into a high-level PvP zone? Frustrating.

I think we get the point. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re running or playing a game in which you have any kind of input (usually tabletop, but not always). Are you bored? Add challenge to what you’re doing by changing the choices you make. Are you hopelessly frustrated by never-ending failures? Change things up, or take a break, right?

So let’s talk about EvE
First, EvE PvE content — from missions to mining to exploration — is pretty terrible.

Now, maybe (probably) it doesn’t seem terrible when you first start playing the game, because you don’t know enough to realize how very (very) certain the outcome of any PvE mission content in the game really is; you don’t know how much DPS you need to be able to tank to survive a mission, and even if you do, you may not know how (or simply be unable) to fit your ship in a way that will achieve that threshold. Your lack of knowledge provides the uncertainty that is not otherwise present. 2

Once you know much at all about the game, though, you start to see the reality of the situation. The groups are always exactly the same size. They always do pretty much exactly the same amount of damage. They always aggress the first person they see, they never switch their aggression to another person (unless the first one leaves). Once you have the situation worked out — once you know how to approach it, it’s about as challenging as your fiftieth game of Minesweeper.3 The ‘best’ PvE in the game (Sleepers and Incursions) injects a bare amount of uncertainty with randomly switching aggro, which is still pretty hopeless. Almost any other MMO you care to name (even those that predate EvE) have long since worked on more advanced combat AIs.

“But the PvP in EvE is so much better than everyone else: completely emergent, completely unpredictable, completely uncertain!”

Maybe.

Yes, a big part of the draw in EvE is the PvP (whether it’s PvP with bullets, tactics, or the infamous metagaming). Even if you don’t personally seek out PvP, it’s still a factor in your play, because once you undock, someone else can shoot you. They might choose not too because of the potential consequences, but they always have that option. Always. There isn’t a one hundred percent safe, PvP-free zone anywhere in space. (Hell, for that matter, you’re not entirely safe from PvP even if you never undock and just work the market all day — Market PvP is a very real thing in EvE, but I digress.)

For as long as there has been PvP in EvE, there have been people bitching about the PvP. A lot of that kvetching and moaning (on both sides of every subject) has do with mechanics like ECM or the ever-present accusations that this or that tactic or practice is “dishonorable”, “ruins the game”, or removes any chance of a “good fight.”

Dishonorable. What a word! Simultaneously loaded with drama and completely meaningless in any debate involving more than one person. 😛

You can kind of sort out what most of the people using the term intend when they say it, though.

“Your actions have removed all questions of skill, choice, and your opponent’s actions from the equation, ensuring your victory.”

Put another way.

“You have removed all uncertainty.”

Put another way.

“You’ve taken everything that makes a game fun out of this situation.”

Now, that’s a comment that’s likely going to earn you a lock of mockery in EvE (which is why no one says it that way). The leader of one of the biggest groups the game is famously quoted as saying “We’re not trying to ruin the game, we’re trying to ruin your game.” Tell those guys that they’re taking away the elements of the game that make it fun for other people, and they’d probably exchange high-fives and another round of Jagerbombs.

But let’s ignore the walking embodiment of the John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory for a moment, and just look at the basics here.

EvE is a game.

A game’s primary purpose is to provide fun.

Fun in a game (unlike fun in sport) arises from a sense of uncertainty.

Removing uncertainty removes fun.

What’s the kind of stuff that removes that uncertainty?

  1. Overwhelming force.

Actually? I can stop there. There are lots of ways in which “overwhelming force” is expressed in the game (attacking a group of 5 with a group of 20 (if only: 1 vs 100 is just as common), shipping up, a impenetrable wall of ECM, logistics support for a ‘casual roam’, et cetera, et cetera), and pretty much all of it takes place in the game with the specific goal of ensuring victory.

Is that a bad thing? No, not if the goal is winning, which is a goal I completely understand. EvE is a costly game in terms of time and resources — when you lose, you really lose stuff, so people often forget (or forego) “what would be fun” in favor of whatever the best way is to mitigate risk.

I’m not going to say that this is bad for the game. In a lot of ways, it’s what makes EvE what it is, and I like what it is.

However.

If you find yourself frustrated by the game, may I suggest taking a step back and looking at your current style of play.

Is it possible that the reason that you’re not having much fun is simply because you’ve methodically removed the elements that make a game fun?

Uncertainty is fun.

Uncertainty comes from risk.

As an experiment:

  • Distance yourself in some way from groups that treat ship losses an inherently bad thing.
  • Release your death grip on “Killboard Efficiency.”
  • If fights are always boring, maybe bring fewer people. Or leave the ECM or the off-grid boosting alts (or both) at home.
  • Take a fight when the outcome isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do.

It’s hard to do even when it’s just you — it’s even harder when you’re making decisions for a whole group of people.

Going back to my tabletop roots, it’s damned hard as the GM to take the plunge and start rolling all the dice out in the open and letting things go on without that safety net of secretly fudging a potentially fatal roll. I mean, OMG: what if your dice get hot and you kill the dude one of your guys has been playing for two years?

Similarly, what if your decision costs your fleetmate his 2 billion isk strategic cruiser?

Most people don’t know what would happen, because they don’t have the guts to risk it.

But what a story they’d have if they did.


1 – This is, incidentally, why I prefer to roll dice to determine the outcome of social conflicts, rather than let “pure role-playing” determine the outcome. No matter how mature or unbiased we claim to be, that sort of ‘system’ is one highly susceptible to out-of-game social maneuvering of various kinds, the least harmful of which is the simple fact that if you know the GM well enough, you know exactly what argument will convince them to let you win. It’s the same reason I don’t like playing Apples to Apples with my best friends anymore — there’s absolutely no challenge to it; we know each other too well. Roll the dice, and enjoy the fact that the outcome may not be what you expected.

2 – This is what I call the Chutes and Ladders syndrome: Chutes and Ladders is a terrible, boring game… unless you’re too young too realize it’s terrible, at which point you probably think it’s the Best Game Ever.

3 – Mining is even worse. Barring the possibility of being jumped by a random player (which isn’t part of the mining system itself), there is no variation at all: ask any serious miner how much he can mine in an hour, and he will be able to give you an answer down to the second decimal point for every type of ore available. I don’t know what ‘injecting uncertainty’ into the baseline mining experience looks like, but it’s what needs to happen to make it suck less.

Mulling over a ‘tapestry’ style throne-war game

So I’ve been reading the George R.R. Martin books. They’re good, and if you haven’t read them and like fantasy stuff, you probably should read them.

Just don’t read any other fantasy book right after reading one of Martin’s — you will not do that following book any favors. Switch genres.

Also: man Martin likes to put his character’s through a wringer. Wow.

Anyway.

One of the things with these books is that every chapter switches to a different POV character. Each book gives us about eight or nine or so. A lot of them are the same from book to book (so far as I’ve read, anyway), and it’s worth noting that all these ‘main’ characters1 are (almost all of the time) geographically separated from each other.

It makes me chuckle, because reminds me a lot of some of the games (especially Amber and, more recently, Galactic) that I’ve run, because every chapter reads like “Okay, what are you doing? Fine, let’s play that, and now for the roll, and ooooh, you didn’t roll that well, did you? Well, here’s what happens — sorry about that — now who’s next?”

And it seems like that would be a pretty fun thing to do with a game when you have a good supply of potential players, but a limited window of play time each week AND players who may not live anywhere near you. I mean, we have google hang-outs (and a pile of other voice/video options), free virtual tabletop software, and about a zillion ways to collaboratively take notes, regardless of where you are. Some of it’s face to face, some of it’s not, but it’s all part of the tapestry of the story, yeah?

My goal with something like this would be to make sure it didn’t end up being a Play-by-Post for some folks and a normal game for everyone else; partly because that’s not fair, and partly because I’m terrible at maintaining participation-level interest in play-by-post games. In short, you make sure everyone gets the same number of chapters, whether they are at your table online.

Anyone done this much? I know Constantcon is a year-long successful thing, and probably indicates that it’s possible, whether or not it’s possible for me.

#curious


1 — Calling only those characters a main character isn’t very accurate. There are lots of characters who are hugely central to the story, but simply aren’t POV characters.

In a game like this, I think every player would have to have secondary characters they can switch two who are near the new POV characters. When it’s Jon Snow’s turn, everyone pulls out their Black Watch guys. Sansa’s turn means everyone grabs whoever they’re playing down at the Red Keep. Maybe these secondary character work more like the crew from Galactic, or maybe they’re (eventually) full-blown characters in their own right. Dunno.

A few more thoughts on the “Blanket of Ashes” game idea

I’m not set on running this. Playing a ‘song of ice an fire’ style ‘throne war’ game also appeals.

Just off the top of my head, and aimed at gathering up people’s thoughts.

  • I (probably) don’t want to play “Middle-earth, with all the serial numbers left on, except Sauron won”. Inspirations for the setting include Tolkien, but also:
    • A New Hope, for reasons already mentioned
    • The Black Company (especially the first three books)
    • The Midnight rpg setting, though to be honest it’s too d20 tinted for my taste
    • The Mistborn series… except not the magic, in any way shape or form. Eh. Basically I like the idea of the volcanic ash falls. That’s about it.
    • In my little notebook, I have written: “Big Bad – The Chosen” and, underneath that, “the Five.”
  • I like the idea of magic being unstable/on the wan as a result of the Big Bad winning. Burning Wheel Gold’s changes to sorcery reflect this really well.
  • Magical items ‘tainted’ every so slightly due to most of the big bad’s  power being in an artifact. The constant balancing act of ‘this makes me more of a badass, but also makes me more susceptible to the wiles of the Enemy’ seems fun. Most precious of all would be those items that escaped that taint.
  • I also like the idea that a change to the status quo (magic coming back) likely makes some of the enemy more powerful as well.
  • I like the idea the not everyone (PCs included) think revolution is a good idea, or even necessary.
  • I like Burning Wheel for this especially since they cleaned up a lot of the ‘rim’ systems like Fight and Range and Cover.
  • It’s important, I think, for the events that led to the current state of the world to have happened far enough in the past that the true facts are muddied, if not outright forgotten/supressed. Anyone who was actually around at the time (undead, elf, orc, whatever) is in hiding, stopped caring, doesn’t benefit from the truth being known, or all three.

Would it be worth it/fun to do a Lexicon world-building kind of thing to flesh things out… it amuses me that any entry that says “this is what happened” might/could/would be incorrect to a greater or lesser degree.

A Blanket of Ashes

So I’ve been doing those things that lead to lots of nifty ideas ricocheting off each other — namely “reading stuff” and “talking to Kate” — having done so, I’ve got this pile of stuff I feel like hashing out in public.

I’d like to run a game, right? And I’d kind of like it to be big game — one of those epic tales with kingdoms rising and falling and like that. I imagine this is due in part to what I’ve been reading — A Song of Ice and Fire and Tolkien (again) and things like that.

Maybe I just want to roll some dice.

I like the Game of Thrones stuff — it’s fun. I know Martin based the setting on something he used to run for a tabletop RPG, so it makes sense that it tickles that part of my brain. (I like to imagine that the game he ran was actually people playing Ned Stark and Robert and those guys, back when they were young and taking over the Seven Kingdoms, and that he ended up writing the Game of Thrones story instead of running it because none of his old players could get super excited about playing their characters’ kids hopelessly fucking everything up beyond all recognition.)

It would be fun to run that kind of broad-reaching game with noble-borns (throne wars are fun) and maybe some kind of troupe-play where everyone has secondary characters they can play when the camera shifts to someone who happens to be 500 miles away from where your main guy is at. Reminds me of the way Galactic handled different starships, captains, and their crews. Also (maybe) it makes it easy to have a lot of players without caring if everyone can show up for every session, because you’ve got a big cast to work with. I did that with Spirit of the Century for a while, and it worked. Kind of.

That seems like kind of a cool game to play.

I got to thinking about it, though, and I realized one of the things I really liked about the second Martin book (Clash of Kings) was the idea that magic was coming back.

It seems like a really simple thing, but in that genre, it’s really quite unusual — in fact it’s backwards. If you look at Tolkien (which kind of formed the template for epic war fantasy stories for a LONG time), the idea is there’s good, there’s evil, there’s some magic, but the magic is weaker/subtler than it used to be back in the Age of Whatever, and when everything is all said and done and the good guys win, magic is going to pretty much go out of the world and we’ll be left with the plain old boring rules we all understand. There are many examples of this.

That sort of setting is where Game of Thrones starts — it’s really your basic “no-magic medieval society” default. There’s tales of magic and stuff, from the old days, but almost no one really really believes them anymore. Alchemists have these spells that let them make crazy-ass super-powered Greek fire, but that’s just Greek fire or something — it’s not MAGIC. Someone says they have a magic pendant that makes the wearer immune to poison and people kind of smirk behind their sleeve. I mean, we aren’t savages, are we? Surely we don’t believe any of that nonsense.

And then Something Changes and those old spells start working a lot better. Or… you know… just start working at all. It’s gradual, and it’s not (for many people) a central plot point, but it happens.

Wouldn’t it be cool if destroying the One Ring had put all that confined magic back into the world?

So anyway, I got to thinking about worlds where the magic has kind of gone away, and no one really believes it anymore, except for a few people who live in weird places.

There’s a fun-sounding game setting called (I think) Midnight that was kind of a big deal a few years ago. The elevator pitch for this setting was “Sauron won, and he’s in charge of everything now.”

I was talking with Kate about this, explaining why I thought this was kind of a really cool idea — what if the bad guys had won, right? And a whole bunch of time had passed with the bad guys in power, and then you start the story there.

And she says, “Like the first Star Wars movie.”

And I kind of shake my head and say “Yeah, kind of, I guess, but…”

Then I stop and think about it and realize that it’s not “kind of”; that’s exactly the situation — the bad guy’s won, they’ve been in power a long time, and we start our story there — it’s just never described that way.

Mash-Up

So here’s a fun little exercise. Combine that with the dying magic thing.

You know what’s interesting about A New Hope? There’s very little Force use. Vader chokes one guy. Ben ‘senses’ a bunch of stuff. Vadar ‘senses’ a bunch of stuff. There’s a lot of sensing. There’s damn little space-telekinesis. Vadar’s scary because he’s ruthless, is made of a lot of robot parts that let him pick guys up one-handed and snap their neck, and has a laser sword. His big contribution to the final battle in the first movie is as a fighter pilot.

People mock the force. They don’t believe in it. No one who can do anything with it does very much. Ben’s biggest force trick in the first movie? Dying.

What if it was that way because the Force itself had grown weak? Maybe it really is just mumbo-jumbo at that point in the story. Maybe it’s like a well you have to keep primed, and with all those Jedi dead during the Clone Wars, and just like four living force users left, there just isn’t that much mojo left.

Then the Force start waking up. Maybe because the by-blow of one of the living force users grows up enough to start using the force himself — maybe because Ben died and poured all his mojo back into the well — whatever: the magic starts flowing again, and up until that happens, Vadar is left tossing guys around with his robot arm, swinging his glow stick back and forth, shooting guys with his custom fighter, and sensing things.

With me on this so far? Cool.

Now take that situation, except the Emperor is Sauron, Vadar’s a Nazgul, and all those skeptical imperial generals are Uruk-hai who don’t really have any use for hokey religions anymore, not since the Old Kingdom of Good got its teeth kicked in five hundred years ago.

Evil won. It won so long ago that that people don’t really believe there was ever a time when they were free. The Good King? Wizards? All those whimsical creatures like “dwarves” and “elves” and “horses”? Those are nice stories that are going to get your hopes up and get an overlord’s whip in your face. The sky’s always been that color. The mountains have always burned. We’ve always had to figure out a way to find clean water and grow food under a blanket of ashes. Just keep your head down and do what you’re told. That’s the way the world is.

Until something changes.


Kate wants there to be a secret society of female warriors, plotting the downfall of the Wight Lords.

Life in Eve: A Quick Thought on the Mate War #eveonline

My Internet is out, so I’m writing this on my phone and don’t have the time, patience, or keyboard to write out a long explanation of “the Mate War” going on in Eve right now. This post explains it sufficiently and briefly.

The tl;Dr version is that one guy, already on the defensive for screwing up, chose to change the subject during his dressing down by claiming that being called ‘mate’ was a comment on his sexuality, and declared war on a well-liked Alliance in game. This has backfired on him a bit.

Don’t get me wrong: parts of the situation are very funny.

Here’s what I don’t think is funny.

He’s (of course) being roundly mocked for misinterpreting ‘mate’ and declaring war over it.

But no one questions the idea that he’s doing it because someone implied he was gay. People snicker and say ‘no one called you gay, dude.’ No one’s saying ‘so what if they did?’

How is it that being called gay is worth wardeccing over in the the first place? What kind of sorry, 1980s high school locker room are we in, that none of us even question that?

Life in a Wormhole: Fleet Ops #eveonline

CB and I are heading out of the hole for an “Amarr-themed” roam with Red vs. Blue. As a general rule of thumb, these things are a fine bit of fun (it’s fun to listen to drunken Brits chatting over Mumble, at any rate), so I don’t think I’ll spend (much) time going over my complaints with how this (and other) roams ran. Instead, I thought I’d turn my frustration into something more productive by writing down some thoughts on what I consider good ideas when it comes to forming up and taking part in roams in EvE.

For the uninitiated (those who play MMOs, but not EvE), a roam is basically just forming up a fleet and sort of going on a patrol/prowl/hunt through the wilder areas of low-sec and null-sec space, with the hopes of finding that holy grail of EvE PvP play: the Good Fight. It’s not unlike forming up for a raid in typical theme park MMO, in that you have an organized start time, a known agenda, and roles that need to be filled within the fleet, but (obviously) unlike it in that what you actually end up doing and what you end up fighting is a complete unknown until (or after) it happens.

Still, I’ve found that the basic “raid” mindset I developed in other MMOs serves me well here. Starting with the rank-and-file pilots in the fleet, I think there are a few good rules of thumb that will improve the experience for you and everyone else in the group.

If you’re familiar with the somewhat cutthroat and “Harden the Fuck Up” attitude prevalent in EvE, it might be a surprise to learn that there’s such a thing as good fleet etiquette. Let me assure you, there is. Every fleet and fleet commander is going to handle things differently — some more casually, some more strict or even “hardcore” — but I think I can say this fairly safely: if you observe these general guidelines, you’ll do okay regardless of which kind of group you’re flying with.

Be Prepared

Before you do anything else, make sure you’re prepared to roam.

  • Is your ship fitted out in accordance with whatever style of fleet is going to be going out? A bunch of fast frigates will look sideways at your neutralizer-heavy, armor-tanked Dominix battleship, and a bunch of long range, skirmishing battlecruisers will have little use for your short-range, high-damage Brutix brawler.
  • Do you have enough of the right kinds of ammunition and other consumables, such as cap boosters or nanite repair paste? For roams, I usually don’t bother with more than two or three reloads for each type of ammunition I’m bringing, and even then I’ll probably lose my ship long before I run out even that small amount of ammo — but make sure you HAVE the ammo — nothing’s more annoying than waiting on someone who just realized they don’t have the long-range stuff they need for the skirmishing fleet they’ve joined.
  • Do you have appropriate skills for the ships and fitting you’re flying? If not, consider a different ship. If you’re flying with a fleet of armor-tanked heavy assault cruisers, and your armor skills are terrible or non-existant, you’re going to have a bad time trying to force yourself into a ship you can’t fly well — there’s always a need in any fleet for scouts or fast tacklers (neither of whom have a tank to speak of), so fly that instead, or simply realize you don’t have the skills you need for that fleet and move on.

Is the answer to any of those questions “No”?

Then stop. You have other stuff to do before you take this thing any further.

Is the answer “not at this exact moment, but with some trips to my supply cache and some quick purchases on the market, I’ll be ready”, then DO THAT STUFF NOW. The time to get your ship properly kitted and fitted is BEFORE the scheduled start… all that stuff takes time. Maybe not much time, but it’s not just your time you’re taking — multiply every minute you spend running round by the number of people in the fleet, waiting to get started. That’s how much time you just wasted, and if you’re sitting there reading this and saying “so what?” then you’re bad, and you should feel bad.

Do the Homework

No, you’re not the Fleet Commander (FC), but that doesn’t mean you can’t do a bit of reading on whatever region or regions you and your merry band are planning to prowl through, or that you can’t improve your own performance by reviewing the common tactics used by whatever kind of fleet you’re going to be flying in. In this, Google (plus some smart search querying) is your friend. Yes, the FC will assign people roles and call targets and make decisions about where you’re going and when you hold up or keep moving, but understanding WHY he’s doing that helps you have a better experience.

Start time is START Time

This is one both pilots and FCs could stand to remember. If the roam starts at 2pm, you should be in your ship and TOTALLY READY to undock at 2pm. Don’t do a ‘quick run to Jita’ at 1:30. Sure, you can get there and back again in time, if nothing goes wrong and you have no delays.

If.

Don’t plan based on any kind of ‘if’, except for this one: “IF you can’t get done with whatever other thing you’re considering at LEAST fifteen minutes before fleet invites start going out, don’t start it.”

Can You Hear Me Now? Goooood.

I’ve heard people say that since it’s just a basic roam, and they know the area, the FC, and their sihp, they can come along on the raid, just reading the fleet broadcasts, asking a question in the fleet text chat every so often, and doing their job, without using voice chat.

That’s… sort of sad and adorable. Like a mentally handicapped puppy.

Here’s the deal: your fleet is using some kind of voice chat. Period. If they aren’t, they’re going to die, and you should avoid flying with them. Find out what voice communication software your fleet is going to use and set it up ahead of time. (The in-game chat in EvE is quite servicable, but Ventrillo/TeamSpeak/Mumble are all common — they’re free downloads, easily customized, and generally dead simple to set up on the user side of things.)

Do you need a microphone? No. You don’t have to talk, but you do have to be able to listen.

Now that we can talk to each other, STFU.

When the fleet commander talks, listen (or at least shut up so everyone else can hear). Ears open. Mouth shut. Don’t be the person that has to have everything explained twice — once beforehand, and once after everyone dies. Especially don’t be the guy who wouldn’t shut up long enough for everyone else to hear instructions properly.

(One of the downsides to the RvB roams is that I end up muting over half the fleet members, simply because they’re generating too much noise to hear the signal.)

Understand that there is a time and a place for screwing around and/or socializing, even during a roam, but when the FC or some other person in a designated role calls for silence, give it to them, and do so immediately. Some fleets are very lax about who’s talking when, some… aren’t — the easiest way to find out how your fleet operates is to shut the hell up and listen for awhile.

Limit AFKs

AFK. The roam killer. There are many good times to have extended AFKs — a good FC will announce them ahead of time and keep them short. Communicate with others to check for when those scheduled AFKs are coming, and if at all possible avoid going AFK at other times — it goes back to the fact that every minute you wasted is multiplied by all the people in the fleet.

Yes, there are absolutely times when you will have to go AFK. Absolutely. However, even in those cases, be respectful.

  • Announce yourself – don’t just vanish.
  • Give a reason. We don’t need to hear your life story, but say something. If you’re going to be a long while (“my kid just set the dog on fire”) say so.
  • Say when you’ll be back. “One sec” is inaccurate and unlikely. Be realistic and if you have to estimate, estimate high.
  • Don’t you DARE get upset if you go afk for ten minutes and come back to find that you’ve been replaced or (more likely) left behind. 10 minutes multiplied by the twenty-four other people is four wasted hours of collective time — of COURSE they kept going. It’s not personal, so don’t make it personal.

Do Unto Others As Though They Were You

Stop for two seconds and consider your actions within the group — if someone else was doing what you’re doing right now (long AFKs, lack of prep, showing up late), would it annoy you?

Yes?

Then knock it the fuck off.

For the FCs: This All Goes Double for You

  • Do the Homework — nothing is more annoying and lame than a fleet commander who doesn’t know where they’re going, what kind of fight they’re looking for, or what kind of roles they need to have filled. Figure this stuff out beforehand, and (as much as is ever possible) stick to that basic plan.
  • Start time is START Time — Starting late is a great way to ensure that people stop taking you seriously before you’re even out of the docking station.
  • Exercise good comms discipline — I’ll borrow from my teaching background and suggest you be a bit stricter than normal at the outset of a roam, and slowly relax down to whatever ‘normal’ is for you as the roam progresses. Comm discipline will deteriorate as time goes on, anyway, so it’s best to aim high so that the result you actually get is acceptable.
  • Limit (and schedule) AFKs
  • When it comes to comms, don’t be this guy. Don’t be these guys, either. Think about how you sound, and strive to be someone you wouldn’t mind following into a fight.

In addition to all of that, you have a few other things to worry about, but one of the main ones is:

Keep Moving

If I had a dollar for every time I sat for twenty minutes on a jump gate in a fleet of over forty guys while scouts try to find a single battleship in the next system over, the accumulated cash would pay for each of my EvE accounts, with money left over to play Somer.Blink. Yes, your job as FC is to find fights, but have a sense of proportion — there is an easily deduced ratio between the amount of actual ‘fight’ a potential target will give your fleet, and the amount of time you should spend trying to get that fight. I say again: have a sense of proportion.

Now, not everyone had a bad time with this roam — CB in particular enjoyed himself, but decided to leave when I had to take off for other commitments. It’s too bad that he did, because on the way back out of Syndicate, he ran headlong into the Agony Empire fleet that was just entering the region for a roam of their own, and that marked the end of his beloved Prophecy, Angry Bird. His problems gave me just enough warning to get away and dock up, which let me take care of my other commitments and come back later to sneak my own (blaster fit) Prophecy back to Stacmon, where I dock up, clone-jump, and head back to the Class Six wormhole.

A Network of Support

It’s consistently cool to run into people — folks with whom my connections are in no way literary (or to be honest, well-maintained) — who are both excited about Hidden Things coming out, and actively promoting the book in their part of the internet: The Cobalt Kobold: Hidden Things. Gamers are good people.

A lot of tabletop folk think about writing a novel, but for most of us it doesn’t get this far.  How awesome is it when one of us not only follows through, but also convinces a major publisher that it’s worth printing?

I’ve never really thought of myself as a tabletop-player-turned-writer, as Hidden Things definitely isn’t a ‘gaming novel’, but a gamer who’s also a writer? Why yes, I’ll proudly fly that flag.

Also: based on the photo in Dale’s post, my handwriting has not improved one bit in the last 10 years. Apologies in advance to anyone whose copy I deface with my signature.

Briefly Topical (#eveonline)

So this was on the login screen for Eve this morning:

In space, no one can hear you mock.

For those who are unaware, Diablo III recently released, and those numbers are Diablo 3 error codes that are preventing people – most people, apparently – from playing.

I have to admit, I laughed hard when I saw it. It’s damn funny.

With that said, it’s kind of the cool thing to laugh at the 800 pound gorilla when he trips and falls. Blizzard is that gorilla, and this is certainly a trip and a fall, so I guess I’m sitting on the bandwagon.

CB made a counterpoint to this; Eve is, as much as he enjoys it, a game with a much smaller player base than Diablo’s (thus far hypothetical) throng of adherents, so to see the devs mock the gorilla when your single-shard server “only” has to deal with roughly 45 thousand simultaneous worldwide logins at a given moment looks a little bit disingenuous.

And maybe it is. CCP has said its current server hardware could theoretically handle upwards of 1 to 1.5 million concurrent players, but who’s to say if that’s true?

Fact is, it doesn’t matter: they are not required to.

Diablo III’s servers, on the other hand, are required to and, more importantly, the fact that they were going to be hit with this kind of load is in no way, shape, or form a surprise. To anyone.

In the words of a certain Burning Crusade trailer, Blizzard was not prepared.

When the 800 pound gorilla falls out of his own tree, I do believe it’s fair to point it out, even if you can’t climb the tree yourself.

“Day One, after Day Z”

May15

18:40
Made it to the coast after our ship went down. Guessing I’m somewhere in Chernarus. Maybe the mountains isolated the population.

18:42
Had to get off the ship to escape the fire. Grabbed a pack, but not mine. Can of beans. Canteen. A flare. Tiny first aid pack. Shitty little makarov and five mags.

18:43
It is, of course, raining.

18:47
Coastal highway gives me two options. I pick a third – into the hills. Coastal towns might have supplies; definitely have armed looters.

18:50
Maybe the country’s clean. Maybe the mountains really did isolate them. That would be nice. For now, I’ll go on assuming the worst.

18:52
I have a map, but it’s useless, if I don’t know where I came ashore. I need landmarks… among other things.

18:55
For instance: canteen’s empty. Need a way to collect this rainwater. And sterilize it. And shelter. And a fire. “Need” is going to be theme.

19:27
Topping the ridge above the coast brings me to roofless ruins of a cottage. On the back slope, a two-rut gravel road leading inland.

20:00
The road is good; I need supplies, and it’ll likely lead to some. Also, bad; too exposed. I keep to the trees, the road in sight.

20:22
Wet pine needles mean even I can move quietly, if I go slow. Also means I hear the walker long before it hears me. Moans travel.

20:23
The walker’s shambling down the gravel road. Where’s he going? What memory persists in a dead mind, enough to move the body?

20:26
I don’t trust the makarov’s accuracy. No way I’m going for a head shot; aim center body mass and squeeze the trigger.

20:27
Good news: the pistol’s sighted in. Bad news: it doesn’t have the stopping power to drop the walker.

20:29
The walker’s reacts instantly, even wounded. Romero’s mall-shambler is gone, replaced by a dead thing spliced with jaguar DNA.

20:31
My head’s ringing, both from the extra three shots it took to drop the walker and the skull crack it gave me before it dropped.

21:23
An hour past the walker, I stumble over a small town in the hills. Spend a half hour trying to figure out where I might be on my map.

21:36
The town crawls. I circumnavigate from south to north, keeping to the trees, and can make out barricades near the town center.

22:16
So, the south end crawls – looks like a walker county fair down there. The north end… is clear. Looks clear. We’ll see.

22:19
With so many walkers within moaning distance, I’d rather keep moving, but I need to at least try to find supplies. Especially water.

22:21
My climb into the hills left me cotton-mouthed; there’s only so much water to be had by licking raindrops off sagging leaves.

22:22
So: water. Canned food if I’m lucky. A better gun if I’m very lucky. Maybe I can spot a road sign and figure out where I am.

22:24
Supplies need to wait. Long since dark. I like my nighttime odds better in the trees than an unfamiliar town with an obvious infestation.

22:25
Signing out for now. Day 1 after Day Z.

– via Twitter, Life After Day Z

What the Hell Did I just Read?

DayZ is a alpha-stage mod for a game called ARMA 2 (a semi-buggy, two-and-a-half year old hyper-realistic multiplayer FPS), set in the zombie-infected country of Chernarus (a Czech Republic analog used as a backdrop in some of the normal ARMA 2 scenarios, and reskinned a bit for DayZ). Even though it is in its alpha stage right now, DayZ has seen such player enthusiasm that this free mod has actually pushed ARMA 2 sales back up into top ten at major online retail sites like Steam.

In the game, you play someone dropped into the zombie-overrun end of the world, your only goal to to survive. “Survival” takes many forms in what can only be called a massive sandbox environment: you might go scrounging for supplies one minute and be running for your life the next; you might team up with other survivors to defend a town, rebuild a truck, or kill the unsuspecting for their supplies. As a true sandbox, the amount of freedom is quite impressive, and the gameplay itself is very immersive.

So it’s just another Zombie mod

Sure. Except it’s not. Somehow, this game has captured more of the feel of books like Mira Grant’s Feed, World War Z, or the Walking Dead graphic novels. In short, it quickly becomes about people, and how they interact. Despite the fact that it’s built on a first person military-style shooter, the game doesn’t really focus on killing zombies (honestly, relying only on the poor starting weapon you’re given, attacking zombies a pretty good way to get killed). You’re given a basic set of supplies and dropped at some random location on the edge of a very large map with no directions or any clue about what to do next. Everything after that is up to you, though finding more supplies is essential for survival — you can die from injuries, blood loss, broken bones, starvation, and dehydration (exacerbated by major exertion like, say, running from zombies) — and you can solve many of these problems by working with other players.

Unless, of course, they decide to kill you, which is just as permanent as any other kind of death.

Yeah… death is permanent in Day Z. Once you die, that character is done, and it’s back to square one, with a tiny pack and meager supplies. In a way that reminds me a lot of another sandbox game I’m very into, failure stings, and success hinges on building relationships, working with others, and sometimes (like it or not) killing people and taking their stuff.

I’ll have more to say about this game in the future, but for now, if you’re on twitter, I’d invite you to follow @After_Day_Z, where I’ll be keeping a survival journal of life in Chernarus.

Mass Effect, Creative License, and the Rights of the Player in a Story/Game #me3

This post is (thankfully) going to be shorter than yesterday’s. I wasn’t going to write another one on this topic at all, but there was a really good comment on yesterday’s post that led to a really long reply on my part — so long that I figured it would be better served as a post of its own.

The reason it’s interesting to me is because it has to do with the weird line between the traditional cultural definitions of “story” and “game” that a product like Mass Effect walks.

So, yesterday, Kaelri wrote (in part):

Frankly, I do believe that art is inviolate – that is to say, I don’t believe an artist has some sort of moral obligation to address the grievances of audience members who don’t happen to like what they came up with. If I’m a fan of a thing, it’s because I found the product and liked it; and if I choose to support it, as an advocate or a consumer or both, they still don’t owe me nothin’. Maybe they “should” pay attention to me for the sake of their business model, but that’s different from saying they “should” listen to me as though my fandom makes me a shareholder in the creative process.

First off, I get exactly where you’re coming from. I would even agree with you — when it comes to traditional media, a writer or really any creative person of any kind is not obliged to make fan-demanded changes to their work, unless they’re trying to make a more saleable product, or they just want to because their work would be better that way.

They can refuse, as I said in my original post — it might mean they never get published or that they never reach a wider audience, but that’s entirely their choice… when it comes to traditional media.

But, as I said yesterday, Mass Effect is something other than traditional media, which is why I’m going to disagree with you when it comes to this particular artistic work, and others like it:

I believe that we — the participants in the Mass Effect games — are co-creators.

Now, that’s a big statement, so let me dig into it a bit. This certainly isn’t true of every game out there — no one is complaining that they didn’t get enough creative input into the ending of Braid, because that isn’t what Braid is about — it’s not that kind of game.

Mass Effect, however, is that kind of game. It’s a conscious and (as I said in my made-up LotR example) difficult thing to do, but it is undeniably a can of worms Bioware chose to open, and once it’s open, they’re pretty much stuck with the consequences. The players have control of a lot of stuff that happens in the game series, if only with a binary yes/no level of input, and having extended them that authorship power you have, to a greater or lesser degree, given them access to the canvas and the right to call foul if they disagree with what you’re painting.

Again, this is not the case in every game out there (and it is not true of any traditional media of which I’m aware), but it is the case with Mass Effect. I can (with studious and somewhat questionable effort) entirely remove even someone like Garrus from all but a few scenes in the entire game series (the equivalent of having Samwise in one scene in Fellowship, no scenes at all in Two Towers, and writing him in as a bit-part escort for the last couple chapters of Return of the King). I decide whether many if not all of the character’s live and die and, with ME3, my influence is extended to the point where I can effectively wipe out two whole species.

It’s fair to say that Bioware is steering the A-plot, but when it comes to dictating the very tapestry against which that plot plays out, I am being dealt a lot of cards, and the hand that I play is a strong one. Certainly, my control over the personal stories in all three games is ironclad, and would be argued by many to be the most important and interesting bits.

So am I, at some level, a co-creator?

In indie tabletop RPG design, there’s an idea that some call “The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast.” It refers to the classic, old-school RPG notion that “The GM is the author of the story and the players direct the actions of the protagonists.”

The term was coined to illustrate the fact that story is made of the actions and choices of the protagonists, so claiming to control one but not the other is senseless. If you have influence on the story at all, you exert influence on the protagonists, and if you truly control the actions of the protagonists, you have real and concrete influence on the story.

Or you should.

And, to be fair, Bioware did a fantastic job throughout ME1 and ME2 with giving players that kind of control and influence. (They’re not as good about it in ME3, but they’ve (sadly) compensated by becoming very skilled at disguising a lack of choice with something that feels like you’re making a decision.)

I would say that one of the biggest problems with the end of ME3 — or at least the part that causes the loudest initial outcry — is that it very baldly revokes that player-authorship at the point in the story where the players want it most.

To say that the players — while certainly not equal partners in the process, but creative contributors nonetheless — should have no say in the conclusion of the story they helped create is unfair, and to defend it by hiding behind “artistic expression”, as Bioware has done, is an insult to the players’ input throughout the series and a rather crude misrepresentation of what Mass Effect has been to both the creators and the players for the last five years.

Mass Effect, Tolkien, and Your Bullshit Artistic Process

[The following was originally posted on my main blog, but as it’s gaming-related, I figured I’d put it over here as well.]

Everything that follows is my opinion and, further, is infested with spoilers for both the Mass Effect series and, I suppose, The Lord of the Rings. Reader beware.

In late February, I said (on twitter) that I thought the Mass Effect universe was probably the most important science fiction of a generation.

Since then, the executive producer for Mass Effect 3 has been working tirelessly to get me to retract that statement.

If you follow gaming news at all, you’ll already know that there have been great clouds of dust kicked over this particular story — the gist of it is that Mass Effect was brought to a conclusion with the release of Mass Effect 3 (note: not brought to its conclusion, just brought to a conclusion — more on that later), and while 99% of the game was the same top-notch, engaging, tear-inducing stuff that we’ve come to expect, the last five minutes or so is a steaming, Hersey’s Kiss-sized dollop of dog shit that you are forced to ingest at the conclusion of the meal, like a mint, before they let you out the door.

It’s fair to say that it’s soured many players’ impression of the experience as a whole.

Now, I realize that many of the folks reading this may not have played through the Mass Effect series. First of all, that’s really too bad, because it is very, very good both in terms of play (which steadily improves from game to game) and story (barring one steaming exception) and (I think) completely worth the time.

But secondly, I’d like to keep you non-ME people involved in the conversation, so I’m going to draw a comparison that I think most anyone likely to visit here will understand, so that we can all proceed with reasonable understanding of the issues.

Let’s pretend for a moment that The Lord of the Rings was released not as a series of books, but a series of games. More importantly, the company behind the series decided to do something really hard but rewarding with the game — they were going to let you make decisions during play that substantively altered the elements of the story. That means that some of people playing through this Lord of the Rings story would end up with a personal game experience that was pretty much exactly like the one you and I all remember from reading the books, but that story is just sort of the default. Whole forums were filled up by fans of the series comparing notes on their versions of the game, with guides on how to get into a romantic relationship with Arwen (the obvious one), Eowyn (more difficult, as you have to go without any kind of romance option through the whole first game, but considered by many to be far more rewarding), or even Legolas (finally released as DLC for the third game).

And that’s certainly not all of possible permutations. Some players actually managed to save Boromir (though he leaves the party regardless, but gets you a whole extra army in the third game if he’s alive, and makes Denethor much less of a pain in the ass to deal with). Some folks don’t split up the party, and spend most of the game recruiting supporters through the South and North, from Aughaire down to Dol Imren. For some, Gimli dies at Helms Deep; for others only Merry escapes into Fangorn (which makes recruiting the Ents all but impossible). Hell, there are even a few weirdos who chose NOT to recruit Samwise back at the beginning of the story, and actually play through the whole first game without him (though the writers reintroduce him as a non-optional party member once you get ready to leave Lothlorien).

And what about the players who rolled the main character as a female? That changes a LOT of stuff, as you might well imagine. (Though, thankfully, all the dialogue options with Legolas are the same.)

Are you with me so far?

Okay, so you’re playing through this game — you’ve played through parts 1 and 2 several times, in fact, sometimes as a goody-two-shoes, and sometimes as a total bad-ass. You’ve got a version of the game where you’re with Arwen, one with Eowyn, one with Legolas, and one where you focus on Frodo and his subtle hand-holding bromance with Sam. You’re ready for Part Three, is what I’m saying, and out it comes.

And it’s awesome. You finally bring lasting alliance between Rohan and Gondor, you form a fragile-yet-believable peace between elves and dwarves, and even manage to recruit a significant strike-force of old Moria orcs who don’t so much like you as much as they just hate the johnny-come-lately Uruk-hai.

The final chapters open. You face down Saruman (who pretended to fund all your efforts through the second book, but then turned on you at the end of the Two Towers), which was really satisfying. You crawl up to the top of Mount Doom, collapse against a rock, and have a really touching heart to heart with Sam. It’s over. You know you have all your scores high enough to destroy the One Ring with no crisis of conscious and no lame “Gollum bit off my finger and then falls in the lava” ending, like the one you saw on the fanfic forums last year.

And then out comes this glowing figure from behind a rock, and it’s… Tom Bombadil.

And Tom explains your options.

Oh, and you're totally going to die too. And all the roads and horses throughout all of middle earth vanish. And by the way did you know that Sauron and the Nazgul all actually just work for Bombadil? True story.

Now, let’s just ignore the fact that the company behind this game has been quoted many times as saying that the game will end with no less than sixteen different endings, to honor all the various ways the story could go, and focus on these three options.

None of them have anything to do with destroying the ring, do they?

Has ‘destroying the ring’ (alternately, destroying Sauron) been pretty much THE THING you’ve been working toward the whole game? Yeah, it has. In fact, it mentions “Rings” right there in the title of the series, doesn’t it? Rather seems to make The Ring a bit of a banner item, doesn’t it?

But no, none of these options are about the Ring; they’re about one of the b-plots in the series, and one which you pretty much already laid to rest a few chapters ago.

So… okay, maybe this isn’t the END ending, you think, and you pick one of the options…

And that’s it. A bunch of cut-scenes play, Mount Doom explodes with fiery red light, you die, and the credits roll. The end.

Ohhh-kay. Maybe that was the bad ending. Let’s reload a save and pick option 2…

Same. Exact. Cut scenes. Except Mount Doom’s explosion is green. What?

Alright… umm… let’s check #3…

Nope. Mount Doom’s explosion is Blue. That’s it.

And, absolutely inexplicably, every single one of these cut scenes shows Gandalf, Aragorn, and SAMWISE escaping the explosion on one of the eagles and crash-landing somewhere in Lorien where they all pat themselves on the back and watch the sun set together.

What? But… Sam was with you. Aragorn and Gandalf… did they start running away halfway through the last fight at the Black Gate? Your boys abandoned you?

So, given this example, it’s possible — even for someone who didn’t play Mass Effect — to understand the fan’s reaction. The ending has no real connection to the rest of the story; barring the last scene and one conversation with an unnamed Nazgul in Book 3, it would lift right out with no one even noticing. It completely takes away your choices at the end of a game about making world-altering choices. It effectively destroys the Middle Earth that you were fighting for 100 hours of gameplay to preserve — no magic? Maybe a completely wiped out dwarven race? No one can travel anywhere without painstakingly rebuilding roads for a couple hundred years and replacing horses with something else? Also, no matter what, no matter how much ass you kick, you’re dead? Yeah. No thanks, man.

And that’s not even paying attention to stuff like how (and why) Sam and Gandalf and Strider ran away at the end. I mean… even if you’re going to do a shitty twist ending, don’t be so goddamn lazy about it. Don’t sit there and claim that criticism of the ending is an attack on your artistic product, because frankly that ending is full of holes and needs a rewrite and probably two more chapters to flesh out. (More on that in a bit.)

So… that’s where the Mass Effect franchise was after ME3 came out. A lot of confusion. A lot of rage. Some protests of a very interesting sort, where the gamers against the terrible ending decided to draw attention to the issue by raising something like seventy-thousand bucks for geek-related charities.

Now, let’s go a bit deeper.

Let’s continue with this Lord of the Rings video game analogy. Let’s say that after a bit of digging, people realized that Tolkien actually left the company to work on other projects before the game was complete. He wrote up a detailed outline, though; something that clearly spelled out exactly how the main arc of the story was supposed to play out, in broad strokes, basically spelling out what we would expect the ending to be, pretty much.

But Tolkien left. So they get another guy in. Someone else who’s written stuff about some kind of powerful ring…

They get Steven R. Donaldson.

(Those of you who know me and my history with the Thomas Covenant books can guess that this analogy is not going to be a positive one, because seriously: fuck Thomas Covenant.)

So they get this Donaldson guy in to helm the end of the series, and it turns out he’s the guy who comes up with the Tom Bombadil, fuck-the-continuity-of-the-series ending.

Why? Maybe he’s pissed about being the second choice. Maybe he’s not getting paid enough to give a fuck. Maybe he just really wants to do this kind of story, but can’t be arsed to write a series of his own for which it makes sense. Maybe the original ending outlined by Tolkien got leaked on a forum the year before the last game came out, so people decided it had to be changed, even if the alternative makes no sense. I don’t know.

What I do know is the there was a different ending written out for the Mass Effect series, the short version of which is that the Big Reveal in ME3 is that the Mass Effect itself — the magical black-box technology that allows interstellar travel and powers a ton of other things from weapons to expensive toothbrushes — is causing a constant increase in dark energy in the galaxy, and that’s causing all kinds of bad things (like the accelerated death of stars).

The Mass Effect — you know, the thing from which the name of the series is derived — is the secret behind the Big Reveal. Who would have thought?

So, in the end of the game-as-envisioned, you’re given a choice of saving the galaxy by sacrificing the human race (making humanity into a Reaper that can stop the Dark Energy decay), or telling the Reapers to screw themselves and trying to fix the problem on your own (with a handful of centuries left before the Dark Energy thing snowballs and grows out of control on its own).

Which, in a word, would have been better. Certainly FAR better than some kind of stupid Tom Bombadil/Star Child explanation where we are told that the (synthetic AI) Reapers destroy advanced organic civilizations every 50 thousand years to prevent organic civilizations from… being destroyed by synthetic AIs.

Now we don’t just have some gamer complaints about the terrible ending, we have a demonstrably better ending that was actually supposed to be the one implemented. Complicates things, doesn’t it?

But Why All the Hate?

The simple fact of the matter is that Mass Effect is a story, and it’s a very good story — in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. People can hem and haw about what constitutes a story — about whether a game can really be a story if people can play it — as though a story is only a story if it’s spoken or written or projected up on a movie screen. That’s like saying a person is only a person if they walk or ride a horse or drive a car… because we all know the vehicle in which the subject is conveyed changes that subject’s inherent nature.

Some people say it’s not a real story because the player’s choices can alter it. I (because of my background in certain types of tabletop role-playing games where players get as much say in the story as the guy running the game) think they’re full of crap, and I say the proof of its power as a story is right there in the story-pudding — it’s a story, and it affects me as a story does, and there it is. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, therefore duck.

But the problem (if you’re BioWare) is that human beings understand stories; we know how they’re supposed to work, thanks to thousands of years of cultural training. Mass Effect (until that conclusion) is a nigh-perfect example of how a story is done correctly, thanks in part to the medium, which allows (if you’ll permit me the slaughter of a few sacred cows) a level of of immersion and connection beyond what a book or movie or any other storytelling medium up to this point in our cultural history can match, because of the fact that you can actively take part in that story from the inside. Heresy? Fine, brand me a heretic; that’s how I see it.

And since it’s such a good story, people know how the thing is supposed to proceed, and they know how it should end.

You start out in ME1 trying to stop a bad guy, Saren. He’s the guy who gets us moving (because he’s a bad guy, and that’s what they do — bad guys act, and heroes react to that and move the story along). As we try to stop him, we find out there’s something bigger going on than just a rogue cop on a rampage. The picture keeps getting bigger, the stakes keep getting higher, and we keep getting our motivation and our level of commitment tested. Are we willing to sacrifice our personal life? Yes? Okay, will we sacrifice one of our friends? Yes? Okay, how about the leaders of the current galactic government? Yes? Okay…

It goes on like that. You fucking invest, is what I’m saying, and that’s just in the first game.

In the second game, the fight continues, as we have merely blunted the point of the spear, not stopped the attack. Our choices in ME1 had consequences, and we start to see them play out, for better or worse. Meanwhile, we’re trying to stop Evil Plan #2, in a suicide mission that could literally cost us nearly every single friend we’ve made. In the end, we get the joy of victory mixed with the sadness of the loss of those who didn’t make it, and it’s all good, because it’s a strong, healthy, enjoyable emotional release.

And now it’s ME3, and the stakes are even higher. We’re not recruiting more individual allies — we’re recruiting whole peoples — whole civilizations. Planets are falling. Worlds are being erased.

In the words of Harbinger, this hurts you.

Why? Because you know these people who are dying. You’ve spent over a hundred hours traveling this setting, meeting people, helping them, learning about each of their little stories; building relationships with, literally, hundreds of individuals. Every one of these planets going up in flames has a face (even if it’s a face behind a breathmask), and no one falls in this final story that wasn’t important in some way to you or someone you know.

(By contrast, the enemy is faceless and (since the reapers harvest your former allies and force them into monstrous templates) largely indistinguishable from one another — as it should be in this kind of story. You do not care about a Husk, though you might mourn the person killed to create the thing.)

In short, you aren’t just playing this game to get the high score. You’re fighting for this galaxy of individuals you’ve grown very, very attached to; to protect it and, as much as you can, preserve it. You’ve spent several hours every day on this, for months. It matters.

"Hard to imagine galaxy. To many People. Faceless. Statistics. Easy to depersonalize. Good when doing unpleasant work. For this fight, want personal connection. Can't anthropomorphize galaxy. But can think of favorite nephew. Fighting for him."

(Best of all, you get to shoot bad guys in the face while you’re doing it, which takes this heavy topic and makes it engaging at that level as well. It’s like soaking up all the gravitas of Schindler’s List while enjoying the BFG-toting action of Castle Wolfenstein at the same time.)

The end comes. We talk to all our friends. Everyone’s wearing their brave face, talking about what they’re going to do afterwards, which beach they’re going to retire on. You start to think that maybe the end is in sight and maybe, just maybe, you might even be able to see some of that ending.

The last big conflict starts. You fight some unkillable things and kill them. You face off against an old nemesis and finally end him.

And then…

And then you’re given three choices, none of which result in anything any different from the others, and none of which have consequences that have any connection to the goals we’ve been working on for the last hundred hours or so.

Those people you were just talking to? They’re gone. Or stranded on an alien world. Or dead. All those planets you helped? They’re gone too — cut off, or starving, or maybe just destroyed in manufactured super-novas. Nothing you did or accomplished in the last three games actually matters — it’s all been wiped out by one of three (red, green, or blue) RESET buttons you pushed, because pushing one of those buttons was the only ‘choice’ given to you at the end.

As a species, trained for thousands of years in the way stories work, we know this is a bad ending. Not “tragic”. Just bad. Poor.

This isn’t about a bunch of priviledged gamers complaining about a sad ending, because there are well-done sad endings that make contextual sense.

This is about a mechanical ending to the game that doesn’t end the story — that provides no emotional release — one so disassociated from the previous 99% of the story that the fans of the series collectively hope it will later be revealed to be a dream (or, in the context of the setting, a final Reaper Indoctrination attempt).

Dear writers: If you create something, and your readers hope that what you just gave them was, in reality, an “it was a dream all along” ending, because that would be better than what you wrote, you seriously. fucked. up.

Is the ending, as an ending (taken out of context with the game we’ve been playing), a bad one? No. It’s an interesting theme that was explored extensively in a B-plot within the series and which could certainly be the central thread of a series of its own.

But it’s not the ending of this story. Our goals — the one we’ve been fighting for — are never addressed. There is no closure, either happy or sad — we want our emotional release as it relates to the game we actually played. Maybe that means tragedy at our own stupid hands — maybe victory wrested from the biomechanical jaws of defeat (and at the cost of a greater looming danger ahead).

The ending we got? It didn’t make me angry or sad or happy. It left me unfulfilled, because it ended the game talking about something I didn’t actually care about, and left me waiting for that emotional release that ME1 or ME2 pulled off so well.

The idea that the player’s should just deal with the ending, because it’s Bioware’s ending and not theirs is one of the interesting points in this debate, simply because it rides this weird line where we don’t really have a cultural context for what the Mass Effect series is: Is it a game? Is it a story? If if it’s a game, then who cares about the story, and if it’s a story, then treat it like a book and stop pretending you get to influence it, stupid consumer.

The answer is more complicated: Is it a game or story? Yes. Moreover, it’s a game that’s welcomed player input into the narrative from the first moment, and as such, should be committed to honoring that input throughout. It’s a story, but it belongs to everyone telling it.

But It’s Art!
There’s a recurring tune being played by Bioware in response to this outcry, and it goes something like this: “We might respond to these complaints, and we might flesh out the ending we presented, but we’re not going to change anything, because this is art — this is the product of artists — and as such it is inviolate and immutable in the face of outside forces.”

Which is, speaking as a working artist, complete and utter horseshit.

If you make a movie, and you put in front of focus groups, and they categorically hate the ending, you change it. If you’re writing a book and your first readers tell you the ending is terrible, you fix it. (Ditto your second readers, your second-draft readers, your agent, your editor, your copy editor.)

Or maybe you don’t — maybe you say “this is art, and it is inviolate and immutable in the face of outside forces”, which is certainly your choice — but don’t expect anyone to help you bring that piece of crap to print.

Anyone can tell a story. You can sit in your special writing nook and turn out page after page of perfectly unaltered, immutable art and be quite happy — you’re welcome to, in fact.

But when you decide you want to make a living off it? Even if you want to just make a little spending money?

Then the rules change. Then it’s work. Then it’s a job. More importantly, then it’s part of a business model, and those golden days of your art being inviolate and immutable blah blah blah are well and truly behind you. Name me a story that saw print, or a movie that saw the Big Screen, and I’ll show you art that changed because of input from someone other than the the original creator — from someone looking at it from the point of view of the consumer.

Bioware is a company. Making their stories into games is their business model. Hiding behind some kind of “but it’s art, so we’re not changing it” defense is insulting, disingenuous, and flat-out stupid. Worse, it perpetuates the idea that the creator’s output is in some stupid way sancrosant and, as art, cannot be “wrong” or “bad”. If you as a creator imagine that to be the case — if you think that kind of argument is going to defend your right to never do a rewrite or a revision or line edits or to ever alter, in any way, your precious Artistic Process — discard that notion.

Or become accustomed to a long life as an “undiscovered talent”.

Mass Effect, Tolkien, and Your Bullshit Artistic Process

It may seem a bit odd that I’m posting this here rather than on my gaming-related blog, since it is about the Mass Effect game series and other related geekery. I debated where I should post it, but ultimately this is about writing as much or more than it’s about gaming, so here it is. Everything that follows is my opinion and, further, is infested with spoilers for both the Mass Effect series and, I suppose, The Lord of the Rings. Reader beware.

In late February, I said (on twitter) that I thought the Mass Effect universe was probably the most important science fiction of a generation.

Since then, the executive producer for Mass Effect 3 has been working tirelessly to get me to retract that statement.

If you follow gaming news at all, you’ll already know that there have been great clouds of dust kicked over this particular story — the gist of it is that Mass Effect was brought to a conclusion with the release of Mass Effect 3 (note: not brought to its conclusion, just brought to a conclusion — more on that later), and while 99% of the game was the same top-notch, engaging, tear-inducing stuff that we’ve come to expect, the last five minutes or so is a steaming, Hersey’s Kiss-sized dollop of dog shit that you are forced to ingest at the conclusion of the meal, like a mint, before they let you out the door.

It’s fair to say that it’s soured many players’ impression of the experience as a whole.

Now, I realize that many of the folks reading this may not have played through the Mass Effect series. First of all, that’s really too bad, because it is very, very good both in terms of play (which steadily improves from game to game) and story (barring one steaming exception) and (I think) completely worth the time.

But secondly, I’d like to keep you non-ME people involved in the conversation, so I’m going to draw a comparison that I think most anyone likely to visit here will understand, so that we can all proceed with reasonable understanding of the issues.

Let’s pretend for a moment that The Lord of the Rings was released not as a series of books, but a series of games. More importantly, the company behind the series decided to do something really hard but rewarding with the game — they were going to let you make decisions during play that substantively altered the elements of the story. That means that some of people playing through this Lord of the Rings story would end up with a personal game experience that was pretty much exactly like the one you and I all remember from reading the books, but that story is just sort of the default. Whole forums were filled up by fans of the series comparing notes on their versions of the game, with guides on how to get into a romantic relationship with Arwen (the obvious one), Eowyn (more difficult, as you have to go without any kind of romance option through the whole first game, but considered by many to be far more rewarding), or even Legolas (finally released as DLC for the third game).

And that’s certainly not all of possible permutations. Some players actually managed to save Boromir (though he leaves the party regardless, but gets you a whole extra army in the third game if he’s alive, and makes Denethor much less of a pain in the ass to deal with). Some folks don’t split up the party, and spend most of the game recruiting supporters through the South and North, from Aughaire down to Dol Imren. For some, Gimli dies at Helms Deep; for others only Merry escapes into Fangorn (which makes recruiting the Ents all but impossible). Hell, there are even a few weirdos who chose NOT to recruit Samwise back at the beginning of the story, and actually play through the whole first game without him (though the writers reintroduce him as a non-optional party member once you get ready to leave Lothlorien).

And what about the players who rolled the main character as a female? That changes a LOT of stuff, as you might well imagine. (Though, thankfully, all the dialogue options with Legolas are the same.)

Are you with me so far?

Okay, so you’re playing through this game — you’ve played through parts 1 and 2 several times, in fact, sometimes as a goody-two-shoes, and sometimes as a total bad-ass. You’ve got a version of the game where you’re with Arwen, one with Eowyn, one with Legolas, and one where you focus on Frodo and his subtle hand-holding bromance with Sam. You’re ready for Part Three, is what I’m saying, and out it comes.

And it’s awesome. You finally bring lasting alliance between Rohan and Gondor, you form a fragile-yet-believable peace between elves and dwarves, and even manage to recruit a significant strike-force of old Moria orcs who don’t so much like you as much as they just hate the johnny-come-lately Uruk-hai.

The final chapters open. You face down Saruman (who pretended to fund all your efforts through the second book, but then turned on you at the end of the Two Towers), which was really satisfying. You crawl up to the top of Mount Doom, collapse against a rock, and have a really touching heart to heart with Sam. It’s over. You know you have all your scores high enough to destroy the One Ring with no crisis of conscious and no lame “Gollum bit off my finger and then falls in the lava” ending, like the one you saw on the fanfic forums last year.

And then out comes this glowing figure from behind a rock, and it’s… Tom Bombadil.

And Tom explains your options.

Oh, and you're totally going to die too. And all the roads and horses throughout all of middle earth vanish. And by the way did you know that Sauron and the Nazgul all actually just work for Bombadil? True story.

Now, let’s just ignore the fact that the company behind this game has been quoted many times as saying that the game will end with no less than sixteen different endings, to honor all the various ways the story could go, and focus on these three options.

None of them have anything to do with destroying the ring, do they?

Has ‘destroying the ring’ (alternately, destroying Sauron) been pretty much THE THING you’ve been working toward the whole game? Yeah, it has. In fact, it mentions “Rings” right there in the title of the series, doesn’t it? Rather seems to make The Ring a bit of a banner item, doesn’t it?

But no, none of these options are about the Ring; they’re about one of the b-plots in the series, and one which you pretty much already laid to rest a few chapters ago.

So… okay, maybe this isn’t the END ending, you think, and you pick one of the options…

And that’s it. A bunch of cut-scenes play, Mount Doom explodes with fiery red light, you die, and the credits roll. The end.

Ohhh-kay. Maybe that was the bad ending. Let’s reload a save and pick option 2…

Same. Exact. Cut scenes. Except Mount Doom’s explosion is green. What?

Alright… umm… let’s check #3…

Nope. Mount Doom’s explosion is Blue. That’s it.

And, absolutely inexplicably, every single one of these cut scenes shows Gandalf, Aragorn, and SAMWISE escaping the explosion on one of the eagles and crash-landing somewhere in Lorien where they all pat themselves on the back and watch the sun set together.

What? But… Sam was with you. Aragorn and Gandalf… did they start running away halfway through the last fight at the Black Gate? Your boys abandoned you?

So, given this example, it’s possible — even for someone who didn’t play Mass Effect — to understand the fan’s reaction. The ending has no real connection to the rest of the story; barring the last scene and one conversation with an unnamed Nazgul in Book 3, it would lift right out with no one even noticing. It completely takes away your choices at the end of a game about making world-altering choices. It effectively destroys the Middle Earth that you were fighting for 100 hours of gameplay to preserve — no magic? Maybe a completely wiped out dwarven race? No one can travel anywhere without painstakingly rebuilding roads for a couple hundred years and replacing horses with something else? Also, no matter what, no matter how much ass you kick, you’re dead? Yeah. No thanks, man.

And that’s not even paying attention to stuff like how (and why) Sam and Gandalf and Strider ran away at the end. I mean… even if you’re going to do a shitty twist ending, don’t be so goddamn lazy about it. Don’t sit there and claim that criticism of the ending is an attack on your artistic product, because frankly that ending is full of holes and needs a rewrite and probably two more chapters to flesh out. (More on that in a bit.)

So… that’s where the Mass Effect franchise was after ME3 came out. A lot of confusion. A lot of rage. Some protests of a very interesting sort, where the gamers against the terrible ending decided to draw attention to the issue by raising something like seventy-thousand bucks for geek-related charities.

Now, let’s go a bit deeper.

Let’s continue with this Lord of the Rings video game analogy. Let’s say that after a bit of digging, people realized that Tolkien actually left the company to work on other projects before the game was complete. He wrote up a detailed outline, though; something that clearly spelled out exactly how the main arc of the story was supposed to play out, in broad strokes, basically laying out what we would expect the ending to be, pretty much.

But Tolkien left. So they get another guy in. Someone else who’s written stuff about some kind of powerful ring…

They get Steven R. Donaldson.

(Those of you who know me and my history with the Thomas Covenant books can guess that this analogy is not going to be a positive one, because seriously: fuck Thomas Covenant.)

So they get this Donaldson guy in to helm the end of the series, and it turns out he’s the guy who comes up with the Tom Bombadil, fuck-the-continuity-of-the-series ending.

Why? Maybe he’s pissed about being the second choice. Maybe he’s not getting paid enough to give a fuck. Maybe he just really wants to do this kind of story, but can’t be arsed to write a series of his own for which it makes sense. Maybe the original ending outlined by Tolkien got leaked on a forum the year before the last game came out, so people decided it had to be changed, even if the alternative makes no sense. I don’t know.

What I do know is the there was a different ending written out for the Mass Effect series, the short version of which is that the Big Reveal in ME3 is that the Mass Effect itself — the magical black-box technology that allows interstellar travel and powers a ton of other things from weapons to expensive toothbrushes — is causing a constant increase in dark energy in the galaxy, and that’s causing all kinds of bad things (like the accelerated death of stars).

The Mass Effect — you know, the thing from which the name of the series is derived — is the secret behind the Big Reveal. Who would have thought?

So, in the end of the game-as-envisioned, you’re given a choice of saving the galaxy by sacrificing the human race (making humanity into a biomechanical, synthetic-life, communal-intelligence “Reaper” that can stop the Dark Energy decay), or telling the Reapers to screw themselves and trying to fix the problem on your own (with a handful of centuries left before the Dark Energy thing snowballs and grows out of control on its own).

Which, in a word, would have been better. Certainly FAR better than some kind of stupid Tom Bombadil/Star Child explanation where we are told that the (synthetic AI) Reapers destroy advanced organic civilizations every 50 thousand years to prevent organic civilizations from… being destroyed by synthetic AIs.

Now we don’t just have some gamer complaints about the terrible ending, we have a demonstrably better ending that was actually supposed to be the one implemented. Complicates things, doesn’t it?

But Why All the Hate?

The simple fact of the matter is that Mass Effect is a story, and it’s a very good story — in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. People can hem and haw about what constitutes a story — about whether a game can really be a story if people can play it — as though a story is only a story if it’s spoken or written or projected up on a movie screen. That’s like saying a person is only a person if they walk or ride a horse or drive a car… because we all know the vehicle in which the subject is conveyed changes that subject’s inherent nature.

Some people say it’s not a real story because the player’s choices can alter it. I think they’re full of crap, and I say the proof of its power as a story is right there in the story-pudding — it affects me as a story does — and that’s all the criteria met. Walks like duck, quacks like duck, therefore duck.

But the problem (if you’re BioWare) is that human beings understand stories; we know how they’re supposed to work, thanks to thousands of years of cultural training. Mass Effect (until that conclusion) is a nigh-perfect example of how a story is done correctly, thanks in part to the medium, which allows (if you’ll permit me the slaughter of a few sacred cows) a level of of immersion and connection beyond what a book or movie or any other storytelling medium up to this point in our cultural history can match, because of the fact that you can actively take part in that story from the inside. Heresy? Fine, brand me a heretic; that’s how I see it.

And since it’s such a good story, people know how the thing is supposed to proceed, and they know how it should end.

You start out in ME1 trying to stop a bad guy, Saren. He’s the guy who gets us moving (because he’s a bad guy, and that’s what they do — bad guys act, and heroes react to that and move the story along). As we try to stop him, we find out there’s something bigger going on than just a rogue cop on a rampage. The picture keeps getting bigger, the stakes keep getting higher, and we keep getting our motivation and our level of commitment tested. Are we willing to sacrifice our personal life? Yes? Okay, will we sacrifice one of our friends? Yes? Okay, how about the leaders of the current galactic government? Yes? Okay…

It goes on like that. You fucking invest, is what I’m saying, and that’s just in the first game.

In the second game, the fight continues, as we have merely blunted the point of the spear, not stopped the attack. Our choices in ME1 had consequences, and we start to see them play out, for better or worse. Meanwhile, we’re trying to stop Evil Plan #2, in a suicide mission that could literally cost us nearly every single friend we’ve made. In the end, we get the joy of victory mixed with the sadness of the loss of those who didn’t make it, and it’s all good, because it’s a strong, healthy, enjoyable emotional release.

And now it’s ME3, and the stakes are even higher. We’re not recruiting more individual allies — we’re recruiting whole peoples — whole civilizations. Planets are falling. Worlds are being erased.

In the words of Harbinger, this hurts you.

Why? Because you know these people who are dying. You’ve spent over a hundred hours traveling this setting, meeting people, helping them, learning about each of their little stories; building relationships with, literally, hundreds of individuals. Every one of these planets going up in flames has a face (even if it’s a face behind a breathmask), and no one falls in this final story that wasn’t important in some way to you or someone you know.

(By contrast, the enemy is faceless and (since the reapers harvest your former allies and force them into monstrous templates) largely indistinguishable from one another — as it should be in this kind of story. You do not care about a Husk, though you might mourn the person killed to create the thing.)

In short, you aren’t just playing this game to get the high score. You’re fighting for this galaxy of individuals you’ve grown very, very attached to; to protect it and, as much as you can, preserve it. You’ve spent several hours every day on this, for months. It matters.

"Hard to imagine galaxy. Too many People. Faceless. Statistics. Easy to depersonalize. Good when doing unpleasant work. For this fight, want personal connection. Can't anthropomorphize galaxy. But can think of favorite nephew. Fighting for him."

(Best of all, you get to shoot bad guys in the face while you’re doing it, which takes this heavy topic and makes it engaging at that level as well. It’s like soaking up all the gravitas of Schindler’s List while enjoying the BFG-toting action of Castle Wolfenstein at the same time.)

The end comes. We talk to all our friends. Everyone’s wearing their brave face, talking about what they’re going to do afterwards, which beach they’re going to retire on. You start to think that maybe the end is in sight and maybe, just maybe, you might even be able to see some of that ending.

The last big conflict starts. You fight some unkillable things and kill them. You face off against an old nemesis and finally end him.

And then…

And then you’re given three choices, none of which result in anything any different from the others, and none of which have consequences that have any connection to the goals we’ve been working on for the last hundred hours or so.

Those people you were just talking to? They’re gone. Or stranded on an alien world. Or dead. All those planets you helped? They’re gone too — cut off, or starving, or maybe just destroyed in manufactured super-novas. Nothing you did or accomplished in the last three games actually matters — it’s all been wiped out by one of three (red, green, or blue) RESET buttons you pushed, because pushing one of those buttons was the only ‘choice’ given to you at the end.

As a species, trained for thousands of years in the way stories work, we know this is a bad ending. Not “tragic”. Just bad. Poor.

This isn’t about a bunch of priviledged gamers complaining about a sad ending, because there are well-done sad endings that make contextual sense.

This is about a mechanical ending to the game that doesn’t end the story — that provides no emotional release — one so disassociated from the previous 99% of the story that the fans of the series collectively hope it will later be revealed to be a dream (or, in the context of the setting, a final Reaper Indoctrination attempt).

Dear writers: If you create something, and your readers hope that what you just gave them was, in reality, an “it was a dream all along” ending, because that would be better than what you wrote, you seriously. fucked. up.

Is the ending, as an ending (taken out of context with the game we’ve been playing), a bad one? No. It’s an interesting theme that was explored extensively in a B-plot within the series and which could certainly be the central thread of a series of its own.

But it’s not the ending of this story. Our goals — the one we’ve been fighting for — are never addressed. There is no closure, either happy or sad — we want our emotional release as it relates to the game we actually played. Maybe that means tragedy at our own stupid hands — maybe victory wrested from the biomechanical jaws of defeat (and at the cost of a greater looming danger ahead).

The ending we got? It didn’t make me angry or sad or happy. It left me unfulfilled, because it ended the game talking about something I didn’t actually care about, and left me waiting for that emotional release that ME1 or ME2 pulled off so well.

The idea that the player’s should just deal with the ending, because it’s Bioware’s ending and not theirs is one of the interesting points in this debate, simply because it rides this weird line where we don’t really have a cultural context for what the Mass Effect series is: Is it a game? Is it a story? If if it’s a game, then who cares about the story, and if it’s a story, then treat it like a book and stop pretending you get to influence it, stupid consumer.

The answer is more complicated: Is it a game or story? Yes. Moreover, it’s a game that’s welcomed player input into the narrative from the first moment, and as such, should be committed to honoring that input throughout. It’s a story, but it belongs to everyone telling it.

But It’s Art!
There’s a recurring tune being played by Bioware in response to this outcry, and it goes something like this: “We might respond to these complaints, and we might flesh out the ending we presented, but we’re not going to change anything, because this is art — this is the product of artists — and as such it is inviolate and immutable in the face of outside forces.”

Which is, speaking as a working artist, complete and utter horseshit.

If you make a movie, and you put in front of focus groups, and they categorically hate the ending, you change it. If you’re writing a book and your first readers tell you the ending is terrible, you fix it. (Ditto your second readers, your second-draft readers, your agent, your editor, your copy editor.)

Or maybe you don’t — maybe you say “this is art, and it is inviolate and immutable in the face of outside forces”, which is certainly your choice — but don’t expect anyone to help you bring that piece of crap to print.

Anyone can tell a story. You can sit in your special writing nook and turn out page after page of perfectly unaltered, immutable art and be quite happy — you’re welcome to, in fact.

But when you decide you want to make a living off it? Even if you want to just make a little spending money?

Then the rules change. Then it’s work. Then it’s a job. More importantly, then it’s part of a business model, and those golden days of your art being inviolate and immutable blah blah blah are well and truly behind you. Name me a story that saw print, or a movie that saw the Big Screen, and I’ll show you art that changed because of input from someone other than the the original creator — from someone looking at it from the point of view of the consumer.

Bioware is a company. Making their stories into games is their business model. Hiding behind some kind of “but it’s art, so we’re not changing it” defense is insulting, disingenuous, and flat-out stupid. Worse, it perpetuates the idea that the creator’s output is in some stupid way sancrosant and, as art, cannot be “wrong” or “bad”. If you as a creator imagine that to be the case — if you think that kind of argument is going to defend your right to never do a rewrite or a revision or line edits or to ever alter, in any way, your precious Artistic Process — discard that notion.

Or become accustomed to a long life as an “undiscovered talent”.

Offline

So. Yeah. Here’s a post.

My kids' effect on my online time.
My attempts to get any kind of decent sleep.
The net sum of everything going on in my brain right now.

Apologies to those waiting on posts. Triple apologies to the guys in EvE, whom I haven’t even seen in like a week and a half.

Kids are awesome, but some weeks are less awesome than others.

Life in a Wormhole: Agency #eveonline

Strange kind of a day.

There’s a bit of a snafu when we get online, simply because a few of the things Gor expected to pick up in market simply aren’t available yet. Still, he picks up a couple of blueprints for battlecruisers (both new and old), and brings them back home where we can start to put them to use.

Best part of running errands now? The new warp effects.

First, we need to set up a research lab to start optimizing the blueprint designs, which I’m able to do with only a few quite minor tweaks to the tower’s power grid.

The few seconds that it now takes to anchor and online a tower module? So lovely. Dear CCP: Nice job, but I’d like four days of my life back — the time I spent putting up and taking down towers in the past.

Once the blueprints are cooking, we do a bit more maintenance around the —

— oh, who am I kidding? We spend at least an hour swapping in and out of all the ships that got new skins with the patch. So… pretty.

Once that critical work is complete, Gor logs and I have some time to admire our handiwork and take stock of the changes to our home system.

I’ve always been pretty happy with our tower set up, but the longer we work on the home system, the more I feel like we’re making true, full use of all the resources at our disposal. At first, most of what we did was shooting sleepers and selling their stuff. It had its challenges (especially while we got used to the raised difficulty, as compared to Known Space), but eventually we got the hang of it. Since then, we’ve built a rorqual, which lets us take much better advantage of the mining opportunities in wormhole space (assuming we EVER SEE ANOTHER MINING SITE), and with the new labs in place (and ship, ammunition, and drone factories ready to go online), we’re moving into some stuff we rarely took advantage of even out in known space. Exciting stuff.

Okay, perhaps not to everyone, but it’s exciting to us — it’s neat to be able to envision something in our home system and then make it happen — and it’s nice that wormholes really throw a little bit of everything at you and let you make use of all aspects of a character. It really is a collection of all the good stuff EvE has to offer with very little of the stupid cruft. (I’m looking at you, Sovereignty Mechanics.)

While I explore warp randomly around the system to look at the pretty warp effects, I notice one of the other changes that came out with the patch, in the form of destructible Interbus-owned structures that now orbit around all nullsec planets (let’s not ask how Interbus got ships into every corner of wormhole space). Em has already mentioned that the tax rates being levied by these structures are pretty painful to anyone who does major Planetary Interaction, and he’s out in known space right now picking up the supplies we will need to put up our own orbital stations… once we blow up the NPC ones (which is about to become a priority project for the next few days). It’s nearly a billion ISK investment, but it’ll easily pay for itself.

It’s just one more way in which we’re making the system more our own — more ‘how we want it to be’.

I do a bit of scanning while my fellow system-mates take care of business. CB is heading out into known space to set up a couple jump clones (he’s got proper shiny implants in his head now, and doesn’t want to lose them on a random weekend roam), and Em is on the way back with parts for our new planetary offices and fuel block blueprints that we’ll soon need for the tower — once he gets them back in, Bre goes to work researching and optimizing, then heads out to our known space home base to pick up a container of blue prints she’s been hoarding for months, muttering something about ‘pretty shiny lab facilities’.

There’s just a lot going on, and looking at it all is really interesting.

Both we and the Walrus guys have put up labs to start work on blueprints and production. Em and I are planning group activities in the form of blowing up those customs offices, and more than a few people are murmuring about a growing desire to shoot stuff, which I wholeheartedly support.

Then we’ve got Bre and CB out on their own projects, not to mention Gor starting up ship manufacturing again… and that’s ignoring the fact that I’m using my time to do some more exploration — never know when we’ll find another abandoned wormhole that someone wants to buy, after all.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend of mine (Lee) who plays a lot of MMOs. He tried EvE not long ago and didn’t much care for it, and like another of my friends, wanted to understand the draw for me.

The best way I can describe it (thanks to a suggestion from another friend, who was talking about his daughter’s love of Minecraft) is “agency”.

People like to toss around terms for different kinds of MMOs — labels like “sandbox” and “theme parks” — and I suppose that’s fine; I’ve done the same in the past, in non-judgmental ways. I enjoy both types quite a lot.

But that term. Agency.

Agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.

I love spending time on Lord of the Rings Online. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy Star Wars the Old Republic.

But at the same time I know, going in, that I won’t be able to affect those games very much. One of the things I love about Bioware games is the way your relationships with important NPCs are different, depending on the choices you’ve made with them — it’s powerful, it’s interesting, and honestly it’s really the only way in which your experience in the game is going to be much different from anyone else’s experience in a game like Mass Effect (or, to be honest, SWTOR).

I can certainly affect the other people I play with (that’s rather the point), but otherwise? No. I can’t log into LotRO and set out to permanently reclaim Moria — to make it what it once was, or something better. That’s simply not an option, nor will it ever be an option. That’s fine, though — that’s not the kind of game it’s trying to be, and I already enjoy the game that it is.

Conversely, that sort of thing is exactly what EvE is about (and, to retain equilibrium, EvE is really rather terrible at the sorts of things LotRO is good at :)). That ability to make choices and impose (or at least try to impose) those choices on the world is what makes the game compelling to me; what makes it great, for a certain value of great.

Like most other things in EvE, wormholes are a pure distillation of that Good Thing. We have found our way into Moria through one of the many lost entrances, cleared one of the lesser halls, and set about rummaging through the old texts, dusting off lost relics, and killing any goblins (or other explorers) that get in our way. Hell, now we’re mining (hopefully not too greedily or deep), and with any luck some wondrous items of our own will start flowing out into the rest of the world.

Someday, it may all come crashing down, thanks to a more powerful group of explorers, or some cataclysmic event, or simple neglect, but for now, it’s ours — we made it — laid every stone and hammered every rivet, and there’s nothing else I’ve experienced in an online game that’s quite like it.

It’s Not Easy

The thing with EvE (and again, via that distillation, Wormholes) is nothing much happens if you don’t make it happen. If you don’t scan, you won’t have stuff to do. Nothing to mine. Nothing (or no one) to shoot. Hell, you can’t even leave.

There’s no agent ready to give you a mission with clear objectives. There’s no amusement park with a map to all the rides where you can just sit and enjoy the spectacle.

There’s sand. And some shovels. And some buckets. And some other kids. (Maybe, and what if there’s not?) That’s kind of it. You can make a castle, or you can sit on your ass and get a nasty sunburn. You can make ships or run out for blueprints or prep for carnage or mine or whatever you want… or spin the camera around you ship, renew your training queue, and bitch how there’s never anything going on.

That’s Agency: the fun is up to you.

Life in a Wormhole: Clone Jumper #eveonline

Jay asks:

Hey man,
I am a little confused about all this cloning stuff, how and why would I want a lesser clone? how do I jump between the 2 or 3 or 4…?

Okay, so that’s a really good question, but it’s a little complicated.

Think of clones like cars.

Most of us have just one car. We spend a lot of time in our cars, and over time, we tend to customize and maybe even pimp them out a little bit. (In this case: Implants.)

If we wreck our car and total it out, we need to get a new one, and that new one is going to be “plain”, it’s not going to have all the custom stuff in it, until we pay to add in all that stuff too.

In EvE, as a capsuleer, this “plain new car” happens automatically. If your ship gets blown up, that’s really no worse than losing a (really) expensive set of tires or getting an expensive fender bender, but if we get our pods destroyed, the body is destroyed, and with it all our little customizations (implants). But we’re SPECIAL, so we get downloaded into a “medical clone” that remembers all the skills we’ve trained (if we remember to keep the clone updated to a point where it’s smart enough to remember all our skills). However, that body obviously doesn’t have all the cybernetics the old body did.

That’s all a medical clone is — the assurance that if we get our car totaled, we get a new one.

Jump clones are different. They’re like someone who has more than one car, who selects whichever one they want for the day.

So here’s the most basic example. Let’s say you’re a normal guy with one body (car), and you’re planning on doing some risky stuff. Problem is, you have some implants in your head, and if you roll out into the Danger Zone and get podded, you’ll lose that stuff. The main rule of EvE is ‘don’t fly what you can’t afford to lose’, and that includes the wires in your head.

So you have options.

  • Option One is ‘don’t do the risky thing’. Lots of people opt for that.
  • Option Two is “risk it, cuz I can’t figure out how jump clones work.” LOTS of people do that, whether they want to or not.
  • Option Three is ‘get a different body to use for the risky stuff’.

So here’s me: I’ve got well over 200 million isk worth of implants in my head. It’s all +4 stat bumps and some modules that increase my abilities in ways important to me. Keep in mind: the value of the wires in this is example is MINISCULE compared to some folks. You can easily spend multi-billions on a complete implant “set”, with inherent set bonuses. In any case, the fact that someone else has way more valuable stuff in their head isn’t relevant; in this example, the implants in my head — whatever they are — are more than I’m willing to lose.

I'll keep this one safe, if you don't mind.

Anyway, pretend-me wants to go into wormholes, but because I’m new to wormholes and imagine the odds of getting podded are high, I don’t want to risk these implants (and also there’s some implants that boost scanning strength that I want to get, specifically for wormholes), so I train the skill that lets me have Jump Clones, then I either go to a station that has cloning facilities and is owned by a corp with which I have a really high standing, or one with which my CORP has really high standing, or a join a corp called Estel Arador for a day for the express purpose of making clones and then leaving again (that’s just something Estel Arador does for pilots, for free, because they’re awesome).

So now I have a second car/body. I go to a different station, unplug my fancy clone from my ship, jump over into this new body, and put in some implants that will be (a) more useful in wormholes and (b) less risky to lose, like maybe just +3 implants, which are about one-third the cost of the +4s — and maybe not as many of them — like, for instance, I’m not going to need a Social implant, cuz I’m not training Social skills in a wormhole (no agents to schmooze).

24 hours later, I can jump back into my high-end clone, which I do so that I’ll train skills a bit faster than my wormhole clone, but when it’s time to go to the wormhole, I’ll jump into my cheaper, less risky wormohle body and head out, leaving the shinier clone in storage for now.

Ready for the wild frontier.

Maybe a few months later, I decide that I’m going to start going on short roams out into nullsec on the weekends, just for a few hours on a Saturday, just for fun and laughs.

Now this is MUCH more risky than plain old wormhole living. With the wormhole clone, I’ve put in implants that I feel I need for long-term play (I still want to train reasonably quickly), but which minimize my losses if something goes wrong. And in any case, I generally try to keep things from going so wrong that I get podded.

But with this new ‘weekend roaming’ situation, I’m actually looking for trouble and EXPECTING to blow up. Repeatedly.

So I head back into a station and make a third jump clone: my throwaway clone. This body gets no implants at all. I just jump into this car when I’m going to go off-roading up in the mountains. Thing doesn’t even have any doors on, and half the paint is just primer, cuz why bother?

Get right down to it, and this is all the car a Minmatar pilot really needs.

I jump into this body when I’m headed for serious hijinx, and if I survive, great, and if I get podded, I’ll just reboot back in my medical clone (which is always what happens when you get podded, regardless of which jump clone you’re in), and since I have now used my medical clone backup, I’ll pay to upgrade the memory on my new medical clone, cuz you really always have to remember to do that after a podding.

24 hours later, I jump back into one of my ‘nice’ bodies, resume normal activities, and the body I just left behind becomes my new ‘junker car’ for weekend shenanigans.

Note: In most situations, all these clone jumps take place at stations. It’s possible to do them in known space, outside a station, IF you have access to specific kinds of command ships (like the Rorqual) with clone bays fitted, but please note: even if you have access to those ships, you can’t clone jump into or out of wormhole space.

What happens if I get podded while in one of my ‘good’ clones? Well, then I have two stripped-down clones, and either don’t have the pimped-out or semi-pimped out version anymore. That one will need to be replaced, by buying implants for one of the naked clones. Super fun.

Got it?

Life in a Wormhole: How Soon Can I Start? #eveonline

In the past, I’ve written a fair bit about what you need to bring when you decide to move into a wormhole. That list is intended for an entire group heading into a class two or something similar, however, so as we’ve had some old friends/new pilots coming to join us I’ve had to revise that list pretty extensively, focusing on skills, mostly, since we’re happy to provide a few appropriate ships until the pilots in question start making money.

As far as skills went, one of the two points on the skill list about which I was quite adamant, was this:

You should have all the skills and support skills necessary to fly an appropriate PvE ship without getting blown up in a Sleeper site. In a C2, that means a battlecruiser, using an all tech2 tank (very likely shield-tanked) and able to withstand AT LEAST 350dps of Omni damage (preferably 420), while still able to put out about 200 dps, minimum.

For even a new pilot, this means that if there is a skill – any skill at all – that affects your effectiveness in your chosen ship, those skills should be at least a 3, and many if not most should be 4 or 5. New pilots should then improve from there.

And I still think that’s a good goal to have, for the very limited topic of ‘pve sleeper combat’.

But I had a conversation today, and it got me thinking.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the killing power of wormholes.

My outlook is something like this.

And that’s not wrong, but I was talking to this new pilot today, listening to him tell me how he has all these friends in his corp from his home town, and how they’re in a wormhole, and how he wants to get in there with them and participate, but really can’t until he can fly X with skill Y, because no one could survive in a wormhole without at least that much.

And I was like:

… because I just have to play Devil’s Advocate, I guess.

I started to explain how he could get into a wormhole without elite combat skills, contribute in valuable and very appreciated ways, every day, and even make some iskies.

Here’s What I Told Him

So let’s say you’re all gung-ho to get into a wormhole with your friends and (because they’re your friends), they aren’t saying stuff like “You must fly a TENGU! and Logistics Level 5! And perfect Scanning Skills! And did we mention ZOMG TENGU!?!” They’re welcoming, is what I’m saying.

And you’ve seen all the cool (and, let’s be honest, profitable) stuff there is to do in a wormhole, and you’re like:

And (again, because they’re your friends), they aren’t saying “no”, exactly. They are saying “maybe you should train a few more skills” or “you might end up being kind of bored if you can’t join in on ops” or something like that.

What they want to say is:

'Noob. This is you, trying to get into a wormhole.'

And they may be right, if you aren’t willing to explore some alternative ways to take part in the Exciting Activities. Let’s look at these alternatives:

Scanning

This one is huge. Maybe you can’t shoot stuff that well yet, but you can be Scanning Guy. Everyone in the hole should be able to scan (and most should be able to scan well), but everyone gets tired of it from time to time (even me). Want to build a lot of good will? Volunteer to scan sometimes. Hell, most of the time — you probably need the practice. Learn how to scout a hostile system without giving your presence away. Learn how to find good systems for looting. These are all things that will endear you to your corp mates, but just as importantly, you will be teaching yourself valuable skills.

Edit to add (at Tweed’s suggestion): Some old videos I made on how to scan. It’s from the system we’re no longer in, so I don’t really care about operational security, and the videos might help folks.

Sleeper Combat

If you can’t fit a BC that can survive sleepers yet, know that there are other ways to contribute while you train:

  • Overwatch: put together a scanning frigate with combat probes and volunteer for scanning and overwatch duties while your fleet kills sleepers. It’s a vital role, and encourages you to train critical skills related to wormhole survival (cloaking, the various Astrometric skills). The only problem with this is that your ‘mates may not be entirely sanguine about the new guy’s ability to spot potential dangers (and, to be fair, you may not be, either) — if you’re saying “Hey guys, what does it mean when I get a bunch of extra ships on scan?” or “What do you mean d-scan doesn’t refresh automatically?” instead of “BREAK BREAK, SAFE UP”, someone’s probably going to die.  So if you (or they) want some time to learn the lay of the land before you play overwatch…
  • Salvaging: Train Salvaging to 5 and fit up a destroyer with:
    • a couple salvage rigs
    • 3 tech2 salvagers
    • 3 tractor beams
    • a cloak
    • a probe launcher (just in case)
    • and a MWD… and follow along behind your ‘mates salvaging as they kill: they’ll be happy to have someone with high salvaging skills maximizing their (and your) profits.Note: In both these cases, you should be getting a share of the loot for your contribution to the operation.

Mining?

Now, I’m a terribad miner, but with a Vexor-class crusier, decent drone skills, and some miner IIs I can still pull as much ore out of a rock as a Retriever-class mining barge — only problem is my hold fills up really fast, so I get RSI from moving it to a jettisoned canister. Still, don’t let someone tell you you can’t mine in a cruiser, even if an exhumer is obviously better in the long run. That’s said: if they’re flexing their Hulks and screaming “THIS. IS. VELDSPARTA!” there’s still stuff you can do.

  • Overwatch: Hey, guess what? Miners still need a lookout, especially if your mining buddies like to cut the boredom with a little bourbon. Grab that  scanning frigate we talked about, drop a combat probe, cloak up, and start scanning. If they decide they don’t need that, then…
  • Hauling: That’s fine: unlimber your industrial hauling skill and cart the Mining Ferengi jetcans of ore back to the tower so they can keep mining and the Orca-class industrials can hide safely inside the force field. You get to watch the pretty warp effects a lot, and you stay moving and busy. No bad there. And, again, this stuff is all part of the operation, and you should get a fair cut of the profits. Everyone manages that differently, but fair’s fair.
Gas Harvesting?

This is probably my favorite non-combat thing to do in a wormhole, simply because it’s easy to max your skill out, and you can make perfectly viable gas harvesting ships out of cruiser hulls that damn near anyone can fly. In all seriousness, this is a great thing to train up, and one of the first things where you can be just as productive in a wormhole has the guy with 140 million skill points.

HOWEVER, if you just can’t bear to spend any training time on this, there’s still Overwatch and Hauling (see Mining, above).

PvP

PvP is not like Sleeper Combat. It’s potentially more dangerous, but also less strict than a sleeper anomaly in terms of the minimum requirements for participation. A two-day-old character can string together enough basic skills to fly a frigate and fill the role of “Tackle” in a PvP fight. At the very least, you should be prepared to do that (and that means practicing the skills with your mates so you understand what you need to do when the hammer drops).

Planetary Interaction

Basically, this is setting up robotic colonies on a planet and relieving said planets of their natural resources for the purposes of fun, profit, and tower fuel. I’m not good at PI, but I do have good skills in PI, because they are easy and quick to train, and it lets me help fuel the tower.

Other people in the wormhole are able to do that and still make 300 million isk every couple weeks, which means you can too.  Don’t look to me for “how”, though — like I said, I’m bad at PI.

What I’m Saying…

You could still be in the hole and doing stuff while you train those 15 days for a battlecruiser. Or a month for Tech2 guns. Or whatever. You can contribute, and more to the point, you don’t have to wait to hang out with your friends.

My suggestion? Do it.

“But What if All I Want to Do is Pew Pew Sleepers?”

Hmm… in that case:

You should have all the skills and support skills necessary to fly an appropriate PvE ship without getting blown up in a Sleeper site. In a C2, that means a battlecruiser, using an all tech2 tank (very likely shield-tanked) and able to withstand AT LEAST 350dps of Omni damage (preferably 420), while still able to put out about 200 dps, minimum.

For even a new pilot, this means that if there is a skill – any skill at all – that affects your effectiveness in your chosen ship, those skills should be at least a 3, and many if not most should be 4 or 5. New pilots should then improve from there.

Seriously. If you want to fight stuff, skill up or STFU.

Disclaimer

Note: Everyone cannot cut these corners. This little breakdown assumes that if you’re coming into the system in what is essentially a non-combat role until you can get your skills caught up, someone (hopefully several someones) are shouldering the heavy burden of being the badass, both in terms of gunnery as well as all the unsexy skills that let Life in a Wormhole actually… you know… work.

If that’s not the case, none of you are ready.

With All that Said
I’ve found that I do still feel strongly about this:

At a minimum, have Astrometics to level 4 and Astrometric Rangefinding, Astrometric Pinpointing and Astrometric Acquisition to level 3 each.

Yeah. This is still something you should always consider a requirement. Scanning is life in a wormhole. It’s breathing. Don’t be a leech on your corp mates.

Life in a Wormhole: Musing on the Crucible #eveonline

[This first two paragraphs are split off from yesterday’s post, so bear with me for the repetition — I soon veer off in another direction from the previous post.]

As I’ve already said, one of the most important elements for enjoying any MMO is having people to play with; this requirement is (in my opinion) an absolutely unavoidable consideration for long-term enjoyment. EvE is no exception.

What’s different about EvE is that one of the ways players choose to play with others is by blowing them up, which (again, my opinion) makes EvE a lot more like ‘normal’ games (Chess, Monopoly, Clue, Cribbage, et cetera) than a typical MMO, because a lot of the fun you’re having comes from pitting yourselves directly against other people.

In fact, if you can find other people to pit yourself against, that’s really all you need; there’s no ‘raid gear’ requirement or level-cap. Aside from being vastly outnumbered or outgunned, if you can find an opponent, the rest boils down to — in the words of Fezzik — “skill against skill alone.”

[Fezzik demonstrates what it’s like to fight a frigate while piloting a battleship. Fezzik needs a small drone bay.]

Consider: once a player-versus-player game is sufficiently honed, balanced, and functional, it doesn’t require regular infusions of content to remain interesting and entertaining. Witness: Go. Diplomacy. Risk. By contrast, MMO’s require constant content infusion; a fact which is changing the gaming industry as a whole (even those parts unrelated to MMOs) into a Ongoing Service industry.

In terms of 'content', this, rather than WoW, is the game EvE most seeks to emulate. If you don't believe me, compare a picture of a Go game in progress to EvE's Sovereignty Map.

Anyway, in EvE, we have a situation where conflict with (or the potential for conflict with) other players can be a powerful fulcrum that allows the creation of a lot of ‘stuff to do’ with very little effort (by the developers) once all the pieces are created and functioning properly; the content comes from the other people playing.

(Which not to say that EvE is functioning with the flawless balance of a Go board, though perhaps parts of it are. Witness wormholes, which were introduced in EvE 35 months ago (read: 90 years in internet time) and have since, in terms of code and content, remained virtually untouched by developers, yet continue to pull in more players every day through the powerful attractive force generated by providing self-sustaining and well-designed tools for personal agency. More on that agency in a later post.)

It’s also the reason why the most recent Crucible expansion got EvE players so excited, even though (by a typical MMO’s definition of the term) there was no (or very little) new content (read: new “stuff to do”). Almost the entire expansion consisted of Quality of Life improvements and bug fixes — it was a honing of EvE’s version of the Go board, and it thrilled the player base simply because it would let them play the game they already loved, better.

What do you get an avid Go player who already has a board and pieces?

A nicer board with higher quality pieces.

That’s Crucible.

Star Wars: The Old Republic — The Question of PvP

A few days ago, Fogsong wrote:

Star Wars: The Old Republic. My LoTRO guild is debating whether to go with a Player vs Player (PvP) server or Player vs Environment (PvE) server. We are caught on the horns of dilemma – we want to be able to quest and experience the story but also [want to] have a strong and active PvP experience. We have gleaned everything we can about Warzones, Huttball, open world PvP on the various planets (Alderaan, Illum and vague mention of others). I don’t have any experience with MMO’s beyond LoTRO so I find it hard to decipher what everyone is talking about regarding PvP or why the pluses/minuses are important.

So – question – have you decided how you are going to start out with SWTOR (Faction, class and server type)? And if you have, would you be willing to share your thoughts?

Would I be willing to share my thoughts?

I think we all know the answer to that


George Lucas enjoys a number of hobbies, one of which involves methodically excising joy from my childhood memories, and another of which centers on the practice of claiming that Star Wars was always essentially a series of stories aimed at five-year-olds.

Which even an actual five-year-old will tell you is complete bullshit.

In New Hope, a ship is boarded, gunfire exchanged, and rebel soldiers are left stacked in the hallway like cordwood. Guys get strangled to death. The protagonist’s family is executed, their charred bodies left to claw at Tatooine’s pitiless sky. A genial old man lops off a guy’s arm for starting a bar fight. HAN SHOOTS FIRST. A princess gets tortured by a droid specifically designed for that express purpose. A planet with billions of people on it is blown up. A kind old grandpa figure gets cut down after he lowers his weapon.

And a space station with tens of thousands of people on it is blown up… by the good guy.

Yes, George: Nick Jr. should pick this shit up for adaptation immediately.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Star Wars is a pretty violent story that pivots on a fulcrum built entirely on conflict between the Empire (nee Sith) and Republic. In my opinion, any game based on Star Wars needs to reflect that reality and, for an MMO, that means putting a lot of thought into Player Versus Player conflicts.

I haven’t looked too hard at all the (hours of) press on this subject, but let’s take care of that right now and take look at what Star Wars: The Old Republic is offering.

First off, it looks like there are three server types:

Player-vs-Environment (PvE) servers can be considered representative of the standard play style and rule set. The focus on PvE servers is on experiencing the story and working with friends against the non-player enemies in the game world.

Player-vs-Player (PvP) servers have a slightly different rule set as PvE servers. On a PvP server, players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.

Role-Playing (RP) servers use the standard PvE rule set, but are identified as great places for players who enjoy acting out their characters in the game world to congregate and find other like-minded players.

My immediate reactions:

  • That’s really just two server types.
  • It’s a damn shame (and kind of a headscratcher) why they didn’t make any PvP RP servers.

Okay, beyond that, I’ll say that this breakdown looks a lot like the way WoW does it (no surprise there: BioWare modeled a lot of WoW’s successful structures) — the PvE servers are going to restrict their PvP options to instanced mini-games (more on those in a minute) and (I would guess) 1 on 1 duels.

Conversely, the PvP servers will allow ‘open world’ PvP to occur, in addition to the instanced mini-games. The way they word the description is interesting: “players may be attacked by other players from the opposing faction in more areas of the game world.”  I can’t really find anything that definitively states what “more areas” means — some folks who really hate open-world PvP predict you’ll get ganked anywhere outside of the starting areas. Other folks seem to think that it’ll be “non-civilized” places. No one official has actually said, as near as I can tell, but I imagine it’ll be a lot like WoW: open PvP outside of the starter zones, with certain areas (Coruscant, most bars) made safe(r) by patrolling them with many dangerous NPC guards who shoot any rabble-rousers if they start trouble.

What do I think?
Well, let’s compare this set up to some of the games I’ve played, from least to most PvP-centric.

  • Wizard 101 only has arena duels, accessible from a single static location. The duels have no effect on the storyline in the game as a whole, and there is no threat of PvP anywhere in the actual game world. Winner: Star Wars. (Though the duels can be entertaining.)
  • City of Heroes has really pathetic arenas accessible in a few static locations and some interesting but cut-off zones that allow PvP, neither of which allow you to influence anything that’s going on anywhere else in the game world. Advantage: Star Wars. Barely.
  • WoW does basically what Star Wars does, so call it a wash… except WoW has RP-PvP servers for the guys who want to monologue when they turn you into a sheep.
  • Lord of the Rings Online allows impromptu 1 on 1 duels, and has a PvP-only zone where you fight players running “Monster” characters (orcs, shamans, wargs, giant spiders, et cetera). Successfully holding these lands gives the entire server’s “Hero” player population XP and damage boosts, or gives the monsters boosts if the Ettenmoors are held by Sauron’s forces, so while you’re not affecting the overall storyline, you are affecting the whole “world”. Advantage? I’m going with LotRO in regards to the way it lets you affect the world, but with Star Wars for making the PvP more accessible with the minigames.
  • EVE Online lets you attack people pretty much wherever you like, provided you’re prepared to deal with the consequences. PvP has huge impact on the game world both at micro- and macro-levels;  you can literally take another guy’s stuff away, permanently, or in fact take hundreds if not thousands of guys’ stuff away. IF (and that’s a big if) you’re into that, there is no comparable experience in MMOs: it makes your losses sting more and makes the stuff you manage to hold onto that much more precious. Near death experiences have that affect. Advantage: EVE, provided it’s not something you’d flat out hate.

What am I Doing?
Like Fogsong, I’m going where my LotRO kinship is going. In this case, that means that the players I know will be playing their Republic characters on a PvE RP server, and their Empire characters on a PvP server. I look forward to experiencing the differences first-hand.

Wait… What about those mini-games?

Right! What about them? What’s going on there?

War Zones
War Zones are specifically tailored for team versus team combat, and players will experience fierce battles between the Republic and Empire, evoking memories of the famous Star Wars ground conflicts. This week we announced that the first War Zone will be located in the majestic mountains of Alderaan. Players will join their allegiance’s fight for control of several important areas. Over time we’ll reveal more information about the Player versus Player experiences in The Old Republic.

Basically, that sounds like fun: sort of WoW’s Arathi Basin with controllable turrets; instances you can sign up for, get queued into, and then fight. The major pros are that it is quite convenient and keeps matches even.  The cons are that it’s basically a mini-game with (outside the ability to earn gear that’s good for PvP) no influence on the outside world. I want my victories (and losses) on Alderaan to resonate through the rest of the world – to have some kind of impact. Maybe that’s EVE spoiling me a bit, but it is what it is.

On the face of it, though, the Alderaan battlezone seems like fun and (unlike the capture-the-flag, Bloodbowl-with-lightsabers joke that is the Huttball “war zone”) is something I could see my guys participating in from a roleplay point of view.

(Seriously, though: why the hell would a jedi ever sign up to play Huttball? Anyway…)

I’ve also heard good things about one of the other war zones, and rumors of a ship combat one, which both makes me happy (ship fights in Star Wars!) and sad (how ephemeral must the premise be if you can just “hit space and respawn” when you get your whole frakking ship blown up?)

All in all, I think the warzones will add some fun stuff to do in the game — it’s nice to queue up for 20 minutes of quick violence whenever you want. With that said, I would like the PvP to have more bite than it does in most WoW regions (which is SW:TOR’s strongest model): at the very least, I’d like to see something like what LotRO does with the Ettenmoors, where you affect the ‘outside’ world when your side is winning; but my pie-in-the-sky dream on a PvP server would be able to take over “control points” on a given planet (or in a given system) and seriously bottleneck access for the opposite faction (see: the control points in LotRO’s Annuminas area).

What Are You Going to Be Playing?
In traditional MMOs, I tend to make a tank first, then ranged DPS, then support. On the Republic side, that looks like a Trooper, a Jedi Consular, and probably a Smuggler or Scoundrel or whatever they’re called. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do on the Empire side, but since it’ll be on a PvP server, I suspect an Imperial Agent will be my first option (so I have stealth options for getting around the world), a bounty hunter, and one of the melee sith guys if I decide I hate myself that much.

But I reserve the right to change my mind based on which classes get the coolest companions, because this is a BioWare game, and ultimately that’s the part I’m really going to be into.

Life in a Wormhole: “What Do I Need to Bring?” #eveonline

We’re back to talking about living in a wormhole for the first time, the way we did with the ship fitting post. It’s a topic that’s come up with our potential new members/old friends, and it’s a question I’ve been asked in the comments a couple times, so I’m going to try to answer it without making a huge guide.

Note: Some of the things I mention won’t be things you need to worry about, because you’re joining someone else in a wormhole that’s already been settled. Fine. Don’t fret; just skip that part and move on.

So, the Question:

“I’m moving into a wormhole. What do I need?”

I’m going to answer this as though talking to someone moving into a c1 or c2, aiming (mostly) to just shoot sleepers and have some fun of the type I tend to describe on this blog. I don’t mine much, I don’t make tech 3 cruisers, I don’t make boosters, I don’t run a mercenary PvP corp. You should already know this about me.

1. Reading Material

I did a lot of reading on wormhole living before I took even my preliminary test-plunge (living out of an Orca for a week), and then I re-read that material after I got into the wormhole as well. Here are the reference documents I found particularly helpful:

  • Living in a Wormhole, from the Eve University Wiki. This page covers the basics, and covers them quite well.
  • The Wurmhole Bible. Tongue in Cheek, but no less valuable for that.
  • Killing in the Hole, a Guide to wormhole PvP. Good information on the basic mechanics of how wormholes work and how not to paint yourself into a corner when the time comes to heat the guns up.
  • Tiger Ears – an online journal of a pilot in wormhole space. Penny is a PvP enthusiast, and I find the posts incredibly educational, entertaining, and interesting. Sometimes, the post shows me something I need to watch out for when dealing with potential predators in our wormhole; sometimes they give me an idea about something I can try when it comes time to blow up a vagrant in our system; and sometimes they’re yet another tip about how to improve my scanning skills. In all cases, they’re a bright spot in my GReader stream.
  • Dude, where’s my wormhole? – A post by Penny’s “fearless leader”, Finn, on how to manually and purposefully collapse a wormhole you’d rather not have in your system. Situational, but no less valuable for that.
  • Finally, for scanning and exploration, I made heavy use of the Wormhole Systems Database to tell me about whatever system I find myself and Wormnav to give me an idea of the level of recent activity in both our wormhole and any connecting systems (it helps to know if there’s been a lot of violence in a system I’m about to explore, and the direct links to EVE killboards is invaluable.

2. Skills

Note, this is just for your main character.

  • At a minimum, have Astrometics to level 4 and Astrometric Rangefinding, Astrometric Pinpointing and Astrometric Acquisition to level 3 each.
  • All the skills and support skills necessary to fly an appropriate PvE ship without getting blown up in a Sleeper site. In a C2, that means a battlecruiser, very likely shield-tanked and able to withstand AT LEAST 350dps of Omni damage (preferably 420), while still able to put out about 200 dps, minimum.  If you don’t want to bring a battlecruiser, bring something comparable or better.
    • For even a new pilot, this means that if there is a skill – any skill at all – that affects your effectiveness in your chosen ship, the very least of those skills should be at least a 3, and many of not most should be 4 or 5. New pilots should then improve from there.
  • Most if not all all the regulars should have Anchoring to level 3, which lets you anchor any POS equipment. Also, as soon as you can bear it, at least one of you should also continue to train Anchoring to 5 to get:
  • Starbase Defense Management. This lets you take control of the tower guns directly, rather than letting them randomly (and stupidly) select targets.
Less-critical but good-to-have skills include:
  • Salvaging, Hacking, and Archaeology, all at least 4.
  • Gas Mining at 5, which will let you make great money from Ladar sites.
  • Some kind of industrial ship skill at 4.
  • Some skill set that lets you contribute in PvP, whether that’s as a dedicated tackler, ECM, remote repair, or whatever.
Also:
  • Take five days out of your training queue and train a scanning alt. Their job is to sit in a tech1 scanning frigate and to never log on… until something goes wrong and you’re stranded outside your wormhole. Then you wait out whatever stranded you, log them in, and scan down the entrance that will get you back in. They need:
    • Astrometics to level 4 and Astrometric RangefindingAstrometric Pinpointing and Astrometric Acquisition to level 3 each.
    • An appropriately fitted, cloakable, tech1 scanning ship.

3. POS Tower

As I mentioned here, you’re better off avoiding small and medium towers in favor of a regular sized tower, simply because it lets you mount an effective defense/discouragement. For some good albeit dated info on POSes, check out A Guide to Player-Owned Structures, and related to that, download My POS, which is both a sort of Fitting Tool for your POS, and helps you calculate how much fuel you’ll need, and how much that fuel will cost to buy.

4. Tower Modules

At a minimum, that means:

  • A Corporation Hangar Array
  • Ship Maintenance Bay
  • Defensive POS Modules
    • Shield hardeners, enough to get your shields resistances up around the mid 40s to mid 50s, with sufficient offline backups that you could online them and dial the resists up even higher if need be.
    • 3 to 4 ECM modules of each of the four types online, with some offline modules ready to be brought online if needed.
    • A couple Warp Scramblers (Disruptors take too much power grid and give you range you don’t really need.)
    • At least one Energy Neutralizing Battery, because it makes people cry.
  • Offensive POS Modules
    • In a C2, I think that means at least 4 medium long-range guns (meaning, for example, Artillery, not Autocannons) and 4 small long-range guns, with at least that many identical guns, also loaded, Anchored, but not online.

Note: All this necessary only if you intend to move into the system semi-permanently. If you’re just doing a little short-term sleeper salvaging, you might be able to just forget the POS and use a cloaky Orca as a mini/mobile-POS.

5. Fuel for POS

In practice, try to keep at least 20 days of fuel in the tower, twice that on hand for refuels, and start talking about how and when you’ll do refuels when you get within two weeks of running out on your BACKUP supply (meaning: roughly 5 weeks before you’d actually run out).

And don’t forget the Strontium.

6. Ships

I already talked about this, but in brief:

  • A PvE battlecruiser or something comparable. Drakes and Hurricanes are easy. Myrmidons are easy if you don’t mind going with weird guns. Harbingers and laser-boats in general are hard. Passive-regen shield tanks are easy to make work; armor-repair tanks are REALLY DIFFICULT.
    • Put a damn probe launcher on it.
  • Whatever you like flying best for PvP. Probably with a backup.
  • Ship Modules: mostly for making refitting tweaks for various specialized activities. These might include:
    • A dozen probe launchers
    • A half-dozen prototype cloaking modules
    • A half-dozen remote armor and hull repair modules that you can strap on temporarily to fix up any ships or drones that get dinged up.
    • A half-dozen analyzers, salvagers, and codebreakers.
    • Other stuff that I’ve forgotten, like warp core stabilizers and cargo bay expanders.
  • Scanning Ships (T1 and T2)
    • Two rigs that boost your scan strength
    • Probe launcher (expanded, if you can fit it) and an appropriate cloaking device.
    • Whatever else you want. I usually fit mine out with an analyzer, codebreaker, and a Warp Disruptor (for emergencies).
  • Mining Ships, if that’s something you do.
  • Gas Harvesting Ships, which I’ve already talked about.
  • A dedicated salvaging ship, typically a destroyer. I use 3 tractor beams, 3 salvagers, a cloak, a probe launcher, as many salvaging rigs as I can fit, and a microwarpdrive to get around. Season to taste. (If you don’t mind investing (and, thus, risking) more ISK, you may want to bring in a Noctis, but that’s a pricey ship to risk until you feel like you have a handle on Wormhole living.)
  • Something big enough to haul POS fuel in. Ideally, you want a Deep Space Transport, but a “level 4” tech1 industrial with a couple warp core stabilizers on will work if you’re careful. (Put a probe launcher and cloak on the damned thing in case you get stranded somewhere.)
For the Advanced Class:
  • An Orca and a Battleship, both with afterburners or MWDs on, so you can collapse wormholes when you want to and control access to your hole more effectively.

7. Skill Books

Don’t go crazy here, but pick up whatever you think you’re training toward now, so you can start in on it as soon as the skill opens up. Yes. Do that. But don’t go crazy.

Oh yeah, while I’m thinking of it: get yourself into a cheap clone with +3 skill wires at most.

8. Ammo/Drones/Consumables

  • At least 100,000 rounds of short-range, high-damage ammo of the appropriate size for your Offensive POS Modules. (Yes: long-range guns firing short range ammo — the best combination of reach and damage for a POS.)
  • 100,000 rounds of whatever ammo type(s) your PvE ship will require. Sleepers fight at either 15 kilometers, moving really fast, or 55+ kilometers, moving pretty slow. Bring appropriate ammo.
  • Probably at about half that much, again, for your PvP ship. (Use logic here: a single bomber doesn’t need 50 thousand torpedoes handy.)
  • Small, fast drones are good, but they pop quick. Don’t send them out until the sleepers are in nice and close, so you can recall them quickly. For distant targets, STRONGLY consider sentry drones, if you have the means to fly a full flight of them, but if not, Valkyries move fast and hit pretty hard. Heavy drones should be reserved for those rare solo battleship spawns.
  • At least a 100 core probes and 100 combat probes, NOT COUNTING the ones already in your scanning ships and loaded into the probe launchers that are on your ships. If you want, splurge on Sisters probes in your main scanning ship — they help.
  • 10 Janitors.

9. Planetary Interaction Command Centers

Pick the ones appropriate for the planets in your system. If you manage it right (and get lucky with a system that has the right resources), you can mitigate a significant portion of your fuel costs by making everything but the “Ice-related” fuels inside the wormhole. Don’t ignore this part.

10. A Willingness to Risk Losing a Lot of ISK on an Iffy Venture

You will, and I’m not joking, need to soak a LOT of cash into this endeavor to start the first one up. Go back and read my posts about our first set up. There is a lot of time and effort involved, but there is also a lot of money involved.

Our initial outlay was roughly 1.5 billion isk, not counting the 0.5 billion (at least) we spent on crap we didn’t need and ships we never flew.

Fuel will run you anywhere from 200 million to 450 million a month, even with perfect PI. 200 million is probably the BEST case.

Will you make enough money to (eventually) pay for the fuel? Yes. Totally. You can do that in one or two good nights.

Will you make enough to pay back all those initial expenses?

Probably? If you’re careful and rash in the appropriate ratio? Yes.

Maybe.

Probably maybe.

You’ll just have to see.

What Did I Forget?

I have no idea; check the comments.

Life (in a Wormhole) Goes on… #eveonline

So I’m still playing Eve.

I’m still enjoying playing Eve, more importantly.

But I think I’m going to slow down from posting daily reports for a little while. There are a couple reasons.

Gotta Play if I’m Going to Write About It

My play schedule on EVE will (I suspect) get a bit less regular for awhile. Honestly, it already has — I’ve only been online for more than a few minutes twice in the last week — and even though the actual play reports are time-shifted a couple of weeks, I still need to to actually play if I’m going to… you know… report on it.

I’m totally enjoying the time I’m spending when I play – don’t get me wrong – but I know it’s going to continue in the current pattern.

Got Other Writing to Do

I’m lucky in that I know my own mental malfunctions well enough to make use of them. I’m obsessed with Eve? I need to make sure I’m getting some writing done? Solution: Write about Eve. It’s not the best writing ever, because I’m basically just keeping a diary, but I’ve put at least a thousand if not two or three thousand words down every single day for the last three months, which is a good way to get myself back into the habit after the arrival of Stormaggedon the  Schedule-Wrecking Baby.

"Foolish humans: You think you can string together a coherent thought in MY presence?!?"

Anyway, I believe I’m now firmly back in the writing habit, as they say, and there’s some other writing I need to get done. (Specifically, losing the two “big mid-point climax” chapters the current novel much killed my desire to write that story for a long while, and I need to suck it up, rewrite the stuff I lost, and move the fuck on.)

Got Other Games to Play

One of the reasons I didn’t play a lot of EVE this weekend specifically was because I was playing Wizard 101 with my daughter, and you know what? I loved it. I loved playing it with her and as an added bonus I just plain like playing it even when Kaylee isn’t. It’s a good game I happen to be paying a monthly, family-wife subscription on, so it makes sense to spend some time on it.

Also, I don’t know if you heard, but LotRO has a new release out, and I’m looking forward to spending play-time with my wife, instead of kind of… near my wife, while she does something else entirely. LotRO is a thing that makes that happen.

Light side, dark side... I'm the guy with the gun.

Plus, come the end of the year, Star Wars: The Old Republic is coming out, and damned if I’m not going to jump into that bad boy with both feet and a mighty war whoop. What BioWare is doing with this property is renewing my faith in gaming, people.

Speaking of which…

Got Other Other Games to Play

Time was when a man could schedule a weekly game night in his house and people would show up and BY GUM play games! Aliens got shot! Scholarly elves got foot-long chunks of wood stuck in their posteriors! Sexy, extra-polite dwarf ladies wooed Full-contact Ninepin players! I remember those days fondly.

Dimly. Very dimly, but fondly.

The holidays (and don’t kid yourself: we’re basically at the start of the holiday season) are the WORST POSSIBLE TIME to get that practice starting again, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try, so that (if nothing else) we can get rolling properly in the new year.

I Repeat: Still Love EVE

I do. I really, really do. Just not going to write about it every day, right now. This may disappoint some; it will definitely relieve others.

I mean, I’ve been doing this for three solid months, now. I think that’s good for now.

At least until I have another good story to tell.

Until then, those of you who know how to find me in the game can still find me, and if not, leave a comment here. I’m not leaving wormhole life anytime soon (if ever), so if nothing else I’ll always be able to talk about that; it’s my favorite part of the game, and possibly my favorite part of any game I’ve played — controlling exactly what you want your game to be? That’s good stuff.

The best part about flying is knowing you can do your own thing if you want.

Life in a Wormhole: A Brief Retrospective #eveonline

There’s very little left to do after our marathon system take-down yesterday, which is really good news for me, since I’m a bit knackered. Berke heads back on a short trip to pick up the last of the ships we parked just outside the wormhole exit, and Tira is idling in deep space within the wormhole system itself to give us a chance to sell off the wormhole (if we can find a buyer), so there’s not much for me to do but write up an advertisement.

Class Two wormhole with persistent connections to highsec and Class One wormhole space. Convenient access, lots of fun isk-making opportunities and the perfect system for your first foray into Anoikis.

Short, simple, and to the point, but after two months of time spent, do I think it’s really true?

Ultimately, that answer has to be yes. Life in a wormhole has easily been the most fun I’ve ever had in EVE, and while there were downsides to that particular system, there were upsides as well. The persistent connection to highsec (and the fact that we opened that connection every day, which in hindsight invited some problems) meant that tourist traffic was high, which lead to more than a few mishaps and ship losses, but at the same time having quick and easy access to known space meant we could easily compensate for any oversights we made in ship selection or supplies. Would we want or need that easy level of access now? No, but for a bunch of first-timers, it was invaluable.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the persistent connection to class one space due to the fact that it was a real pain in the neck to collapse if it turned out we were connected to a crappy system, but in general it worked out really well as a way for any one of us to easily find something to shoot when we were solo.

We could easily have made the system work for us for the foreseeable future, but ultimately I believe that the move we’re making is going to be a positive one. It connects us with like-minded individuals who don’t seem to spend too much time checking their e-penis length in the mirror, and helps us become a part of activities and operations we might never otherwise experience.

And, speaking strictly for myself, I’m looking forward to sharing the system with a few additional folks, if only because it will let me relax a bit and (sometimes, for example) let the scanning duties for the day fall on someone else’s shoulders.

I’m also excited about being somewhere that’s generally always going to be part of a larger “constellation” of systems — I enjoy exploring just for the sake of exploring, and this will give me the chance to indulge that inclination. I can’t wait.

Well, actually, I can. I’m tired, our guests are still in town and patiently waiting to head out for another day of adventure, so I send off the ad, log out, and leave Tira and Berke to their wrap-up activities. There’s plenty for me to do, but it can all wait.

Maybe I’ll go have a nap…

What to play, what to play…

De’s providing all my material lately.

This weekend, she writes me and says: get to start GMing here shortly. What indie RPG should I take a look at, that we haven’t played? High story, low/medium number crunching, run it for about six sessions before we decide whether to keep going/try something else.

So De’s played Burning Wheel with me, which is certainly on the high end of number crunch. Also In a Wicked Age, though not Dogs. The Shab al-Hiri Roach. The Mountain Witch. Spirit of the Century. Stuff like that. Assume she’ll be playing with Lee, who tends to like stuff that’s a little more trad in how it expresses characters, cuz he’s old school awesome.

The problem: I have a 7 month old, so I basically haven’t played anything but Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Castle Ravenloft in the last (feels like a) year. Therefore, I can’t knowledgeably recommend stuff like Apocalypse World or Dungeon World or whatever the current hotness of trad-like indie gaming is. I believe them to be awesome, but I don’t know for sure.

What I do know, however are the things I put on my “OMG I Wanna Play This” list before Sean was born. So I grabbed the ones on there that looked like they’d meet her criteria, and when it was all done it looked halfway useful for more than just her, so:

Some Cool Games to Play

De didn’t specify genre, so this list is all over the place. Only thing you’re not seeing on here is Fantasy, because for that I like Burning Wheel too much, and it doesn’t meet her criteria. Still: Burning Wheel Gold.
  • Suspense/Horror – Dread:  It’s good. It works for what it wants to do. Also gives you an excuse to buy Jenga.
  • Shooting Aliens and the Human Condition – 3:16 – Carnage Amongst the Stars  – Space Marines kill aliens, get shafted by the Government, and eventually (over the course of the campaign) flip out or rebel against The Man or something. Super-simple mechanics. The damage die determines how many aliens you kill, not the damage you do. We played this once on a pick-up game night last year, and my only complaint was that we didn’t play it more – I wanted to see who was going to gank who, and who was going to try to fly home and take revenge on COMMAND.
  • MI5 + sitcom vs. Cthulu – The Laundry: Based on the book series. Yes, that one, Dave.  Very fun, very functional game that a lot of folks are saying nice, happy things about. See also Gareth’s brilliant supplement, Black Bag Jobs.
  • Leverage, the RPG: In another era, this would be called Cons & Capers. Good system, much-loved by the gamerati, somewhat restricted by the necessities of the genre, and could probably be hacked into a fun espionage serial missions game with little effort.
  • Smallville RPG: I know what you’re thinking, but by all accounts (and I do mean all) this game is probably one of the best that came out last year. It’s good, it’s easy, it’s written by damn smart people, and it kicks out good stories. Also fairly easily reskinned for other genres, like Buffy or what have you.
There are a few more, like Fiasco, that I really want to try. I’m reading that one right now, so more on that later.
Anyone out there have good suggestions of new hotness to check out? How’s Apocalypse World?

“What do you Get out of it?” #eveonline

So last weekend, De asked me what it is that I get out of EVE; what the payoff is for me.

She definitely wasn’t looking to be sold on the game, because she knows herself well enough to know that there’s really no way she’s going to be sold on the game. Hell, I know that much.

So she was very specifically looking for some kind of insight into why I seem to be enjoying the game so much. On the one hand, I’m a gamer right down at my very core — I just like games, especially certain kinds of games — so looked at from that point of view, it’s hardly remarkable that I’m into a game. For that matter, given my personality, it’s not even that remarkable that I’m obsessing a bit about it.

However, I play a lot of games, and I don’t write about all of em.

Sure, I do actual play reports on table top RPGs I play, but those tend to be unique, non-repeatable situations — I don’t write about sessions of Castle Ravenloft, or Bang, or Jungle Speed, because while those are fun experiences, they are repeatable, commonly-held experiences that will not vary tremendously from anyone else’s sessions of the same games. When it comes to a game like that, I can pretty much say “we played Shadows Over Camelot and liked it“, and everyone who’s played SoC will nod and know pretty much exactly the sort of experience we had at the table.

The same can be said about a lot of the MMOs that I play. If I’m writing something about Wizard 101, I can pretty much say “We went to Marleybone and did the whole questline series there”, and everyone who’s played Wizard 101 will nod and know pretty much exactly the sort of experience we had. If I write at length about Wizard 101, it will be about the singular and special experience of playing an MMO with my daughter for the first time, and how much fun that is for me, because (a) that’s the really awesome part and (b) it’s the part that’s different from everyone else’s experience.

Ditto for Lord of the Rings — much as I love the game (and I do, truly, love that game), the gameplay itself will be close to the the same for me as it is for anyone else. I can say “I ran all the quests in Evendim this weekend”, and that’s a Known Thing. In that case, the only real difference is the people I play with and the socialization — it’s multiplayer for a reason, after all: that’s the GOOD part.

So then there’s EVE, which I’m not playing with my daughter or with a really large group of awesome folks (like LotRO). I’m often doing stuff online by myself, or with just one or two other guys.

So why write about it?

Put simply it’s because in EVE, as in those table top RPG sessions from which I do recount individual events (Burning Wheel, Diaspora, or whatever), the actual day-to-day stuff that happens in EVE is singular and personal. There are 30 or 40 or 50 thousand people on at any given time on the single live server, and yet I know beyond any doubt that no one is doing exactly what I am doing; the experience itself — my experience — is wholly unique.

And somehow, I feel that when I’m playing, and it gets me excited about the game. Further, it makes me want to, if not tell people about it, then at least record it.

It’s possible that I’m imagining this sense of having a unique, personal experience, but I don’t think I am. I’m getting a lot of feedback on the posts of writing, both from people who don’t (and probably never will) play EVE, and from players with characters who’ve been around since 2003, and that feedback is largely very positive and (I think this is telling) with the veteran playerbase, it gets people excited about playing the game.

I’m a fairly old character, just getting back from a break. I’ve done just about everything in EVE: missioning, mining, highsec wars, ganking, faction warfare, 0.0, incursions; everything except wormholes (spare a couple short expeditions). I’ve been debating what to try next, and that seems like just the thing.

I find your posts interesting to read, and I’ve read several other posts from your blog as well (but mostly the EVE stuff). I’ve even related the content of some of your stories to other non-eve-playing friends (the day you chased the frisbee) in order to illustrate some of the ups and downs of EVE to them.

You give me hope that I might, one day, get my small group of noobs safely into a WH.

These are folks who’ve been playing, in some cases, for years. I’ve been playing about seven months.

Imagine a player in LotRO talking to someone who’s been playing since the first beta of the game — what are the odds they’re going to be able to tell them stories or really anything about the game that that veteran player doesn’t already know — hasn’t in fact already experienced one or a dozen times themselves, firsthand? Slim. Vanishingly slim.

But that’s EVE. Everytime you play is different in some way – small or large – from every other player’s experience.

That’s most of it. There’s other stuff, like nerding out about fitting ships (reminds me of all the late nights we spent in college playing Battletech and Mechwarrior) and all that kind of stuff, but basically?

Basically, that’s the part I like.

Life in a Wormhole: Compare and Contrast #eveonline

I’m back from our first vacation of the summer, reflecting on how much nicer 95 degrees is when you don’t have to deal with humidity, and getting caught up on my to-dos with both Ty and Bre, who are in different locations at the moment — something I’m not entirely happy about.

Y’see, for a long time, Bre and Ty were active in the same areas of High security space, and it worked out pretty well — Bre was always going to be a frigate specialist, but when she got into covert ops frigates (and, from there, to training stuff for stealth bombers), she actually got pretty good at heavy missiles, so I took a short detour with her to get her into Drake-class battlecruisers, and started bringing her along on Ty’s missions for added firepower, which worked out quite well.

However, for various reasons, I decided I wanted to spend a little time learning more about about PvP in EVE, so I signed up Bre for OUCH (Open University of Celestial Hardship), studies which took her away from Highsec and into Nullsec space in the Curse region. My focus was split between Highsec (where Ty and CB and Gor remained) and nullsec (where Bre was learning how to kill big expensive ships with cheap little ships), but honestly that was fine, because if I really needed Bre to hop back to highsec, she could do that via a clonejump — I just kept a few mission-running ships around for her to fly, and left all the PvP stuff for her out in Curse. Like I said: fine.

I enjoyed my time in Curse with Bre, and when my time with OUCH was done, I decided to try to search out a good corporation for her in that region, so she could stay. I found one and, after a little preliminary getting-to-know-you, made a BIG effort to move a LOT of Bre’s gear out to Curse — DEEP into Curse; gear that had, until this point, remained in cold storage back in highsec.

Again, fine.

But then, not very long after I did this, Ty got the information about the wormhole that we now call home. During that first weekend, it was all hands on deck, and I clonejumped Bre out of Curse so that she could fly lookout in CovOps ships and provide some Electronic Warfare support if we got jumped while getting the tower up.

Bre hung out and helped immensely in those first few weeks, but once things got settled (and she started getting grumbly evemails about how New People In The Corporation Weren’t Actually Out Doing Stuff with The Corporation), she parked her Buzzard and headed back to Curse. I mean, it might be nice to have everyone in the same place again, but I’d already committed a lot of time and faux-money to move her there; I didn’t really fancy doing the same thing less than three weeks later to move her back out, and didn’t like the idea of explaining that desire to her corpmates, either. Given all that, Bre decided to stick it out and started the long, slow process of raising her personal standings with the Corporations that controlled the region of nullsec in which she was now a resident.

And that was how, after returning from vacation, I found myself making comparisons to the various ‘zones’ in EVE, and evaluating their pros and cons.

I was going to write these comparisons out in a great detail, but luckily a picture has already supplanted my several thousand words.

Hi Sec, where I’d started, isn’t quite a danger-free as the picture implies, but there are strong deterrents in place the preclude you being jumped by a roving band of PC pirates for no reason. With that said, there are two main problems with the area: (1) you *can* be jumped if the pirates decide they have a good enough reason to do so (if the potential gain makes up for the loss of their ship to security forces), and (2) there are a number of loopholes in the way that security enforced, the end result being that the primary PvP going on there is actually just greifing — guys stealing all the loot from your mission because, while you can shoot him if you like, all that will do is give all of that guy’s buddies legal permission to shoot YOU — an escalation that ALWAYS favors the guys who are more prepared for it (the pirate players). Nine times out of ten, High Sec is a PvE experience, but the tenth time will ruin your day if you aren’t ready for it.

Lowsec is like all the worst parts of nullsec and highsec, blended and served up in a chipped spittoon. In EVE, greater risk is supposed to equate to greater reward, but while LowSec has greater risk (players can attack you at will and the local law enforcement is too sparse to do anything but scold them if you happen to be near a station dock), the increase in potential reward is too meager to make it worth it. (Vast asteroid belts go unmined in LowSec because there’s really no good way to protect your crew in that kind of area without some major manpower, and running missions is an invitation to everyone else in the system to please come blow up your ship.) Lowsec is the realm of bargain basement pirates, resting up from a long day of griefing new highsec players and mugging anyone who tries to take a shortcut through “their” system. They’re the petty criminals who don’t have the organization, connections, or nerve to move to nullsec where everyone is ready for violence; guys who pick on new, unprepared players because that’s what they think is fun.

I don’t like lowsec very much.

Much of Nullsec is (allegedly) lawless space that can be taken over and held in sovereignty by player-owned corporations. (There’s also NPC-held Nullsec, which almost the same thing, except the local power is an NPC, you don’t have to deal with politics as much and there are mission agents around.) In theory, this means that any player group can carve out their own chunk of New Eden and make it their own; in practice, what it really means is that nullsec has been carved into massive blocs that rival the size of the NPC Empires in highsec, who then rent out their less-desirable systems, corporate-feudal-style, to smaller corps. Players say that Nullsec is safer than Highsec, and that can actually be true if you’re deep enough in your alliance’s sovereign territory and on good enough terms with the current landlord — you might have to bug out of your mining operation because an enemy raiding gang is headed into your system, but you won’t have to deal with griefers playing with Highsec security loopholes.

And then there’s wormholes.

Gone are sovereignty politics and alliance negotiations; what agreements you make are personal, direct, and largely temporary, simply because you’ll probably never see the other guy again, once your connection to their system collapses. Your hand is always near your gun, because any activity can turn violent, but at the same time you are beholden to no one but your immediate friends and family — your corpmates. Sink or swim, you’re doing exactly what you want, exactly how you want to do it. It’s (perhaps) a bit like Mad Max, and you stay mobile and dangerous in your favorite armored hotrod, or it’s Thunderdome, and you hope like hell the next batch of raiders can’t breach the walls of your barricaded town.

CB says its like living on an island: you get access to all the riches, and if anyone else lands, you know right away that you probably need to shoot them to protect your stuff. There’s no nonsense to it, if you get shot, it’s probably because you weren’t paying attention.

I tend to think of it more like the mythical Old West; which means there’s at least a small chance to be civilized with people (sometimes), but more often than not you just shoot the guy riding up to your camp, assume the local tribes will scalp you, and keep a damn close eye on any strangers in town.

More importantly (to me), no one’s your boss; there are no rings to kiss, no security loopholes that keep some guy untouchable, and no excuse to ever let your guard down.

I like it.

Now, I like living in Nullsec, too… or at least I used to.

The problem is, as Bre slogs through a couple evenings of standings grinding in Angel Cartel nullsec, trying to get to the point where she can get more profitable activities going, all I can think is:

“I’d rather be in the wormhole.”

I just don’t see a way to make that happen without stranding all my stuff.

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family

I grew up in central South Dakota and, as a gamer from an early age (I convinced my folks to buy me the DnD redbox from a Sears catalog when I was nine), had to deal with a lot of flak, thanks largely to SUPER-informative publications like the Chick Tract “Dark Dungeons“, an upbeat little piece that I would find in my locker at school or see in my Sunday School mailbox with fair regularity.

I sometimes voice a fair amount of disdain for living in South Dakota, and you should understand: a lot of my bitterness comes from being the subject of a sort of passive-aggressive, community-wide intervention for about eight years. It got old.

With that said, my parents tended to take a pretty understanding view of the whole thing. I was involved in what I think is commonly known in academic circles as a “shit ton” of extracurricular activities, and my grades were good… in short, hauling around two gigantic, overstuffed gym bags full of DnD hardbacks wasn’t having any detrimental affects on anything other than my overburdened spine, so they general left it alone. (They took a similar approach to my voracious consumption of fantasy and science fiction, to the exclusion of almost all other literature, figuring “it doesn’t really matter what he’s reading, so long as he’s reading.”)

Still, it’s always been a bit of a sticking point with me; a sour note, if you will. It’s one thing (and a good thing) for your parents and extended family to “leave you be” to pursue your own interests, but it’s another thing entirely for them to join you from time to time in this thing that you really enjoy. I certainly knew what that kind of thing felt like, thanks to my time in band, and sports, and theatre productions, but I’d never got my family to sit down with me and help me slay a dragon.

Apparently, that’s always bothered me at least a little bit, because I keep trying to find “my kind” of games that my family might also enjoy; I mean, I know they like games, because we play a lot of them, and always have — my parents’ collection of board games, decks of cards, and domino sets is quite impressive.

Generally, this effort falls far short of success (I don’t even pull the game out, let alone try to play it), but there have been a few bright spots here and there: my dad took to Shadows Over Camelot like a pro, for example: fire gleaming in his eyes as he undertook the destruction of catapults that dared threaten the castle.

There was always the tantalizing opportunity for  success, is what I’m saying.

That opportunity has gotten a lot better as my sister’s kids get older, because they are brilliant and funny and happen to think their uncle is somewhat cool. I’ve played very short games of Shadows and Otherkind with them before, but as I packed for one of my far-too-infrequent visits back home, there was really only one game I considered worth sticking in my backpack.

That game was the shiny new hardback copy of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple that I’d just gotten in the mail days before, written by Daniel Solis and inspired in part by animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender (a big hit with the preteen crowd in my family).

“I brought a game along for us to play,” I told my twelve-year old nephew.

“What kind of game?” he asked.

“Kind of a story-telling game,” I said.

(Now, I’ve gotten a little tired of the “storygame” label that gets slapped on any indie-published game these days, but I want to be clear about this point — Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.)

“But we need a couple people to play,” I said.

‘How many?” he asked.

“A few,” I repled. “We need to get your mom and Grandma to play.”

“Coooooool,” he said.

Getting my nephew on board was the easy part, however, because our limited schedule and (literally) dozens of relatives coming by to visit, hold the new baby, and get caught up meant that we didn’t really have a large window of opportunity.

In fact, it wasn’t until Saturday evening, with our departure looming the next afternoon, that I decided that if the game was going to happen at all, it had to happen Now.

I won’t lie: I pretty much used guilt to get people to participate. In short, my nephew wanted to play, my nephew is awesome and kind of adorable, and anyone who said no would not be disappointing me, but him… which is basically like kicking a puppy.

No one wants to kick a puppy.

So, thanks to that bit of leverage, we got the smaller kids to bed (I’d intended for them to play, but it had just gotten too late) and sat down with my nephew, my wife (a gamer), and my sister and mom, both of whom took their seats protesting that (a) they didn’t get these kinds of games (b) they were absolutely crap at coming up with stories and (c) they were way too tired to think.

I would not be deterred. Passports (character sheets) were handed out, and the super-simple process of character creation began. I explained the process of coming with a pilgrim name, gratefully read example names from the beautiful book, used my own character (whom I’d played while the game was still being playtested) as an example, and in a few minutes we had our pilgrims assembled and ready to deal with the requests for aid being sent to the Flying Temple.

D, my nephew, presented us with Pilgrim Punching Fox, who gets into trouble by trying to solve problems with his lightning fast kung-fu, and who helps people by being clever, fast, nimble, and generally fox-like.

B, his mom and my sister, came up with Pilgrim Stinking Sherpa, who get into trouble because of the overwhelming stench that surrounds her, and helps people by leading them to the best course of action.

J, my mom, eventually worked out Pilgrim Curious Dog, who gets into trouble by poking around in things she shouldn’t, and helps people by being loyal.

K, my wife, introduced Pilgrim Warm House, who gets into trouble by believing unswervingly in True Love, and who helps people by providing shelter.

I brought back Pilgrim Broken Bear (formerly Broken Stone), who gets into trouble by breaking things accidentally, and who helps people by being protective.

The exciting thing: we hadn’t even gotten through character generation before my nephew and sister were kicking in ideas, brainstorming different ways the pilgrims’ Banners (bad points) and Avatars (good points) would work in play, and even making suggestions to J for her character’s name — she’s a literal person, and the metaphors that lie behind most Pilgrim names were a bit too much for her at 10pm, but once we focused on what she wanted (loyalty, for example), and then found a word to go with that, it was easy.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family”

Dude, stop calling it “Wife Aggro”.

“Hang on a sec, guys,” I read in the group chat window, “I’ve got Wife Aggro.”

I’ve read this phrase or something close to it many times over the years, or heard it on Vent or TeamSpeak.

“Hold up: spouse aggro.”

“/afk a minute – baby aggro.”

“Gaaaaaah. Hang on guys I’ve got kid aggro.”

It’s an interesting phrase; one that I’ve given a lot of thought. Let’s break it down a little bit.

We’re probably all familiar with the term ‘aggro’, but let’s go to the Fountain of All Knowledge (Wikipedia) for an official definition.

Hate, aggro, or threat is a mechanism used in many MMOs as well as some RPGs by which non-playing characters (NPCs; such as mobs) prioritize which players to attack. Players who gain the most aggro on an NPC will be attacked by that NPC.

Oh, okay. I see what they’re saying: they’ve done something to attract the anger (or at least unwanted attention) of someone in their home. Okay. That seems… fine, I guess.

But hang on a second: I want to look at one more thing. In the wikipedia page I quoted, there were links over to the definitions of “mobs” as well. Let’s see what it says:

A mob is a computer-controlled non-player character (NPC) in a computer game such as an MMO.

Okay. Seems fairly harmless.

“Mob” may be used to specifically refer to generic monstrous NPCs that the player is expected to hunt and kill, excluding NPCs that engage in dialog or sell items, or who cannot be attacked.

Oh. Hmm.

Named mobs are distinguished by having a proper name rather than being referred to by a general type (“a goblin”, “a citizen”, etc.). Dumb mobs are those capable of no complex behaviors beyond attacking.

*winces*

You know why I’m making that face? Let me see if I can explain.

Someone in my group says “Guys, I have wife aggro. AFK a minute,” and here’s what I hear:

“Fellow Gamers: I have generated unwanted attention from a non-player character. Given the tone of my voice and the words I used, you can assume that (a) this is a generic, non-named mob and (b) it’s not capable of any complex behavior beyond attacking. Give me a moment to take care of this annoying problem, and we can continue to play.”

Dude. DUDE.

You wanna know why your spouse is angry with you? Maybe it’s because you use phrases like “wife aggro”.

Is your spouse a gamer? Then they know what the term means, they know how it’s usually delivered, and they know the type of slobbering, cackling goblin you just grouped them in with. That’s bad.

Is your spouse not a gamer? Then all they know is that you just used the same term to describe them as you use to describe fights with this:

That’s worse.

“But dude, my wife is aggr– I mean… angry with me: what should I do?”

I’m here for, and I understand that you need some help, so let’s break it down in terms I know we’ll all understand. Let’s talk gaming.

Continue reading “Dude, stop calling it “Wife Aggro”.”

Burning Wheel, in Review

With holiday schedules, an incoming bearcub, and all the other insanity that seems to surround the end of the year (I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo), the automatic assumption is that no one will get any face to face gaming done in November and December. I was aiming to buck this trend this year, so I talked to the ‘absolute regulars’ for the Wednesday group and we agreed to switch our biweekly schedule to a weekly schedule, the idea being “if we try to play every week, we might get in almost as much gaming as we would if we played biweekly during normal parts of the year.”

On the whole? It basically worked. We managed to pull off four sessions of Burning Wheel during November and December (if you count the session we spent doing character generation and figuring out our setting). I’m reasonably proud of us for squeezing in that much between everything else going on, and I’m really quite happy with Burning Wheel as a game system.

In October, we’d tried out a little two-session test run that included Randy and De, and it went quite well (albeit with some narrator-summation at the end). When we decided to set the new game in the Pratchett-esque “Wiki World” that a group of us had collectively created in 2008, I was pretty jazzed.

The resulting mini-campaign is the introductory story of a group of semi-famous/semi-notorious members of society in Bodea-Lotnikk, the capitol of the Grand Duchy of Kroon, all of whom had agreed to join a newly created “Ducal Guard” that was in charge of investigating any crimes that might somehow involve more than one of the eighty-six burroughs of the city. Such cross-jurisdictional cases were a real nightmare, due to the varying, contradictory, and often incomprehensible laws of each burrough.

Our three protagonists were an elven historian who wanted to spread the order and clarity of elven law to the other areas of the city, a dwarven noblewoman (now outcast) looking to make such a name for herself that she could return to Sniffleheim draped in glory, and a human… ahh… entrepreneur who’d used his… financial gains… to buy a noble title (and who really can’t help but expose all the many weaknesses in the city’s current law enforcement system).

Their first case involved the murder of a famous dwarven full-contact nine-pins player, the investigation of which took us through three sessions of play and brought us in contact with the city’s nobility, sports hooligans, various nine-pins teams (including the Little Sniffleheim Molerats, Bodean Mudferthings, and the Lotnikk Sandmites), and many of the Burning Wheel sub-systems that I’ve been itching to try out. The tone of the sessions ran somewhere between Terry Prachett’s Night Watch books and an episode of Castle, which is pretty much what we were aiming for.

Can Burning Wheel Even Do Funny?
In short, yes. A slightly longer answer is that Burning Wheel takes the setting completely seriously, even if the setting itself involves crooning molerats, an earring-sized battle axe known as the Wee Prick, bar brawls with gangs of nine-pin hooligans, and extra-dimensional brain-tearing missle weapons that can blow holes in buildings.

Another way to put it is that life can be really funny, but falling off your roof still hurts. Burning Wheel is kind of like that.

Was I satisfied with how the story of the investigation came out? Yes. Would I like to do a lot more with those characters in that setting? Yes (and there’s lots of room for new guards to be introduced). Did we get a nice overview of the system? Yes: we got a couple Duel of Wits in, ended things with a short Fight!, and generally touched most of the systems in the game.

Did we really wring the system out? Not by a country mile. First and most importantly, although they pursued them, none of the character achieved any of the goals associated with their Beliefs — I chalk this up to rookie GM and player mistakes and too much time just learning the rules. Also, our characters started out fairly skilled (a mix of four and five lifepath characters) — as such, three sessions wasn’t really enough to see a ton of change with their characters in terms of skills — the stuff they’re quite good at takes a lot of challenge to improve (we didn’t quite get there in three sessions), and the skills they were learning for the first time (three guardsmen, none of whom had Observation!) didn’t quite get enough of a work out in that period of time to graduate to ‘full’ skills, either.

We were really CLOSE though; I expect that a couple more sessions would have seen several skill improvements and new skills opened up for everyone. The Belief thing just takes practice — and belief-goals that the players really can really push toward actively.

So what’s Burning Wheel like?
It’s not a Story Game. Or it’s the quintessential, fully-functional, armed-and-opertational Story Game. In short, it is exactly what it is, with no apologies for being five years old and often updated and evolved via its later texts. Crunchy combat (yet with no battlemat), highly-tactical social conflicts, SUPER-granual character advancement that basically guarantees you’ll won’t have the skill you need every single time and that the player will ALWAYS have some ‘improvement project’ they’re working on for their character… yet for all that the stuff that really matters — the stuff that informs almost every decision you make when the GM asks “what do you do next?” — is on the very first page of the character sheet — the page where there aren’t any numbers at all.

I kinda love it.

It’s not a perfect game, and it absolutely requires buy-in from everyone at the table (I mean literal buy-in — everyone should have their own copy of the core rules), but it is a game that – by turns – scratches almost every itch I get as a player and GM. Tactics, crunchy dice stuff, story-driven play, and the kind of game where you can actually envision playing the same characters for a long, long time (definitely not a design goal for most story-games).

To say it it supplants my need for traditional RPGs like DnD should go entirely without saying, but it also takes care of a lot of the stuff I’m looking for when I want to play something like Dogs in the Vineyard or The Shadow of Yesterday. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every type of situation (I can’t see pulling it out for one-shots unless it was a sort of con-game scenario like the Library of Worlds), but if I had an idea for a system-agnostic campaign, I think Burning Wheel would be the system I would have to eliminate from the running first, before I considered something else.

Are Virtual Worlds Part of the Cause of our Real-world Recessions?

That’s the question asked in a recent article on Terra Nova, which offers some (very solid) arguments for the idea that our increasing interest and involvement in ‘virtual environments’ (using that term loosely enough to encompass sites like Facebook and Hulu, as well as more obvious examples) is actually affecting our ‘offline’ consumerism to the point where it starts to look like an economic downturn.

Let’s construe the notion of “virtual economy” quite broadly: If you receive an experience by yourself through a machine that runs on digital technology, without doing or buying anything physical (other than press a few buttons), it’s virtual. To [listen to a song on YouTube] is virtual; to go to a concert is real, to buy a CD and play it is real, to play your own instrument is real. The virtual transaction does not require the movement or alteration of anything physical. Not even physical money changes hands. The real transaction involves material being created, moved, consumed, all by human hands.

TV viewing is down among 18-34 year old males, and movie attendance is flat. Meanwhile, more and more time is being spent online or playing videogames. If you want to get 80 hours of fun watching movies, you need $1000. You can get the same fun from a game for $50. Spending time online or playing videogames simply involves less expenditure in the real economy.

The author goes on to make several more telling observations: why spend money on birthday cards when you can send most of your friends a virtual beer and best wishes via a free app on Facebook? Why buy and fill a bunch of photo albums to give friends and family (once one of my wife’s favorite gifts) when you can simply share a Collection on Flickr? How much less are we paying the phone company for ten-minute, long-distance phone calls that we’ve replaced with a couple @-replies on Twitter?

For that matter, consider this scenario: It’s the 1960s, and all of your friends that you currently spend time with online are actually your local friends and neighbors. Let’s assume that you’re seeing them face-to-face just as often as you currently interact with them virtually, and for approximately the same amount of time. How much more would you be spending on clothes? Food (both as a host/guest and eating out)? Entertainment? Gas?

Ten bucks says they aren't shopping for new stuff from Ikea.

Consider for a moment that, less than ten years ago, that sort of situation with that level of consumerism would have been the norm. Given that, it seems inevitable that our time online has a perceptible impact on the economy. Are we causing the recession? Certainly not, but there’s a good chance that virtual environments are one of the invisible, untrackable contributors. Did you spend more gold in Eriador or Azeroth than cash at your local movie theater this weekend? Me too.

The whole article is extremely thought-provoking and interesting, I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but in the meantime, tell me this: what offline activity have you mostly (or entirely) replaced with some online equivalent in the last year or two?

International "Change Your Account Password" Day

Two days ago, hackers gained access to the servers at Gawker Media and, with it, access to the account information of over 200,000 registered users of the various sites that make up the snark-powered outlet.

Yesterday, those same users started to see their (online) lives devolve into chaos. Using the personal information recorded in each Gawker user’s file, the hackers were able to turn around and access entirely unrelated e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and even Paypal and bank accounts.

If you’re inclined, it’s easy to look around the internet today and locate a lot of pointing fingers, all trembling with various levels of rage or disapproval: Gawker’s IT staff made some entirely indefensible security decisions (storing the password information with no encryption); the users who saw their non-Gawker accounts accessed also practiced poor password security; et cetera, ad nauseum.

Now, Gawker has little or nothing to do with the MMO industry (and, like most topics, pays attention to it only long enough to write something snide and forgettable), but their mistake and the plight of their users are relevant to the MMO community, because it reminds us of an important fact: your password security is only as good as that other guy’s password security — as soon as you use a password to build an account with a new site (Twitter, Facebook, or maybe that new free-to-play MMO you want to check out), the security of that password is now in the hands of someone else, which means that it doesn’t (entirely) matter how careful you are; what matters is how careful everyone else is.

And, of course, not everyone else is careful.

So, in honor of the Gawker security debacle, we’re declaring this International Change Your Account Password Day, and reminding you of a couple key points of internet security.

Never Share a Computer Account, and Never Tell Anyone Your Password
It doesn’t matter how trustworthy your friend/sister/brother/bestie/*friend/S.O. may be; the fact is they might accidentally reveal your account password to someone, or they might get angry with you for any number of good or bad reasons and decide that doing something mean to one or all of your virtual selves might be just the way to get back at you.

This is the face of someone who's contemplating the deletion of your level 80 tauren druid because you've left the toilet seat up ONE too many times.

Never Use the Same Password for More than One Account
This is one of the main reasons that so many Gawker users were compromised on sites that had nothing to do with Gawker — they used the same password on multiple sites. Do we do the same thing? Yes. Should we — must we — stop? Yes.

But 'vaderulez' was so easy to remember!

Never Write Down a Password
It’s tough; you need to use many different passwords, but at the same time, you’re not supposed to record them anywhere. We recommend a secure password-management tool, such as LastPass or Roboform.

Never Communicate a Password via Email or Instant Messaging
Remember: your password security is only as good as that other guy’s password security. It doesn’t matter if you keep your information secure if your friend’s email account gets hacked.

Some people just aren't as careful and thoughtful as you.

It’s time to Change your Password(s)

Regularly changing the passwords on your “key accounts” may be pointless, but making sure all those passwords are different definitely is not. We usually think of our email, home or work computers, and banking accounts when we think of “key accounts”, but let’s be honest: we are MMO players, and our characters (and their stuff) are important to us — why not protect them with the same basic care and intelligence as we would our Twitter account?

The end of the year is coming, and with it the chaos of the holidays. Take advantage of a quiet Tuesday, update your passwords, and make sure you won’t have any unpleasant surprises on January 1st.

Burning Wheel (finally)

I got a copy of The Burning Wheel… hmm. My first mention of it on the blog was early 2004, and I know it was the first edition of the rules, so that probably means sometime in 2003.

I read some of it. It intimidated the hell out of me (and turned me off — I was NOT in a good place to read about a super-crunchy rules system back then). I let the pair of books accumulate dust for a long time.

Sometime around 2006 or 2007, I started reading a lot of good things about the revised version of the rules (BW-R), so I ordered the shiny new version.

And tried to read it.

Too much. I let that pair of books accumulate dust alongside their older brothers.

But I kept reading those interesting actual play posts while I ran other games. If it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I really wanted to play the game with some people that understood it before I tried to run it myself. My gaming was taken up with other things — limited gaming time and ever-shrinking schedules meant I was more likely to choose games with a lower level of required brain-investment than BW. The thing with Burning Wheel is that it really requires system familiarity — it is through system knowledge that one achieves nominal – rather than exceptional – performance from one’s character. That’s a little daunting.

I never quite abandoned my interest in the game. Everything I heard about the game sounded – to my tactical-loving side – quite cool, and the raves and praise heaped on the “story” elements of the game (Beliefs and Instincts especially) were just as effusive. But despite all that, it was still a game that took too much time to learn, too much time to prep.

Then came Mouse Guard. A streamlined version of the Burning Wheel engine. The sparest, most elegant iteration of the rules, to date. It was, by all accounts:

  • Accessible to new players.
  • Still a true and excellent representation of the Good Things That Are Burning Wheel.
  • As with BW, strong player-centered focus of play that’s built directly into the rules in numerous ways.
  • As with BW, lots of situation-generating hooks built right into the characters, making running the game easy.
  • Several procedural innovations that make the elements of play that are problematic in other games (high crunch = high prep time) very fast and easy.

I’ve since run MG quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed almost every session immensely, but it’s been hard for me to get my ‘regulars’ to dive into an MG game, basically because of the setting.

But I really wanted to get into that system with them.

So…

Burning Wheel. I felt like MG had been a good primer on the system — I felt like maybe I was ready to understand Burning Wheel. Thus emboldened, I dove into the system. Once the main books were read and grokked, I ordered the rest of the Burning Wheel books: Monster Burner, Magic Burner, and finally the new Adventure Burner, which is basically a 350 page collection of engaging epistles on running Burning Wheel, compiling years of experience and discussion.

On the second page, I read this (paraphrased):

Burning Wheel asks only for an open, honest desire to try it out and see how it works. You may be reluctant, or you may be skeptical — that’s natural, but for the game to have a hope of working, everyone at the table has to say “Let’s give this a fair shot.”

Last night, we finally got to give it a fair shot.

Burning Wheel is a weird critter

On one hand, it is far more character focused and player-driven than a traditional fantasy game, but it uses FAR more intense rules than the nontraditional, “lighter” RPGs I’ve played before, like In a Wicked Age or Shadow of Yesterday or Heroquest or… hell, anything. I’ve mentioned that the rules are crunchy, but they’re crunchy in odd places. For example, there’s no battlemat or miniature rules (honestly, I think they’d confuse things), but there is SUPER HIGHLY DETAILED rules for positioning in combat, weapon length, weapon speed, armor penetration, and all that stuff.

And of course all the major conflicts are resolved through double-blind action scripting, which can be… harrowing.

My Impressions

I loved the way Beliefs and instincts worked. We played a one-shot (that we decided to stretch into a second session next week) with pre-gen characters lacking only a few player-selected items to be finished, but given the Beliefs and Instincts right at the front of the (seven page!) character sheet, everyone had an immediate grasp on their character and started moving things toward the stuff their guy wanted.

Implied Details. Burning Wheel characters are like the game itself — detailed through hints. Burning Wheel has no setting, but the lifepaths (NONE of which have actual descriptions or explanations) very strongly imply a culture and perspective through the skills that are available and the Traits that one gets. The characters are like that — you look at three Instincts like “Always lead prayer at the appropriate hours” and “Always speak my mind” and “Let the slave do the work”, and you have a pretty clear picture of a character — a picture you’ve deduced only via the things they do.

Modular Rules. Burning Wheel rules and the Characters are alike in other ways. The system itself is modular; whole chunks of it can be ignored or simply kept on the side until needed. Likewise, I mentioned the seven page character sheets, but in play we only really looked at the first page (Beliefs and Instincts and Traits (and stats)), and the fourth (skills). Randy had to look at the combat and injury page once, and De had to look at the page where her Faith stuff was at, but they’re outliers: yeah, it’s seven pages. The rules are thousands of pages in total… but most of the time you only need the first chapter.

Color through mechanics. There is very little ‘color fiction’ in the books — almost none, actually. The culture and setting is conveyed through the skills and traits. Likewise, there is very little space on the character sheet for the ‘character concept’ (and that little entry is largely ignored once play starts), but the character’s Beliefs and Instincts and Traits and skills speak volumes  — they are vitally important to play and constantly referenced. Like all good characters in fiction, Burning Wheel characters are best understood by what they do and why.

The game is deep. Not like water is deep, or a philosopher is deep, but like a cave is deep. There are rules in there that won’t get touched for months if not in fact years of continual play. You can do one-shots in Burning Wheel, and short-arc adventures, but this is a game optimally designed for long term play. In fact, I think it would play *best* as a weekly, weeknight game (two and a half to three focused hours) that went on for at least six months.

I also think it would play as well with six players as with one player and one GM. Differently, but just as well. That’s pretty remarkable in itself.

How did the game go?

I’m going to recount the game itself in a second post, but in short I thought it went well. There was a lot of page flipping, and I wussed out on damaging a character at one point, and I feel like Tim was kind of thumb-twiddling for too long during the session, but on the whole it was good, and there was a lot of interesting stuff.

At the end of the night we could have called it complete: we had the shape of the thing in our minds, though no one’s Beliefs/Goals had been resolved.

But the players unanimously decided to come back next week and find out what happens. Plans are being planned — I can see it in their eyes — stuff is going to happen; beliefs are going to be fought for.

I think we have a winner.

(Took me long enough.)

Finding the fun in Star Wars again

Jeffs Gameblog: Episode IV: What we know, what we don’t know.

Some good thinking on the original Star Wars movie.

“Maybe there is no Jedi Order.  Maybe Jedi Knights are exactly like medieval knights: a warrior class sworn to various lords.  Obi-Wan as a vassal of Leia’s father?  Maybe Jedi had a wide range of allegiances, agendas and abilties.  Their martial training and religious devotion to the Force may be the only threads that unify them.”

Comment from S. John Ross:

My childhood image of the clone wars was a war that had been artificially extended by cloning on both (or all) sides … a war that should have burned itself out in a few years, but that dragged on for generations, instead.

So, there wasn’t a good-guy clone army and there wasn’t a bad-guy clone army. There wasn’t even, specifically, a clone army on any side at all … just a war extended by filling the ranks with clones wherever needed to keep the meat-grinder grinding.

Speaking of that, I remember some fun supposing that I got into with a friend of mine before one of our Amber games back in 1996.

We sat around a table at Red Robin and worked out how the current Obi-wan was actually a clone. During the Clone Wars Ben Kenobi (who was closely allied with Organa) was brought down by a half dozen or so clones of himself). He rescued his Lord (Organa) and killed most of the clones, but one of them — the main one: OB-1 — survived and replaced him. After the Wars were done, with no other imperative to pursue, the clone just retired under the assumed persona.

Also, there’s a good post over here about “jedi robes,”

Finally, check out this post for the prologue of Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the original movie.

“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.”
— Leia Organa of Alderaan, Senator

Where am I going with this? Maybe nowhere except a happy place in 1978.

“Is it a ‘supers or ‘comics’ game?”

Gerald (@Linnaeus on Twitter) put together a really good post on the differences between the different games out there that purport to deal with the spandex crowd. I quote:

In a “supers” game, the focus of the rules is on the capabilities of the superheroes. Generally, a list of powers, skills, stunts, and disadvantages define the characters. Play primarily engages the rules during fights, and generating a narrative that resembles what you’d see in a comic book is mostly the result of player buy-in and GM skill. This means that, if the GM doesn’t fight the impulse, play can devolve into a series of fights with minimal connective story tissue (one of the reasons D&D4 gets compared to supers games is this shared tendency, plus it’s focus on tactical map-based combat, which is also a common thread in supers games). You may see secondary mechanics – Mutants & Masterminds’ Hero Points and Icons’ Aspects for example – which point at the story, but they often have uses focused on fight scenes, too.

In a “comic book” RPG, the rules tend to emphasize producing fictional tropes found in the type of superhero story the game is designed to emulate. Superpowers are typically more abstracted than they are in “supers” games, although some comic book games– Truth & Justice, for instance – still include catalogues of superpowers. Fights are often a specialized form of conflict, less tactical and have mechanics that feed the results of the combat back into other, story-oriented mechanics. Despite the label I’ve given, the source material doesn’t have to be comics. Smallville is, by all accounts, a “comic book” game that based on a television series.

It’s sharp, go read the whole thing.

As I said in Lin’s comments and on Twitter: I think the delineation he’s identified here actually works very well for breaking out most RPGs into categories that are more useful — more immediately grokked by someone not familiar game design jargon — than the overused, misleading, and emotionally fraught tags of “indie” and “trad”.

Linnaeus thinks that he’d need to relable the two categories in some way to apply them to non-spandex-related games, but I think if someone understood how you’re defining things, the current names work just fine.

“Supers”: the focus is on character capabilities, lists of powers, skills, et cetera. Play mostly hits the rules during fights, and making it resemble the source material mostly falls to the creative effort of the players, not the players + system. Also? It’s easy for it to just become a series of fight scenes.

“Comics”: rules focus on producing genre-reflective fiction. Powers/skills/abilities tend to be more abstracted. The conflict system is often also a bit more abstract, and used for everything from fights to arguments to searching a computer network to whatever. Results from conflicts have both mechanical impact and story-relevant heft.

And yeah the labels are possibly misleading, but no more so than the slang-analogies casually tossed around on Buffy (and usually confusing Giles).

“So what’s Fiasco about?”

“Basically a bunch of people trying to accomplish something, and how it all goes horribly horribly wrong.”

“Sounds like Paranoia.”

“Kinda. I suppose you could come up with a paranoia-like setting that would totally work for Fiasco, but Paranoia’s more “supers”, and Fiasco’s more “comic book”, you know?”

“Sure.”

And honestly I can’t come up with anything much more useful that doesn’t sound like “trad vs. storygame”, unless I use specific genre terms. “CSI or Bones.” “Law and Order or Castle.” Can you?

Wait: maybe I can.

Maybe this is just another way of expressing the difference between Dramatic heroics and Iconic heroics — which is something I’ve thought about in the past — a difference in play styles or expectations that’s led to some frustrations at the table.

A hard lesson from Bioware

I’m going to spoil the end of Mass Effect 2.

Ready?

Okay, here it is…

You’re going to save the galaxy.

Yup.

There are a lot of choices to make in the game, but as long as none of those choices are “I’m quitting this game”, you’ll inevitably fight the big bad and win.

Because of those choices, everyone on your team might hate you, or love you, or want to sleep with you, or want to kill you. They might all die. YOU might die.

But you will BY GOD save the galaxy, mister. Period.

Furthermore, along the way you WILL face the bad guys on a colony world, and get lured into a trap, and crawl through the mind of a dead, mad god.

The rest of it is theoretically up in the air, but I could probably still name about twenty-three other WILL HAPPEN things that every Mass Effect 2 game has in common. And I’m not picking that number randomly: there are twenty-three, precisely.

There: spoiled.

I’m going to do the same thing with Dragon Age: Origins.

You’re going to beat the Big Bad. Again, you might die or live based on your choices, and the people you have on your team and what they think of you depends on what you do and say, but there are a few immutable things that WILL HAPPEN in every playthrough. Broad strokes, but immutable none the less.

Spoiled.

Now here’s the real gut punch for a collaborative storytelling games junkie like me: I love those games. Love em. I’ve played DA through three times (and two half-runs I have hold), and Mass Effect 2? More than that. Five? Yeah. I can pretty much recite every one of the unavoidable events in both games. (And will do so at the slightest provocation.)

Those games have demonstrated a hard fact; something that most story-games (if not story-gamers) would choke on, just a little bit, because it’s a slightly bitter pill.

If the trip is awesome, no one cares if they're on rails.
If the trip is awesome, no one will care that they're on rails.

Good or bad, it’s the truth.

The best thing a game can do is help a mediocre or novice conductor deliver a good trip.

Everything after that (read: a lot of the stuff that newer indie games concern themselves with) is – perhaps – a level of play many people will never miss.

Regardless of how great that stuff is.

*wanders off to ponder*

Wasting time playing DnD

No, I’m not saying that playing DnD is a waste of my time, settle down. Breathe.

I ran into a pretty interesting thing I wanted to talk briefly about, though.

This week, I have a lot of gaming going on, which is kind of exciting; after months of pretty much nothing in the way of RPG play, I’m playing DnD, running Dragon Age, and then playing Burning Wheel — all in about five days.

Pretty heady stuff.

Last night we played the DnD game; that gave rise to this post. (Which should have probably been called ‘Wasting my time while playing DnD’, but who’d read that?)

Anyway, to my point.

For the last over-a-year, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty regular game going on weeknights. We’ve played quite a few games, most notably (in my mind) Don’t Rest Your Head, Diaspora, Primetime Adventures, and other stuff like that. Games in which, speaking broadly, there are a lot of ‘flags’ attached to your characters — things where you’ve said “this is something that interests me about this guy: I’d like to play around with that in the game, please.”

For instance, in the Diaspora game, Kate’s ‘flags’ (read: Aspects) had to do with being a bit of a lapsed pirate, something of a swashbuckler, a ship’s captain, and having some unfriendly family members looking for her. This was the stuff that was interesting to her, and as the GM I usually felt pretty safe if I planned for something or someone to come along and hit one of those elements of her character.

I could list many more examples, but they’re all pretty obviously along this line, and they all have a few things in common: “hitting” those things in an interesting way is what the players want, so it’s socially rewarding in the game, and most of the time it’s also mechanically rewarding.

Also, if I’m doing something as the GM that doesn’t touch on anyone’s flags in any way… well, the question to ask at that point is “What the hell are you doing, dude? I trust you, but get back on task.”

And that would be fair.

So. DnD.

No flags.

Now, Tim and I have been hammering on his Return to Northmoor campaign for awhile (him for QUITE awhile — I’m Johnny-come-lately), and for the ‘first arc’ of the game I think we’ve done a good job of creating a ‘flag and reward’ system for play that isn’t much of a rules hack.

This short game we’re doing right now isn’t that, though — it’s the mid-arc part of the Northmoor saga, and as such the original ‘secrets’ stuff doesn’t work, exactly. We did some in-character secrets-to-be-revealed, but they didn’t really work in the same way, and they made things a little wonky at the table.

(We’re addressing that by cribbing from Dragon Age and setting up Goals, rather than Secrets-to-be-Revealed, and I think that’ll work better for this arc, but I digress.)

How wonky? Well, when I answered Tim’s ‘secrets questions’ for my character, some of my answers were pointed at Kate’s character. I was all enthusiastic about this ‘what if Beren and Luthien hadn’t hit it off right away’ idea, and went with that — didn’t check with Kate on it (should have), and rattled it all off.

Kate didn’t finish her questions. Chris couldn’t make the first game.

So… guess which were the only “flags” flying for that first session? Guess what every scene seemed to center on?

Yeah.

Which is fine, except those weren’t Kate’s flags for her character. At all. So it wasn’t much fun for her. I think the quote was “it was fine for the first scene, but it’s every scene.”

For her, every scene was wasting time on stuff she wasn’t that interested in.

Second session, everyone else has had time to fill stuff in. I was trying not to play up my flags, because I felt like I’d got enough time on them the first session, so I played extra hard on whatever anyone else provided.

One of those ‘provided things’ was this kid I’d known in the past who was now all grown up. I’d introduced him to the game, Tim brought him in, so I felt obliged to play up whatever he was potentially doing in the story…

… which was trying to propose to Kate’s character. Oops. More time spent on a thing Kate was already tired of.

Then there was a kind of echo chamber thing with the Mysterious Bog Avenger that Tim introduced, who was some kind of vigilante who — inexplicably — dresses up like my character.

He gets introduced, so I play to it… then some NPCs react to my reaction, so I react to their reaction, so they react to …

Yeah. You see where that went. Or didn’t. I couldn’t drop it, though, cuz the only other thing I had going on was the thing with Kate’s character that I didn’t want to mess with at all.

And I couldn’t play to the flags on the other characters, because we hadn’t done the “Goals” yet — we just had Secrets, and I didn’t KNOW them because… yeah. Duh. SECRETS.

I finally fell back on a half-mentioned obsession with the MacGuffin we’re hunting down, just for something to talk about.

So what do I mean about wasting time?

I’ve gotten in the habit of playing to the flags on the characters at the table, trusting that doing so will (a) please and entertain the player of said character and (b) reward everyone involved in some mechanical way. Playing to those themes is, in fact, part of the game.

Well, no: it’s part of those games — the one’s I’ve been playing. It’s not part of DnD, and even though we’re in the middle of hacking that, we didn’t have the hack up to date last night, so it wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to do — give people indications of what everyone wanted play to be about and reward them for it. Without that, the whole hack is just a cool ‘power up’ chip we get for free each session.

(And in any case the hack will always and only ever be something extraneous to the Original Game — like having a battery mounted DVD player mounted in your car — nice, but easily forgotten and unused, unless you keep giving it power.)

In DnD, if you’re just playing to your own flags (or, as with the Bog Avenger, to no flags at all), it feels like you’re wasting time.

Why?

Well, A, you’re not hitting interesting elements of play for anyone (or only for yourself); and B, you aren’t engaging DnD itself by doing the stuff it’s good at doing (combat).

Which means you’re just spinning your cogs, not interacting with any of the machinery — you might as well be chatting about the most recent Dancing with the Stars, because you aren’t playing any part of the game, (even the part you added).

(Yes, you might be roleplaying… but about what? And who cares? Improv is great, but the audience needs to give a shit, y’know?)

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to note that it’s given me a lot to think about with regards to what I’ve started thinking of as ‘the Northmoor Hack’.

That, and I’m looking forward to all the games happening this week.

Brain Damage

Randy’s running this low-powered supers-in-Gotham thing. Interesting background. Interesting atmosphere. Running it with Mutants and Masterminds, which is a 3.x d20 riff.

I’ve been feeling a vague hankering for supers stuff. (Dear City of Heroes — go Free to Play. Signed, Me.)

I expressed an interest, came up with a concept, dug around on the internet and found a couple write-ups that seemed to have the powers I wanted, mushed them all into one sheet, sent it to him and said “here – something like this, but balanced to your power level.”

As one does.

Then a couple things happened.

  1. I ran into one of the players already in the game and we talked about the schedule for the game.
  2. Randy sent me the revised sheet, with all the math done.

These two events raised some concerns for me.

Looking at the finalized character sheet resulted in a strong negative reaction. A gut reaction. It may be fair to say that my penetralia actually cringed — absent any motive will on my part — seeking to drag me away from the computer and the thing on the screen by my very entrails. It’s not that the design of the character was bad or that it didn’t do what I wanted — it’s that the mechanics and game the sheet represents just make me angry. Angry and filled with a helpless kind of dread.

I’m starting to suspect that all those years of d20 gaming actually damaged me. I wonder if don’t remember this because I can’t.

Show me on the character sheet where it touched you...

Secondarily, I’m concerned about (any) games where the schedule is “we start at Xpm, and play to whenever.” That sort of play has historically been frustrating for me. Seeing it posted as the consilii diem amounts to a huge fucking red flag labeled “You Will Regret This.”

Tim may laugh at this, but I’ve developed a huge appreciation for the games I’ve played that have a time constraint on the amount of time available to play. They are, uniformly, the games I’ve enjoyed the most, and which gave the most satisfying results and focused play. TiHE (until we switched from “Monday nights” to “all-day Sundays”). The Wednesday night gaming series. Mouseguard (which is actually time-constrained within the game itself). Dragon Age (sessions that, while on the weekends, have all had hard-stops built in). Most convention play is, I think, stronger for this. It may be the only thing I really miss about local conventions.

Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m not willing to give a game a shot if doesn’t meet certain baseline criteria — doubtful it can overcome the deficiency. Once bitten, twice shy?

Maybe.

My reaction to the basic core of the game system, though — like a growling, whining dog in the presence of a vampire — makes me suspect this may be something more/less than the reasoned response of a thinking adult with some significant non-game commitments.

Diaspora Hacks, by way of Dresden Files

After a series of scheduling problems, we finally got back to the Diaspora game last night for the first time in… oh, six weeks or something. Been awhile.

In retrospect, I’m glad for the delay, because it gave me time to think about a few problems I felt like we were having with the game, mechanically. As I said over in this post, I’ve been pondering how to tweak the Diaspora system — it felt like we had a few too many get of jail free cards in play (in the form of Fate points), and a little too much cruft on the character sheet that wasn’t getting used.

As I’ve also said before, the designers behind Diaspora have built a hell of a game — they have my admiration for, if nothing else, their free-form stunt construction — but while they are fluent in FATE, it is the fluency of someone speaking a second language. The author’s themselves have said that even now they aren’t wholly comfortable with the way FATE does some things.

Enter Dresden Files.

This is a big, beautiful game from Evil Hat, and while I still don’t feel as though I completely grok everything they’re doing in character generation, there ARE a few things that I saw and immediately wanted to implement in the Diaspora game — solutions to my problems far more elegant than anything I’d come up with. Which makes sense: these are guys who (obviously) grok FATE at an atomic level.

Hack One: Reducing the number of Aspects on Characters

In Spirit of the Century and Diaspora, each of the five phases of character generation yield two character Aspects, for a total of ten. That’s fine in the SotC, which is kind of crazy and over the top and creates characters that are sort of swiss army knives of awesome, but in Diaspora it feels like too much.

Dresden files does it differently. Basically, your character has a “High Concept Aspect” that sort of sums up your character’s idea in a few words. Then they have a “Trouble” aspect that is basically “the thing that’s screwing up your High Concept”. Finally, you get only one aspect for each of the five phases of character generation.

Looking at the hard numbers, it doesn’t seem like THAT much of a change: seven aspects instead of ten, right? In practice, the combination of getting fewer aspects and giving two of those seven aspect specific “jobs” really, really helps tighten up the characters and clarify how they’re envisioned in play. Instead of having more money than you know what to do with, you’re on a budget — constraints are good.  We pared down the Diaspora characters to follow these guidelines (which was easy – the dead wood, unused aspects were easy to spot), and (for me, at least) the result was like walking into the optometrist, getting in the chair, and having him drop that first lens in place that shows you no, you really haven’t been seeing things that clearly until Right Now. The characters came into proper focus, is what I’m saying.

Hack Two: Reducing the number of Fate Points floating around

I’d toyed around with a few changes to the normal system in that previous post, but a little bit before the game I decided to try out — again — something from Dresden Files.

Normally, everyone gets 5 Fate points at the start of every session. It’s too many. Aside from any other consideration, we play on weeknights for three hours — we simply don’t NEED that many Fate points. Anyway.

Dresden’s method, super-simplified, is: “take the basic refresh (5, in this case) and subtract however many Stunt Abilities your character has (2 or 3, in this case), and the remainder is how many Fate points you get to start each session.”  (Unless you ended last session with more points than that refresh, in which case, keep that higher total.)

So rather than everyone starting with 5 Fate points, Tim and Kate started with 2 and Chris started with 3. This did a BUNCH of stuff during the session last night that I liked a lot.

  • More compels. Compels become a much more attractive and desirable option in play, because you’re more likely to need more Fate points.
  • A bit more hording of points. Fate Point totals higher than the refresh actually remain for next session — Kate’s had more Fate points at the end of the session than the beginning.
  • More struggle. With fewer Fate Points around, people weren’t piling on as many Aspects on during conflicts. This gave my poor mooks in a gunfight the chance to actually do some damage, and we started to see people actually take a consequence or two, rather than use up all their Fate points.
  • More invention. With Fate points in short supply, it actually became much more attractive to take a round “off” during a fight and set up some ‘free taggable’ aspects to use during the next actual attack. Tim did this a couple times, and it worked out well for him. This makes for more interesting, more textured conflicts. (Typing this out, I realize that that’s what I should have had the NPC crew members doing: rather than whiffing attacks at the enemy, they could have been hitting much easier target numbers to give Tim some help. Ahh well — hindsight.)

In short, the Fate points became more valuable, play became more dynamic, and the use of Aspects as fate point generators rose as well. Basically, the FATE core — the economy and mechanics of the system — actually got engaged a lot more. Since it’s a system I like, this was a big win from my point of view.

How about the play itself?

The net result of this was a session that – to my mind – had more clarity. The characters were in better focus. The game system gears were turning and grinding and chugging away and just generally much more present — more able to do what they were meant to do in the game.

Aspects (permanent and temporary alike) are the Killer App of the FATE system.

Somehow, by having fewer Aspects and giving people fewer points with which to invoke them, we actually made them MORE important.

Weird, but true.

Good game.

In a Wicked Amber

I don’t listen very well, even to myself.

Short version of that post — following a session of In a Wicked Age, I came to the conclusion that there’s a certain approach to play that Amber encourages in its long-time players that isn’t exactly what IaWA is designed for, or necessarily rewards.

What do I do with that information?

Obviously, I decide to run an Amber game, using In a Wicked Age.

On the face of it, there’s a lot of fruitful overlap; Amber’s got some pulp weirdness elements to it — looking over the Oracles that are part of the ‘vanilla’ game, almost all the elements included fit into an Amber setting really well. Finally, one of the things I find most interesting about a well-known setting is (re)interpreting it through the lens of a different game. In this case, the six ‘forms’ that define each character in IaWA are consistently fascinating to me — when you act in a conflict, you don’t say “I use my ranged combat skill” or “I use persuasion” — you make decisions like “I act ‘With Love'” or “I act ‘For Others'” or “For Myself” — to me, that’s such a consistently compelling filter through which to see a story.

So, given the opportunity to run a one-shot yesterday, I cobbled together some notes on a more Amberized Oracle and ran a game.

The Good
The Oracle – As I said before, the basic IAWA oracles are remarkably ‘on theme’ for an Amber game. “A minor insult, spoken casually, but striking very, very deep?” Oh yeah. The oracle gave us some fun stuff to work with, and as per usual also took things in a some unexpected directions. The end result of our Oracle draw was an abandoned stone tower – the source of some great power – now home to many unsavory birds filled with blood-craving ‘uncouth spirits’. There was another more friendly spirit in the tower as well, and mixed into that was the young man who’d been sent to reclaim the tower as his property, the conjurer who was working with/summoning the spirits inside the birds… and a full-on princess of Amber, involved in the whole mess somewhat parenthetically.

Best Interests – I did better this time with encouraging everyone to make best interests that were all things the characters didn’t have — things they need to take action in order to get, not react to in order to keep. I failed a bit at that in the last session, and it came out better here.

The Bad
The Oracle – Yeah, yeah, I know I had that under ‘the good’, but as useful as it was, my cobbled-together version lacked the kind of focus and clarity I’d have liked. To use it seriously, it would need a lot of work on focus.

The I-Dunno
Between a late start, a couple scheduled interruptions, some wrestling with the oracle results, and my (bad) habit of stopping to explain the rules before/during/after every bloody step, we didn’t get a tremendous amount done. Everyone got at least one scene in, but we didn’t resolve anything significant in that time.

Also, poor Dave ended up needing to throw himself against a bit of a wall with his conflicts — facing off against “The Birds” in an area in which they were particularly strong (direct conflict where their Swarm particlar strength was most valuable, on their home territory). This lead to three series of conflicts against the birds in which – if they managed to get the advantage initially, they really, really kept it. I dunno if that was actually a problem-problem, except that I should have been better about setting up more interesting consequences for failure.

Finally, I jumped into a conflict involving multiple people without having a clear handle on how it should work (sue me: it’s been more than a year since I last ran it), and it got a little wierd. I think it wouldn’t *stay* weird, given familiarity, and it all worked out okay, but it was weird at the time.

The Hmm
In a Wicked Age wants you to throw yourself into the action right away. I don’t mean that every scene should include someone saying “I attack this guy”, but basically the game system doesn’t really care what you’re doing until someone does something that someone else doesn’t want to see happen. (The PG name of this is “the Oh No You Don’t rule”.) To be fair to the game, things are set up during character generation to help ensure you’re being proactive – so long as you’re working toward your best interests.

Amber (the old RPG, not the fiction it’s based on), on the other hand, encourages an intelligence gathering mindset. Let’s see what’s going on. Let’s touch base with our allies. Let’s ascertain the lay of the land. This doesn’t entirely gel with the “get in there and start acting” desires of IaWA. Rather than nag players about that, I just kept going until I got to some kind of concrete action… supply the information they wanted, then asked “now what”, and kept going until someone said something that someone else didn’t want to see happen.

Some of that was people being new to the system, and not having any clue about “this version of Amber”, and so forth. I’d like to go back and play again and see if some time-to-assimilate and the uses of the rules would help this at all.

The D’oh
There’s a rule in In a Wicked Age that gets overlooked too often. Basically, it says that whenever you narrate anything, you also need to introduce some concrete fact into the world — some sort of detail that lends more weight and reality to the setting. This is especially important in vanilla IaWA, because you’re really totally starting from scratch in your setting, but even in this game it would have been tremendously helpful — hell, it’s a good rule of thumb in any game, but it’s NOT a rule of thumb in IaWA, it’s a rule, and I didn’t observe it.

Why’s that matter? Well, say I back Dave’s character up against a big tree outside the tower. In my head, that tree is big, but dead; the bark’s been stripped away, and the wood beneath is the pale gray of driftwood — a mix of bone-dry and swamp-rotted.

But I never said. All Dave hears is “tree”, so that’s all he’s got to work with it. More detail — more concrete realization of the world around the characters — means more stuff to work with in terms of describing the action or investment and understanding of the scene.

Also, Dave should have been on the We Owe list one more time than I counted, and that would have helped him during later conflicts. Grr.

Again?
We didn’t finish the story for the Oracles we drew, and I very much hope we get a chance to do so. IaWA is an interesting game, designed to build a series of (potentially) out-of-sequence short stories. (People call the system the Anthology Engine.) From session to session, it’s possible to play the same character but, as/more interestingly, it’s also possible to come into the next story playing someone else entirely — to explore the setting from multiple points of view over the course of a longer game and, in fact, to swap GMs around every three or four sessions, should the desire exist.

I’d like doing that, provided the system is something people got comfortable with.

In any case, I really do like the IaWA system – there’s a lot more (western, anyone?) I’d like to do with it — it’s a neat lens to look at the world through.

Sacrifice, Interesting Failure, and Diaspora Hacks

I’ve been thinking (and talking) about sacrifice in games, and how that ends up playing out at the table.
Originally, I was going to amass some kind of who’s who list of games that have mechanics that let you ‘push’ to achieve victory, but in the end I came to the conclusion that that kind of misses the point unless I use it as an illustration of the larger issue.
Which begs the question: what’s the larger issue?
Well, it’s a little bit about suffering and sacrifice, and a little bit about game currency, and as always it’s colored by the games I’m playing right now, so let’s start there.
As I mentioned before, Shadows Over Camelot is a game that requires some tactically tough choices from the players, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me as a player; I like it — it makes me make that Tim the Toolman simian grunt and nod appreciatively. I like mechanics that let you pay for a little more awesome with your own blood (symbolically speaking).
There aren’t a *lot* of RPGs that have mechanics that do that, but there are a few, and they each do things a little differently, so let me talk about them.
  • “The hard choice: be awesome now, or get better in the long run?” The best examples of these that I can think of off the top of my head are Nobilis and Heroquest (the RPG, not the boardgame, and the old edition, not the new one, which I’m not familiar with).  In both these games, your character earns one type of currency (can’t remember what it’s called in Nobilis, but it’s Hero Points in HQ) that gets used for two different things: (1) one-shot boosts to your current conflict, (2) improving your character by improving or buying new abilities.  In this kind of situation it’s the players who are put in kind of a crunch — do I really want to win this current conflict, or do I want to finally buy a new mastery level in Butterknives (or whatever).  There are systems and methods that people tend to adopt for coping with this decision, but it does make things interesting, in that people might not automatically buy their way to victory every single time. (More about that tendency later.)
  • “You can keep trying, but it’ll cost you.” There are other examples of this, but the one that I remember right now is Trollbabe. Very interesting game. The conflict mechnic is a very simple yes-no roll. However, if you fail the roll, you can either take your lumps (you don’t get what you want and you suffer virtually no other fall out), or you can try again. If you try again, the potential fallout gets more dangerous. Did you fail again? Okay, you can bow out NOW and take some more serious lumps or… yeah, you can try again. If you try again… You can see where that’s going. I believe you can keep pushing, looking for a victory, about three times before the only thing left to roll for is “do I get to decide what happens to me, or does the GM?” I’ve only had a chance to run the game once, but it yielded what is to me (even today) a really compelling scene where the player – perhaps conditioned by a “we cannot accept failure if the opportunity to win presents itself” mindset – kept rolling until they were left unconscious in the middle of a dirt track, and their boyfriend was dead. How important is winning to you?
  • “Success comes through sacrifice.” This is sort of my Mouse Guard mantra. In that game, success any any given test is guaranteed; the only question — the real reason you’re rolling — is find out what it will cost you… how long did it take? who interrupted you in the middle of the task? how lost did you get as you traveled from A to B, and what found you as you traveled? Et cetera. In Mouse Guard, success clearly isn’t the interesting thing: it’s the failures that we want to know about.
Ahh, here we are again. Failure should make things more interesting. That wonderful trick where you lay out a conflict in such a way that the players are actually okay with failing, because what might happen then sounds pretty damn cool. Mouse Guard does a wonderful thing here — the whole (fifteen minute) adventure prep process amounts to working out the conflicts that arise from failue — the fact is, if the Guard succeed at the Main Tasks for a mission, the mission will be (a) kind of boring and (b) kind of short. (Same’s true of Trollbabe, actually. Anyway.)
((Note to self: Construct the next Dragon Age session using the mission creation method from Mouse Guard and see what happens.)
So let’s talk about Diaspora and Fate. A first glance, FATE seems to have a similar mechanic to Nobilis or Heroquest: points that you can use to push yourself to victory — but they’re different in a couple key ways.
  1. The points aren’t used for anything except giving yourself a boost (and much more rarely compelling someone to act or not-act a certain way). There’s no point where you have to decide between using the points for the bonus or using them to improve your character. (SotC and Diaspora don’t have traditional ‘level ups’, though Dresden Files, another FATE game, kinda does, which excites me.)
  2. The points don’t run out. As written, the rule for Fate points is that they refresh back up to max at the start of every session. This works fine in the naturally episodic Spirit of the Century, but not so well in the grittier, more narratively-structured Diaspora.
In play, what actually happens is that Fate points don’t have a lot of value — mechanically they do, yes, but they’re not valuable to the players — they aren’t precious. They have lots of them, they know they’re going to get lots more next session, so they spend them like water, following the purest instinct of a game-player: win the conflict if the means exists to do so. Buy your way to victory, should you possess the currency to do so. It’s automatic, instinctual, and completely understandable.
Since they can DO that, we don’t see very many interesting failures in our Diaspora game, simply because the currency is thick enough on the ground to keep failures (interesting or otherwise) from happening.
This leads me back to a small fix for a specific problem in a specific game, rather than thinking about the Big Discussion I keep circling around, but whatever: theory is nice, but in the end I just want my games to be fun, yeah?
So here’s a few thoughts:
  1. Present interesting failures. I do this automatically in Mouse Guard, because the game makes me do so. I’ve been lax in Diaspora about constructing situations in which the players say “Yeah, I could win this, but I’m just as happy losing.”  This is one of the Gaming Kung-fu Basics that I have to keep reminding myself to go back and practice, practice, practice.
  2. Too many Fate Points. My initial thought about this is to work it like Primetime Adventures Fan Mail: basically, that no one has Fate Points to start out with, and it’s only through compelling a player’s Aspects that we get Fate Points into their hot little hands. This would make Fate Points INCREDIBLY precious and, while that’s intriguing, it might be a little too much.

    2a) Kate suggested that a good middle ground would be “Start everyone at the normal Fate Point total at the start of the game, but get rid of all the refreshes — that way, it’s only through Compels that we replenish the pool.” I like this idea quite a lot, and I’m curious what the other crew members of the Tempest think.

  3. We have way too many Aspects floating around — to steal from Dresden Files, if each player had ONE aspect from each phase of character generation (rather than two) then a couple more to reflect a characters goal and beliefs… that would be better than what we have in Diaspora right now — so many Aspects never get used. Dunno if that’s worth hacking at right now, but next time I’ll know better.

Anyway, just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the screen; all the rattling about in there is distracting.

“I bleed and take another action.”

There is a kind of magic in sacrifice.

No, I don’t mean literal magical sacrifices with babies and goats and stuff like that.[1] I’m talking about taking one for the team to bring said team that much closer to victory. That kind of thing earns mad respect, right?

You see this in all kinds of media — the guy who grimly deals with all the horrible stuff happening to him and voluntarily takes on more pain because it’s the only way to win — in film, Harrison Ford basically made a career out of it; Bruce Willis too, for that matter. In fiction, you’ve got your Frodos and Sams, your Celanawes.[2] In gaming, you’ve the Grey Wardens (Dragon Age), the Mouse Guard (Mouse Guard), or the game I stole this post title from, Shadows Over Camelot.

I’ve talked about Shadows Over Camelot before, so I’m not going to rehash the gameplay, and really this isn’t about the gameplay except for one small part of it.

SOC is a game where you work with the other players cooperatively against the game itself (yes, there’s a chance that there’s a traitor in your midst, but that doesn’t change the basic framework). During each person’s turn, something bad happens, and then you do something good. Something heroic. Just one thing.

However, if you choose to, you can take an additional action on your turn.

All you gotta do is bleed.

You’ve got a few life points (default is 4) and if you take a hit to that score (which, at our table, is referred to as “bleeding”), you can take another action.

We played this game this weekend, and I observed something during play that I’ve seen every single other time we’ve played — a grunt of acknowledgement and appreciation when someone chooses to do this. A respectful primate chest-thumping, if you will.

Strategically, there are good and bad times to do this — it’s pointless just to get around the board more quickly, but if you can join a quest and then ‘bleed’ to save said quest from failure (good) or complete it (better), well… you’re awesome. That particular game is, to me, very much about those kinds of sacrifices and hard choices — where do I fight when there are seven fronts in the assault on Camelot? Whom do I help? What should I save?

And you know what? Something else I’ve noticed is that some people really don’t like that game.

Now, I like games where I can lose. It would be really easy to make a cooperative game like Shadows Over Camelot that is, once you grok the rules, easy to win — I’ve heard there are games like that on the market. I wouldn’t consider that a good investment of either time or money, frankly, because in the time it takes to play a game like that, I could play something else where the outcome isn’t a foregone conclusion.

So part of the dislike is the fact that the game can be lost by everyone at the table – that no one might win? Maybe.

However, more than games I can lose, I like games where I have to bleed to win – where I have to weaken myself to strengthen The Cause. In the most recent SoC game, I was the traitor, and I still found myself bleeding (ostensibly) for the cause, simply because I find that compelling as a player.

I wonder if that’s part of the thing people don’t like about such games, because there ARE people who don’t like such games. Or movies. Or stories. Mouse Guard is a very heroic game to me, but it’s not heroic in a “super” sense where you’re all shiny and victorious and never really get touched by the dirt of the world; it’s heroic because the characters suffer — get hurt, get tired, get angry, get pneumonia — and keep struggling toward their goal anyway — they are little mice in a Great Big World That Will Eat Them, and still they battle on.

"This ends in death."

Just writing that gives me goosebumps — that’s how much I like it. When you can play a game like that and win? Oh man, the grin on my face (while my character cradles his broken arm and hobbles along on a crutch).

But I’ve played with no small number of people who find the whole Mouse Guard-like experience terribly frustrating — that you might win the day and be worse off, personally, than if you’d just stayed out of it? Grrrrrrr.

For me, it’s magical, that they struggle on in the face of such adversity.

That the knights continue to strive for Camelot even though Camelot is (we know) ultimately doomed (and, sometimes, doomed within the scope of the game we’re playing).

That the Wardens do what they do, knowing the price they pay.

That kind of stuff is pure magic. For me. It’s something I’m always pleased to find in a story, or movie, or game.

So much so that I have a hard time seeing when it’s not fun for someone else.

Or even, after the fact, figuring out why.


[1] Seriously, though: why goats? Who cares? Why not sacrifice a finger? If I were a blood-craving deity, I’d give mad props to the priest that needed my attention so badly he voluntarily went Frodo Of The Nine Fingers for me.

[2] You know, I was trying to think of an example of this kind of behavior in the most recent book I read – Until They are Hanged – and it’s not there to be found. The series is kind of noir fantasy, and that kind of self-sacrificing behavior just… wouldn’t quite fit. Which isn’t to say that people don’t bleed for a cause – they totally do – but they don’t manfully say “I’ll take this hit to save the lot of you,” because, well, it’s noir. People don’t want to get hit if they can help it, and in that setting there’s no guarantee that such a noble sacrifice would mean victory — it might just be a meaningless death, and who wants that?  People who act like that in the story (and there are a few) usually die. Quickly. And unmourned.

Being Immortal in Fate (Diaspora)

Tim challenges me.

First, he never lets me coast during our games: not as a GM, certainly, but neither as – more simply – a roleplayer. I consider that a good thing.

Second, he challenges me on my choices. I’m not saying he busts my balls over every single thing I do in a game, but he makes sure that I know why I’m doing something — that there’s a reason for it that goes beyond “well, it’s X kind of game, so we should do X.”

But Third, he never lets me coast when it comes to the system — whatever system we’re running. What that means is that, if something is theoretically possible in the game, he will grab that ‘theoretically’ possible thing and wrangle it by the throat, dragging it from Theory into Practice.

Case in point: Diaspora. Let me point out a few things Tim did with his guy that might/would be, in another system or another time, “game breaking”.  Tim’s concept was basically:

  • I’m the Benevolent Dictator for Life of an entire star system. (Except that I bailed and left a twin in my place.)
  • The solar system I control is the source of life-extending food. Which I created. And kept the good stuff for myself.
  • Because of this super-SUPER-food and my own experiments on myself, I am (so far) effectively immortal and can heal from just about any injury.

He’s not being a dick about it : that’s just his character concept, and if I look at it and say “I don’t think that’s possible”, he’ll work with me.

Not that I said that.

  • Dude, you left a stranger that looks just like you in charge of a whole system of rich, bored, nigh-immortals? THANK YOU.
  • I like super-food. I like trying to figure out how one fruity oaty bar can feed someone for a year, and how that would be remotely profitable for anyone.
  • And… well, I had this idea about the whole regen thing. It’s kinda neat.

Here’s the deal with with regeneration; there’s really two things it’s likely to do. One is A Game Thing, and one is A Story Thing.

  • Game Thing: You recover from wounds a hell of a lot faster than the rules allow, presumably for some game-point cost roughly equal to having internal body armor that would have stopped about the same amount of damage. That’s easy to do: you just get the “internalized gear: armor” stunt and describe it as you healing really fast. Which is fine. It’s not super-interesting to me; it’s just a thing. Whatever. (Tim: you SHOULD note that if what we came up with as a solution is unsatisfying or too non-crunchy, we can do this.)
  • Story Thing: You take horrific damage that should kill another person, but it doesn’t kill you.

The thing is, people worry a lot about how to make Crazy Regeneration (TM) work as a Game Thing, but most of the time what the player wants is the Story Thing — they want a story in which their guy takes horrific damage that should kill them… and it doesn’t.

The story-point of this kind of ability is the hurt they undergo, you know?  Wolverine isn’t about his per-second-healing-rate — he’s about Surviving Shit That Should Kill You (physical and otherwise); no one would give a shit about Corwin of Amber if it weren’t for the fact that he got his eyes burned out of his head with hot pokers and kept going.

I mean… no one builds a guy with regen and then gives them agility so high they never gets hit. Where’s the fun in that?

So I listened to Tim to see what he was talking about, when he was talking about this ability.

And? He was talking about the cool scenes that would come from it.

He was talking about the story.

Right, so this is how you deal with that.

  1. Make sure he can get hit a lot.  Tim built a stunt called “better living through science” that lets him determine the size of his “stress” bar (or whatever it’s called, I don’t have the book with me) from his Science skill, not Stamina. Boom. He suddenly got a very roomy stress bar for taking physical damage.
  2. Make sure he’s got an Aspect that reflects this regen/durability. Why? Just to give the whole concept weight.
  3. Finally: Remember what damage to this guy means.

Here’s the thing: in FATE, damage to the stress bar of a character is temporary stuff: it goes away with a few seconds’ rest at the end of the fight. Ditto Minor Consequences. Moderate Consequences take maybe a good night’s rest to shake off. Serious consequences take a fair bit longer.

On a normal guy, then, stress bar damage and minor consequences are things like little cuts, scrapes, bruises… stuff like that. Moderate might be a wrenched shoulder or a light weapon graze that draws blood. Serious is a solid hit. Blood everywhere, or a totally broken limb.

On Tim’s guy, quite simply, damage to his stress bar is described in play as something roughly similar to a normal guy’s Serious hit. That’s where damage-of-note STARTS with him — anything less is too inconsequential to mention.  From that starting point, we then ramp to the point where his “Takes awhile to shake off” injuries are things like “I chopped off my arm to escape” — because on this guy, that’s not a permanent problem.

Put more succintly: a stress-hit on a normal guy is a bruise; on Tim’s guy, I blow a hole through his leg. Increase from those starting points in parallel.

That’s it. With that tweak, we get what we’re looking for: a guy who shakes off in minutes what it would take other people months to heal from, which was the whole point.

And when he invokes that “practically immortal” aspect to give himself a bonus? That means I know that he’s solving the problem by (mis)using his body in some particularly damaging way.

Ouch. Should be fun.

Farscape as gaming group

Recently Farscape became available on the ‘view on my computer’ queue via Netflix, part of a re-release that also put the whole series up for sale for a very reasonable price (as opposed to the original DVD releases, priced for something insane like 30 bucks for two episodes).

All of this pleases me.  Initially, my plan was to watch episodes while I’m on the elliptical, and while I’m doing that, I’m not only doing that, because it’s Farscape, and it kind of sucks me in. (I’m excited to watch past third season, actually, because I don’t think I ever saw all of Season Four, and I never saw the Peacekeeper Wars.)

But in rewatching the show, I’m struck by how strongly Farscape seems modeled on the story/structure of a gaming group. Not ‘game-based fiction’, but the group itself. Not even Dragonlance reflects my experience with the ebb and flow of a game at the table, and the things that happen with your players over time.

Five players, plus the GM.
Five players, plus the GM.

Season One:

So here’s what we’ve got when we first start playing the game.

GM: “I’m going to do this sci-fi game.”
Crichton: Cool.
Most of the players:
“What about the DnD game we’ve been doing?”
GM: “This will still have most of those dynamics. All the classes are pretty much the same, it’s just a few skills that will be different.”
D’argo: “As long as I can still have a big fucking sword.”
GM: “… fine. Whatever.”

  • Warrior: D’argo
  • Ranger: Aeryn
  • Cleric: Zhaan
  • Rogue: Rigel
  • Crichton, the only one who tries a new class, starting out as an ‘astronaut’ (basically a scientist/pilot multiclass with none of the multiclass disads… like the way elves and hobbits worked in original DnD).

Now, the GM quickly realizes that the guy playing Crichton is never going to miss a game session. The dude writes diary entries from his character’s point of view, podcasts random stuff, and even writes some fiction about the stuff that happens between official sessions.  A lot of the game is built around what this player does and the stuff he and the GM talk about. But everyone’s having a good time, and the bad guy seems to be working out pretty well, and word gets around. A couple more players want to join in.

And this GM has a real problem with telling a player they can’t join if they want to.

Chianna wants to play a rogue, but the group’s already got a rogue, so she goes the ‘physical burglar’ route so as to keep from stepping on Rigel’s toes.  It takes a few sessions to really take, and a it’s quite a few more sessions after that before Rigel’s player really acknowledges her at the table, but once that happens, those two kinda bond.

Stark is just a buddy of Rigel’s who’s visiting from out of town for a couple weeks and wants to play, so the GM has him play Crichton’s cellmate. The dude’s kinda of crazy, and doesn’t seem to give a crap about the actual game system — he just wants to roleplay everything instead of rolling dice, but whatever — the GM makes up death-priest variant, figuring it’ll never matter anyway, cuz the guy’ll be gone before long.

Near the end of the first story arc, the GM introduces Scorpius, whom everyone universally decides is cooler than Crase as far as bad guys go, and the GM likes playing him a lot, so Scorpius become the new big bad, and Crase flies off stage with the gunship that the GM mistakenly gave the players (he just wanted to make use of the ship-design rules he’d been playing with, and Crichton saw the design and talked him into introducing the ship via a weird pregnancy plot).

Season Two:

Six is a lot of players, but the situation doesn’t get appreciably better with the new storyline. Crichton is still super active, but the whole wormhole thing is kind of going by the wayside for the player, cuz he likes being chased by Scorpius and trying to hook his character up with Aeryn, so that’s pretty much the main arc.

Other players saw the whole torture scene stuff with Crichton, though, and want a piece of the story-action. D’argo nags the GM to push the ‘I have a son’ thing forward, for example.  Zhaan’s player is pretty pissed about the ‘crappy healing’ that clerics get in this system and continues to nag everyone to go back to the ‘real’ DnD game, but no one’s listening.

Rigel’s fine. Rigel’s always fine. Don’t worry about Rigel. He’s good.

The GM loves playing Scorpius, so he finally comes up with a way to play him even more often by sticking him inside Crichton’s head. Crichton actually stats up Scorpius’ second in command just so he and the GM can play some one-on-one ‘bad guy’ scenes.

Oh man… Rigel’s buddy actually decides to move to town (he’s got a semi-permanent gig with the local community theater). He wants back into the game. As the same death-priest guy. Crap.

Zhaan really wants to quit the game. Honestly, she’s run by Crichton (so he can play in more scenes) and the GM as much as the original player, cuz she doesn’t show up much. (Though she does come back for awhile when Stark’s player shows move into town, cuz she’s got a crush on him, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she can’t even get his attention with a glorious death scene, so shes quits and doesn’t make a new character.)

The group is left with no healer except for the guy who’s main skill is helping people die. Crap.

So the GM finds someone to play a ‘regular’ doctor. Jool. His girlfriend. Who doesn’t game and doesn’t like science fiction. Even the guy playing Crichton thinks this is a bad idea.

Plus, the group is hitting nigh-critical mass. Too many of almost every class.

The GM wants to split the group into two separate groups for awhile. Crichton hates that idea, because he wants play more, not less, and doesn’t want to make another ‘main’ guy.

“I have a solution,” the GM says.

So the group’s get split up.

Group Moya

  • Fighter, D’argo
  • Rogue, Chianna
  • Jool, “healer”
  • Crichton

D’argo’s spending points on “I have a ship”, but he can’t do it all at once, so the GM’s letting him buy it a little bit at a time. That’s fine. But Crichton realizes that in this group he’s got nothing going on — his “Loves Aeryn” thing and “D’argo’s Buddy” doesn’t let him go after Chianna, no one’s really hunting Moya, Jool is dating the GM and they both give him dirty looks whenever he tries to hit on the character…

… so he only has wormholes to work on. This quickly gets old for EVERYONE.  The only respite is when Crichton takes a break and roleplays Braka in scenes with Scorpius.

Group Talyn

  • Fighter, Aeryn
  • Rogue, Rigel
  • Priest, Stark
  • MORE Crichton, who by this point in time has multiclassed so many times that the GM just simplified the system by making “Crichton” a class. Crichton loves this group, because he gets to continue to hit on Aeryn, shoot stuff, get chased by bad guys, and fiddle with wormhole tech.

But the GM is getting a little fatigued by running two groups every week. He isn’t aware of it consciously, but he resents all the time the game is taking — it starts to leak into the game itself: it’s basically impossible for anyone to do anything in any game session without making the situation worse, even if they succeed.  This trend will, we fear, continue.

——

And that’s about where I am right now in Season Three.

You gotta admit, as good as the show is, it’s weirdly similar to gaming groups.

… which in turn makes it dissimilar to any other kind of ensemble cast show I’ve ever watched. The characters are more strongly archetypal (or stereotypical, depending on how charitable you’re feeling) than anything like BSG or Babylon 5 or… well, anything.

What’s weird and remarkable is that they largely retain those archetypes even three years into the series. That’s not say they’re shallow, but their depth tends to be strictly confined to the original silos they were built into. Character archetypes. Classes. It makes the show immediately easy to grasp, no matter which episode you jump into.

(Until, if I recall correctly, Season Four, where everything goes CRAZY and the GM starts dropping acid.)

More as I think of it.

Avatar: my thoughts, my opinions, my recommendation

… and my background: with the exception of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, I’ve seen all of James Cameron’s movies at least three times. Yeah, even Titanic (though the third time was against my will). Understand that simple fact about me first: I’m pretty much the guy’s target audience.

Kate and I went to see Avatar last night. As I told some folks afterwards, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, fun movie, and I didn’t remotely mind the nearly three hour length, even wearing the Real-3D glasses. (In fact, there was no point in there where I so much as shifted in my seat and thought “Okay, you could have edited this bit out, Jim.” I enjoyed it all, even the Diaspora-esque ship the protag comes to Pandora in.

Those of you who know me know that I do not consider “in 3-D” a selling point for a movie: I’ve never once walked out of a show thinking “man, if only that had been 3-D, they might have had something.” However, thanks to an observation from Chuck, we chose to go to to the 3-D version, and I’m very very glad we did. Like Coraline, this movie uses 3-D intelligently.

Even those of you who don’t know me might suspect I enjoy a good story. Much has been said about the simple, damned familiar story of Avatar — I’ll admit that I’ve repeated the Dances with Smurfs joke more than once — but the movie reminded me that old, simple stories are a lot like old, simple words: they resonate.

Is it a great movie? I don’t know. It’s certainly good. There are no major plot holes I could see. The technology is brilliant and used well, and the setting itself is gorgeous. Kate and I talked about the different parts we liked for a solid half hour after we left.

And here’s what I realized this morning when I woke up — the thing that made me write this post: I want to go see it again. In the theatre. In the 3-D. I will, in fact, be a little sad if I don’t manage it. Take that for what it’s worth.

I was going to make a nice little list of all the various kinds of people who might like this movie, and suggest they see it, but here’s the bottom line: If you like movies, even a little, I think you should see it.

Like it or hate it, I think you should see it.

In the theatre.

Probably even in 3-D.

Man, those are some words I never thought I’d say again, after Coraline. Way to go, Cameron.

Damn.

Big Problems, Little Solutions: E-book Publishing Ideas Stolen from Gamers

Yesterday’s post generated a lot of interest. And emotion, yes, but mostly interest. If I can be allowed to revisit that post for a second, I’d like to sum the whole thing up like so:

Ignore questions of infrastructure and the costs of ebook file development; those things are tangential to the current issue. What Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins are doing by delaying release of ebooks has nothing to do with those issues. It is about money. Period. It’s either about pushing readers toward the purchase of hardbacks, like the good old days, or it’s about the shoving match going on between Amazon and the Big Six over the price of ebooks. Either way, it’s about money.

However, the tunnel-vision focus from the Big Six on that single issue means that they are missing something critical: by delaying the release of official ebooks, they are creating an environment in which ebook piracy (thus far, a negligible issue) can and will thrive. This will hurt them, and I believe they will transfer that pain – which they caused themselves – to their authors.

This makes me angry.

This.

This.

There. That’s all of yesterday TLDR post, in three paragraphs. You’re welcome.

Now then.

Generally, I try to avoid pointing out a problem without proposing some possible solutions. Doing otherwise is what the kids these days refer to as a “dick move”.

So:

What could the Big Six do, with regard to the release of ebooks, that would be better than the idea they’re currently going with?

As I said yesterday:

Some folks asked me yesterday what I thought of James McQuivey’s idea to delay the ebook-as-a-separate-thing by four months, but also give it away as a free thing with every purchase of a hardback edition. I think it’s a great idea. I thought it was a great idea when I suggested it to my agent about six months ago on Twitter. However, I won’t take credit for it – the indie gaming industry has been doing that for years; as a smaller, more nimble publishing organism, it has already felt and adapted to the changes of the digital age, and could teach the ‘real’ publishing world a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

I told Joanna Penn in an interview last year that the tabletop role-playing gaming industry started out by trying to model the methods of traditional publishing, found out the hard way that that really didn’t work for them (in the long run, it’s not working for big publishers either, but they’re BIG, so they didn’t notice as soon), and had to find new solutions.  They were the first to adopt electronic publishing, shame-free POD printing, electronic-only publishing, podcasting-modules, mixed media releases, and every other experimental method anyone could think of, good or bad. That’s fine: they’re small, and experimenting is something  small groups of people can DO that big groups can’t.

But what that means is that they’ve come up with some things that consistently seem to work, which, to a greater or lesser degree, might translate into solutions for Big Publishing that would please even the greedy bastards longing for the golden profits of yesteryear.  I don’t have much time, so let’s get right to it.

Package the ebook with the hardback as a value-add

This works. More to the point it IS WORKING. Not just in gaming, but on Amazon, with the Kindle. For gaming examples, go to indie press revolution and take a look at the options for games like Penny for My ThoughtsSpirit of the Century, or Mouse Guard.  I’m not going to discuss this further; this is the granddaddy of ‘new’ ideas, and dead-fucking-simple to implement.

Subscriptions

Whazza? Subscriptions?

Eleven million WoW players tells me that this is a sales method that can work.

Take a look at Paizo.com. They have a brilliant kind of deal set up for all their games and plain-old books: set up a subscription to one of their channels (like Planet Stories, which is your classic pulp “planetary romance” stuff). It costs you X dollars a year or whatever. Every month, you get an email about the new releases within that “channel”, on ebook. NEW releases. If you decide to buy, you get 30% off the unwashed-masses price. (Edit: Or hey, you get it on day-of-hardback-release. Even better: Both.)

Or, how about the Big Dog of gaming, Wizards of the CoastWotC has done some stupid stuff with regard to PDFs of their products in the past, but DnD Insider is smart. Pay for a monthly subscription to the service, and you a couple magazines every month with articles and useful stuff, written by the names you’re already fans of, some cool apps, and ‘free’ access to every one of their current books, as searchable PDFs.  I’m not a member, but I gather that members also get access to ‘preview’ copies of upcoming books, months before they’re released, which generates stir and interest and maybe a few advance reviews posted on –

Oh, you know what that sounds like in publishing? Advance Reader Copies (ARCs).

Yeah: “Sign up for our monthly subscription, and get digital ARCs of our upcoming titles, and a discount on the REAL digital copy when it’s released.” What book nerd wouldn’t jump at the chance?

The Ransom Model

There are a couple game designers who do stuff like this, notably Greg Stolze and Daniel Solis. There are a couple different ways it gets implemented. With Stolze’s Reign supplements, if Greg collects enough money from contributors (the “threshold pledge”) he releases the ebook as a free download for anyone and everyone.  An easy tweak for this in Big Publishing works like this: “If we get enough preorders for the ebook, we’ll release it the same day as the hardback comes out. If not, you have to wait.” I like this, because it lets consumers tell publishers what they want — a ransom model works pretty well as a market study – the consumer has power, and if they don’t exercise it, the publisher feels justified in delaying release.

I can’t help but note that this is a pretty workable thing for indie authors. (If you don’t want to take preorder money for something you might not end up doing, run it like a publish-athon and just take pledges — it’s still a good a way to gauge interest.)

You can also reward the ransom-preorder people in lots of fun ways. A thank-you list on the website or inside the book, mentioning people who helped make that version of the book happen when it did. A unique cover for the advance-order people. Hell, I dunno – what else would be cool?


That’s stuff off the top of my head, stolen from people who are making it work in gaming (and thanks to Chris Weeda for the suggestion).

The important take-away is this: ideas and implementations vary, but they all have one thing in common: they require embracing e-publishing, not holding it at arm’s length like a used condom you found in the spare sheets for your hotel room.

Embracing it. That’s the first thing publishers need to do. That’s the first step.

Right now? I’m not seeing it.

And that’s not a problem anyone but the publishers themselves can fix.

Pulling a dick move, and other things that make stories (and games) better.

Somewhere*, sometime**, D was talking about writing things and said something like:

The only scene in a story with no conflict in it should be the epilogue at the end of the story.

I know that isn’t it exactly, but that’s the gist of it; when you’re telling a story, scenes should have conflicts in them, or they shouldn’t… you know… be scenes.

De also pointed out*** that you can cheat this a little bit in a scene without any obvious conflict by then revealing “Yeah, while it looked like Mom and Daughter were have a nice happy cup of tea for six pages, Mom had ACTUALLY CALLED THE INSANE ASYLUM TO TURN IN HER DAUGHTER!” DUN Dun dunnnn.

A good trick (one which I’ve used), but it doesn’t change the basic idea, which is (put into my own words):

Never stop fucking with the main character.

Yeah, yeah, “show, don’t tell” works, because if you are legitimately trying to “show” as you write a scene you’ll instinctively put in some kind of thing worth showing. A conflict. There you go. You’ve done it.

(Tangential thought I just had: This may be be a legitimate means of separating “porn” from “erotica”. Erotic has sex scenes with conflict. Porn just has scenes with people fucking. Maybe? Hmm.)

Now, none of this is particular epic storytelling trickery; people get this. People mention this kind of thing all the time.

What people are only slowly starting to get is how it applies to roleplaying games.

Let me tell you about this guy I know. Plays in my Wednesday game. Like most of the people who come in and out of the Wednesday game, he’s also runs games. As a person-who-runs-games, he has a bit of a reputation. A Nom-de-GM, even: people call him Weeda the Evil.

He’s earned this title and the attendant rep via a pretty simple means and method – he rakes his player’s characters over the coals. I’m pretty sure he used to give out certificates to anyone who died in a game he was running. There may have even been t-shirts.

t050artsmall

He is, without a doubt, one of the most popular GMs in the Denver area. Probably, if you’re a gamer (or a reader, or an author) I don’t need to explain why.

…*crickets*…

BUT JUST IN CASE I DO, it goes something like this: no one ever gets the feeling from this guy that he’s screwing with you just to screw with you — he’s screwing with you because you’re the Big Cheese, the Main Character, the Hero. He believes you can take it, and he’ll Test to Destruction to prove his point.

He has a similar rule to the one I blocked up above. It is (not surprisingly) more concise.

Heroes Suffer.

Sometimes, your heroes will not appreciate your exciting plot twists.

Sometimes, your heroes will not appreciate your exciting plot twists.

Yeah.

The thing with RPGs is that, for a really really long time, the only tool that GMs had at their disposal was their own sense of drama and their desire to make sure the Hero Suffers. Take another guy without that sense and you have a lot of dead, boring fights. Take a different guy who only gets that you’re screwing with the characters, and not where that motivation comes from, and you just have some dick GM that everyone hates playing with.

(Take a writer who misinterprets this sort of guideline, or misreads what it is about one of their successful stories that makes people happy, and you get someone who thinks “the key to a successful story is doing horrible shit to my main character”, which somewhat misses the difference between ‘introducing conflict’ and ‘torture’. I’m looking at you, Vorkosigan series!)

Sometimes you just have to punch your favorite character right in the junk.

Sometimes you just have to punch your favorite character right in the junk. That's fine. But it's way more interesting when you give a character a choice between junk-punching and something else, and they CHOOSE junk-punching.

Luckily, there’s a lot of great games out there that are figuring this out and helping GMs find that sweet spot between “I want to be fair and impartial” and “I need to put you through the wringer or you’re going to be bored.” It started in the good old days with GURPS and Champions and their Dependent NPC (8), but that sort of thing never really worked they way it should. Sorcerer figured it out and introduced “bangs” that pretty much made all of the GMs prep a process of building a list of tough questions the players had to answer. That was good. Primetime Adventures actually breaks if you don’t throw tough conflicts at the main characters and get the Fan Mail flowing.

And it’s gotten better. Fate/Spirit of the Century has the whole Fate Point/Aspect compels that give you a great Devil’s Deal kind of thing to use, but for my money, the best stuff out there right now that does this is Mouse Guard and Danger Patrol. I won’t get into they “whys” of this right now, because this is not the gaming blog, but MG pretty much builds an entire game around “Heroes Suffer”, and Danger Patrol is built around the idea that the only way you can help your fellow players out is by making the situation they’re in more and more Dangerous (potentially creating new dangers everyone has to deal with).

GM: “Okay, Tim is going to jump from one flying car to the other. That’s super dangerous, and worth some extra dice, but what other dangers are out there he doesn’t know about?”
Kate: “There’s a school bus coming the other way, and he’s going to force it to swerve into oncoming traffic.”
GM: “Okay… bonus dice.”
Chris: “And it’s full of kids.”
GM: “Another bonus die.”
Tim: “Umm…”
Kate: “And puppies! It’s ‘bring your puppy to school day!”
GM: “Bonus dice!”
Tim: *Groans*

NOTE: This conversation actually happened in a Danger Patrol game, just not mine – it was Brennan! (Thank you Brennan for helping me find that lost bit of info.

The result of a escalating series of Dangers in Danger Patrol.

The result of a escalating series of Dangers in Danger patrol.

For the longest time, I had to remember to bring what I knew about conflicts from writing, and try to apply that to games I ran.

Now? I borrow tricks from the games I play and use them when I’m writing.


* – On her blog.
** – I couldn’t find the post.
*** – I couldn’t find this post, either.

Min-Maxing Fun

Entirely unrelated to this post here -> over on storygames, they’re kind of talking about the same sort of thing I brought up in the last post: here.  I’m not sure if it’s something you’d want to read all the way through, but there’s interesting stuff there — I particularly like Paul and Ralph (Valamir)’s thoughts on things.

It also kind of parallels this other thought I’ve been poking at since Monday night, which is what this post is about.

Monday night, Tim and Kate and I were talking about gaming stuff (as we sometimes do between frames of bowling).  We’d started out talking about that last post and the authorship/acting issue.  That drifted into other areas, such as the problems with splitting the party (it doesn’t bother me a bit, but it bothers pretty much everyone else, and I wonder if I can’t solve it universally across all our games with a little social contract related to playing NPCs), and eventually got over to this other topic, which Tim broached with the following (paraphrased):

There are games, like DnD, for example, that have a minimum and a maximum amount of fun.  Unless you get some kind of truly transcendent session, there’s a maximum amount of fun you will have with that system, but there’s also a guaranteed minimum amount of fun you will have [Doyce says: “that would be my ’20 minutes of fun packed into 4 hours’ experience]. The upside there is that, even in a worse-case scenario, unless the group totally implodes, you’re guaranteed x amount of DnD-like fun.

PTA (and other story-games) have no minimum and maximum, which is both bad and good — the maximum can go off the charts, but it can also potentially be absolutely zero fun at all — even negative-fun.

And yeah, you can nitpick that and say things like “well, that all depends on familiarity with the system and blah blah blah”, but the basic idea stands, and I agree with it.

There are games you can kind of phone in.  DnD’s a reasonable example: if you’re brain dead from a long day, you just kinda want to crack some jokes, eat some pretzels, stab orcs in their stinky orc-faces, and take their stuff.  You can be somewhat assured of having at least x amount of that kind of fun if you just show up, assuming the group is functional.

But that is not the case with some story-games. PTA, for example.  You can’t just phone it in – everyone has to kind of be on their game or the game itself becomes less fun or unfun for everyone when it’s the tired/disengaged-person’s turn.  There are lots of games like that: PTA is one, but Don’t Rest Your Head is on there also, and I don’t think you have to put a lot of work into thinking of others — The Roach, DitV, Mortal Coil… hell, I just think of any game where, if I suspect the players are going to show up brain-dead, I want to switch to another game for the night due to the impending sense of personal exhaustion from carrying the added load.

I’m not assigning a value of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ here.  There’s times when you WANT to shoot for the stars in a way that DnD just can’t handle.  Other times, that kind of no-brainer play appeals, because the idea of an all-in game is just exhausting.

There are even a few story-games (or indie games) that allow this kind of … let’s call it cruise-control play. From my direct experience, off the top of my head, these include:

  • 3:16
  • In a Wicked Age (provided the GM is throwing something in the face of the tired player for them to face)
  • Spirit of the Century (acknowledging that this is not really a story game, by design)
  • Mouse Guard (presumably, then, BW/BE)
  • Sorcerer (don’t laugh – I can throw Bangs at anyone and almost always get SOME kind of interesting reaction)

Are they BETTER when everyone’s engaged and actively contributing? Sure. So is DnD. That’s not the point.

Heck, one of Vincent’s own criticisms of IaWA is that it lets people just roll dice without exerting some effort, which results in less interesting conflicts.  He’s working on a new game right now whose main design goal is to make that sort of play impossible; as I understand it, in that new game, if everyone isn’t putting forth effort to deeply describe the environment and actions in that environment, then the game will just… stop.

Which is… well, that MIGHT be over-engineering a solution too far in the other direction.  I don’t want the game to BREAK if everyone isn’t totally on their a-game, right? Bad enough when that happens and the game just gets sluggish.

Obviously, we want to play in a game with active and energetic player input… with lots of in-character play and emotion and stuff. And it’s really cool when a game encourages that kind of caring in the players and activity at the table and gives us tips and tricks and built-in stuff to help make that happen… but it’s asking a bit much when a game flat out requires it. Some of this should be our job at the table, you know?  Socially?

I think that a  ‘play your balls off or the game breaks’ design is going to take us to a place where the maximum fun is … sure … really amazingly high — and the minimum takes us somewhere so crappy we didn’t even know it existed until now.

Sometimes, there’s something to be said for coasting; for knowing, going in, that we’re guaranteed at least x amount of a certain kind of fun.

There’s other times when you want to break the needle.

Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?

—-

In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.