Patch 4.1 out for DnD

Okay, not a patch, but people make the DnD = MMORPG comparison so much, I figured one more tired joke wouldn’t hurt.
Actually, it’s errata and updates for all three books, enough that I hope they correct this stuff in a second printing of the 4.0 rules.
They has completely overhauled the skill challenge system in the DMG errata. All skill challenges now end with 3 failures regardless of complexity, so Complexity 5 challenges are going to be very difficult. However, they also dropped the difficulty of all skill checks by 5 (which is something I was already doing, based on the number crunching geniuses at Story-Games… you know, they don’t right many crunchy games, but those guys grok dice probabilities.
Anyway: all Easy skill checks are now difficulty 5 instead of 10. Moderate skill checks are now DC 10 instead of 15, and Hard checks are now DC 15 instead of 20. This still scales up with level.

Gaming Update

Haven’t done one of these in awhile, mostly because I’d been updating WoW and LotRO play stuff using Twitter. However, Twitter’s API went completely kerflooey a month ago or so, which means that, since Twitter never updates in my feedreader anymore, I rarely think about it, and thus, never update it.
So, until I come up with another, better way to just give MMO character updates on the fly, here’s everything going on with anything that could be considered gaming.
I mostly just log Grez on for raiding and running a few ‘daily’ (repeatable each day) quests for cash. My guild has finished off Vashj, and is the only Hordeside guild to have done so on my server (Farstriders). We’re currently working on Kaelthas, the Blood elf ‘prince’, who is the other boss at the same Tier of difficulty as Vashj, and I’d expect he’ll go down in the next week or so… this will ALSO be a boss kill that no one on the Horde side of our server has completed.
Grezzk is pretty well geared at this point, because I’ve been working on such things and I’m considered a ‘contributing’ member of the raid, but one recent ‘gear ding’ made me very happy: I just got the second piece of a four-piece ‘set’ of items available only to raiders hitting the high level of content that we are. (In wow-speak: The Tier Five two-piece set bonus for hunters.) Getting two pieces of that ‘set’ gives me a really awesome bonus ability: every time I hit something, I heal my pet for 15% of whatever my damage was.
Just… ponder that for a second. If you don’t do wow, work it out for whatever game you DO play, where you have a pet. You’re on CoH? Okay… you hit a bad guy for 100 points and your Jack Frost heals 15 points.
As an added bonus, the threat generated by that heal doesn’t count toward me — it counts as the pet healing itself, so it actually helps the pet hold aggro and tank for me when I’m soloing, which is AWESOME – I do so much damage now that it’s really hard for my pet to really tank anything for more than a few seconds before my damage output convinces the target that I’m the (far) more serious threat.
Druids in WoW are a bit like Kheldians in CoH, only much, much better. Depending on the way I spec, I can play him as a Tank + backup Melee damage-dealer, a viable main healer, or a ranged damage-dealer (which I already have with Grezzk and have no intention of doing with Syn).
This kind of versatility has been a total joy to level with. I’m specced heavily into Tanking/melee, with a few good low-end abilities out of the healing tree. That, plus effort on my part to have both a good set of tanking gear and a good set of healing gear means that I can solo to my heart’s content as an extremely viable ‘big cat’ form (with stealth, which makes things even more fun), and then join a five-man dungeon run as either the Tank, the Healer (I’ve actually healed as many runs as I’ve tanked), or even melee damage.
When I want a break, I just strap on my healing gear and join a PvP battleground and heal like crazy — it’s great practice for when a regular old PvE dungeon fight goes haywire and everyone (including me) starts taking damage… plus I earn a ton of Honor I’ll be able to use at level 70 for some huge gear upgrades.
My goal is to get him to 70 as fast as possible (I’m at level 66, and it’s taken me approximately half as much time as it took me on Grezzk), respec into full-on healing mode, and join in the Raiding fun with the rest of the guild. Once I hit 70, I think about a few serious runs of some end-game content will get me to the point where I can actually contribute well to even the toughest of the raids we’re doing — I already have about half the gear I need (8 items) to be a viable raid-level healer.
Geiri and Tiranor (“Geiranor”) have leveled up to 46-of-50 in Lord of the Rings, and we’re well and truly into some interesting end-game content.
The progression of the storyline in the game has us to the point where the Fellowship is in Rivendell and is ready to leave on their great journey, but unable to leave because one of the Nine survived the attack at the Fords of Bruinen and is slinking around the Trollshaws and the Misty Mountains, spying on Rivendell. Gandalf surmises (rightly) that if the Fellowship set out while a Nazgul was around to report back to Moria, they’d all be dead inside a week.
So you have to eliminate that threat.
Yeah… we defeated a Nazgul, baby. (As part of a full team, but still.) Big epic fight in an old dwarf ruin in the Misty Mountains. The ground trembled and the walls shook, and when it was all said and done, the bastard went down. Pretty damn cool.
So we’ve four more levels to go to fifty, and I think something like seven more “books” of epic storyline to play through before Mines of Moria drops sometime later this year.
And we have a few alts we want to level. Kate took some time this week on her minstrel an rocketed up like 4 or 5 levels. It’s NOT hard to find a big group willing to help you with your quests when you’re a healer, I guess. WHO KNEW.
Why is that we can easily get five people to the table with short notice for a DnD game, but we can’t get three together reliably for something like In a Wicked Age on even a monthly basis?
4th edition is fun for what it’s good at. I’m kind of eliding the roleplaying stuff at this point while we learn the rules a bit more, and that means we’re doing a lot of fights, but the fights are fun.
in non-dnd news, Colorado Story Game is doing a gameday up at the Casa this coming weekend. I’ll either be running IaWA or The Mountain Witch, probably. I’d like to do more In a Wicked Age with Lee and De and Kate… the In a Wuxia Age with Dave and Margie and Kate… and Spirit of the Century.
Yeah… more Spirit of the Century would be GOOD. I keep thinking that being able to put Aspects on the Scene is the perfect way to reflect the kind of subtle magic you see in the Lord of the Rings books.

To my gamer-homies that don’t live within 10 minutes of me…

415610_sk_lg.jpg I’m seriously thinking about this camera (thirty bucks, so… less than a tank of gas), plus Skype (free), for in-home video conferencing.
It’ll be more and more useful as Kaylee gets older and I need some remote face-time, but for gaming? Yeah, I’m seriously thinking about this. Maybe just as a test run if enough people are interested enough to shell out for the camera.
Why? Mostly so I can play with more people without everyone bankrupting themselves for the gas money. 😛

The one where he figures out why he often screws up Primetime Adventures

So, there’s this thing going on with my Gaming People where PTA isn’t working for us. We’ve put Dave’s current PTA game on hold for now, to try out In A Wicked Age in a completely different setting (both from the PTA game and from the IAWA default), with a view toward possibly using that for running the PTA game.
The problem is with conflicts. They just take fucking ages to work through. Fucking. Ages. It takes people out of the moment, it’s frustrating, and the end result is usually NOT a satisfying ‘thing’, cuz we’ve already discussed the scene to death, so when the resolution finally comes, we already know what happened.
I said in a post a few months ago that PTA seemed to work well for us when we used the “car chase” rules, which let us break up the action more, and while that’s true, that’s not the problem.
The problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation beforehand.
The one bright and shining scene I remember from one of our PTA games was when this girl that Randy’s guy was sleeping with says “I love you…” as he was getting dressed and leaving the apartment, and put him on the spot. BANG. His Issue was something like “personal commitment” or something, so the conflict was clearly about him trying to get out of the room without pissing her off while remaining emotionally ‘safe’ from her. In that scene, PTA really sang. We were so jazzed at the end of that game session that we jabbered about it all for an hour.
And never managed to get back to that point again. Why? Well, because I thought, based on that scene, that the trick was for the GM to pose conflicts in a kind of series of “bang” events… and that’s not why it worked.
It worked because it was about his Issue. The character’s Issue — and we constantly and consistently FORGET this — is the whole POINT of the character AND the game… it’s a game about TV Dramas, after all — of COURSE it’s about the Issue.
I re-realized this, reading something Matt wrote almost two years ago (emphases mine):

PTA probably adds some to the confusion, because the real Conflict has to do with the protagonist’s Issue, and you have to do a little digging around to figure out how it factors into the playing of cards and stuff.
You’re sneaking past guards. Your Issue is maybe “Insecurity”, let’s say. What’s at stake, in terms of the conflict, is your Issue, not the guards; how does what happens in your sneakery affect your Issue? You get past them… they spot you… does not matter*. Either outcome could be either a win or a lose as far as your Issue is concerned.
No, you don’t say, “if I win, I’m no longer insecure.” You do say, “if I win, my character addresses his/her insecurity in a positive way.”
Notice how the conflict of interest is clearly established, but nobody knows what will happen until the narration starts flying.

That’s what we’ve screwed up pretty much 70 to 80% of the time in PTA. Dammit.
Makes me want to run it again, just to get it right.
[* – and the events that actual happen should be informed at least somewhat by plot-stuff that ‘needs to happen’ in that scene]

Hacking the DnD Action Point rules

So I looked over the various gaming threads that had come out of discussions of Action Points and how they were used — I agree and disagree in equal measures with what folks are saying, so I’m just writing down my thoughts on Action Points from my own point of view.
This essentially codifies the House Ruled Action Point system I’ve been using.
First, my thoughts:

1. Action Points are cool. I don’t necessarily love how they’re implemented in the game, because:
– 1a: They can only do one thing (take an additional Standard Action).
– 1b: That option is alternately kind of lame or potentially game breaking.
2. Due to (1b) and the risk of a game breaking series of Action Point expenditures (two or three rounds in a row of additional actions would kind of break things, yes), the game designers opted to:
– 2a: Heavily restrict the number of APs a player can have.
– 2b: Heavily restrict how often APs can be used.
I understand why they did that, but I think it simply treats the symptomatic problems of the system as implemented — it doesn’t fix what’s busted.
3. Since Action Points, under the standard system are both (a) rare and (b) unstable in terms of payoff, they’re rarely used by the players.
– 3a: Their primary purpose (allowing players to combat the unavoidable whiff-factor in a dice mechanic with no bell curve and roughly a 50/50 chance of success on any given roll) is alternately too weak or too powerful in practice.
– 3b: Their alternate purpose (as a way to make characters more awesome) is diluted.

Truly, they might just as easily not even be in the game: as written, they represent a lot of bookkeeping (“a new Action Point accrues every two encounters, but the total resets to 1 after each Extended Rest”? Really, Wizards of the Coast? Really?), for a rare and often anticlimactic pay-off.
They are, alternately, “too much” and “not enough”, in my opinion.
So here’s my hack. Changes and additions are italicized.

1. Your character starts with one Action Point. For the purposes of drifting as little as possible from the core rules, we’ll retain the standard accrual rules I just made fun of:
– 1a. You gain a fresh Action Point every other encounter.
– 1b. Your current total of Action points resets to 1 after an Extended Rest.
2. You can use your Action Points for one of three things:
– 2a: Spend an AP to take an additional standard action. (Once per Encounter)
– 2b: Spend an AP to reroll a failed (or successful) d20 roll. (Once per Turn)
– 2c: Spend an AP to add +3 to (or subtract 3 from) a d20 roll. (Once per Turn)

Edit to Add: A natural 1 can’t be rerolled, and always misses. Sometimes, you’re just screwed, and that’s awesome too.
3. At will, as a free action, you can cross off a Healing Surge and give yourself an Action Point, which can immediately be used in one of the ways listed under 2. Healing Surges reset per the normal rules.

The end result allows players to “push” by sacrificing some resources in a way that I already know I like a lot from playing lots of other games with similar options. (Vincent Baker uses a phrase “trading in your future for your present” and I like that term quite a lot.)
It’s also relatively “trad gaming” in the options it presents: if I really wanted to hack it into some kind of Indie co-authored hippie craziness, I’d add a few Meta-options under #2, like spending an AP to let you add facts to the game fiction, a la Spirit of the Century.
Even without that option, I’d definitely consider a player who really wanted to take part in a scene and suggested paying an Action Point to conveniently show up, if it was remotely plausible.

Fueling the game engine with your gaming group.

A thought from Story-Games on how to achieve a certain amount of “success” with running an indie rpg with your friends, and that is this:
There is a minimum amount of creative enthusiasm that needs to brought to the table, socially, by all the players, to make the game work, and that creative enthusiasm needs to be directed toward the thing that the game you’re playing does. It’s what the Original Poster calls the Social Mandate.
In In a Wicked Age, the Social Mandate is the conflict between characters (and, to a lesser degree, the anthology of short stories that results from play). People need to be interested in and excited about the conflict of everyone’s Best Interests and WANT to put that into play. Without that social fuel, the engine dies.

In My Life with Master the power dynamic between The Minion and The Master has to be interesting to the players on an authorial level *first*.
The Individual Wants vs. Community Needs problem in Dogs in the Vineyard has to be compelling to the players *first*.

The play of Trust against the backdrop of Dark Fates in a small group has to be interesting to the players or a Mountain Witch game chokes and dies.
To take it out of the indie realm (which is why I crossed the word out…
The challenge of smart tactical battle play and resource management has to be appealing to players for DnD (or Warhammer) to really sing. Yes, you can roleplay in the game, and have fun doing so, but if you’re not into the kind of combat style that the game supports, you’re roleplay will be spread between loooong stretches of your own boredom.

The One Where He Totally Geeked Out Like a Mid-1980s Gamer Nerd ((Hacking DnD 4 into Lord of the Rings))

I noticed early on that LotRO’s main conceit about their “Health Bar” really really works in DnD 4th with regards to healing.
Lord of the Rings refers to your ‘health bar’ as Morale — so it’s mostly representative of your will to continue the fight — the rest of the game works in similar ways — where death =’s ‘retreat’ and so forth. This makes ‘healers’ in Lord of the Rings (which is really quite a low-magic setting) make sense — they are the minstrels with their uplifting songs (VERY Tolkein), the Captains with the rallying crys and bold words, and even the Lore Masters with their quietly whispered words (or sometimes taking your worries on their own shoulders to ease your burden).
That idea really works in 4th edition DnD, especially when you look at the Healing Surges everyone has (accessible in combat as Second Wind) and the names of the healing-type abilities for the Warlord (Captain), which indicate that they’re really just boosting your will to continue the fight.
Mike Mearls was saying in an interview that it changes nothing in the game if a player wants to take all his mage spells and switch them to ‘cold’ damage instead of, say, fire; it’s the kind of customization hacking he expects from players in the game as they make their character their own.
Then I thought: it would be a pretty simple thing indeed to hack the Cleric into a sort of lore-master and/or minstrel (or both, depending on which path you took at creation) simply by changing the names of the powers and changing their “implement” from a holy symbol to either a wizards staff or a musical instrument. Do that, drop Mages and Warlocks from the game (or leave them for the bad guys), and you’re pretty much ready to play in Middle Earth in LotRO style.
So, to sum up…
– Drop Dragonborn and Tieflings. Duh.
– Elladrin are the elves of Lothlorien and Rivendell.
– Sylvan elves are the elves of Mirkwood.
– Fighters: unchanged. Depending on build, they are either Champions or Guardians.
– Rogues: rogues are more melee damage dealers than the LotRO Burglars, and their benefit to the group is slightly different, but it’s still similar enough. Halfling rogues should favor trickster builds, probably, with the other type being more common with sylvan elves and the like.
– Rangers: virtually no changes.
– Warlord: call em Captains and you’re done, though I think a lot of them would be multiclassed.
– Cleric: the ‘sit-in-the-back’ build (whatever the name) you tweak in Power names and Implements to be Minstrels, and the ‘up-in-your-face’ build you likewise tweak to be Loremasters.
– Warlocks: probably only bad guys — infernal types serve Sauron entirely, I’d guess. Fey types work alright with the High elves, and Star-pact warlocks would make an interesting type of Loremaster, maybe.
– Mages: too overt to be anything but bad guys, really.
This would simulate LotRO pretty well, would work for a game setting like Midnight quite well, but still be too much magic for true Tolkein.
If you really wanted to be totally hardcore Tolkein, not LotRO, you remove Clerics and Mages. Healing would fall entirely to the use of Healing Surges and any Captains you had with you. Warlocks stay in the setting in very particular instances. Infernal Warlocks are bad guys, Fey Warlocks are the Elf Lords, and Star Pact Warlocks are Gandalf and Sauruman. (Keep the Ritual List, from which you’d likewise remove things like passwall and the Portal magic, but keep the ‘rezzes’ for when Frodo gets insta-gibbed a ringwraith on Weathertop. Only the various Warlocks would get such Rituals automatically — anyone else would need a Feat to learn a few — Aragorn did so.)

Technical Difficulties

A staff writer on writes a bit about how he really got into Age of Conan, and then stopped playing in favor of Guild Wars.

Now I know that AoC puts much higher graphic demands on your system and that Guild Wars has had years to eliminate the performance bugs that still plague the early days of AoC, but none of that mattered. Playing Guild Wars made something instantly apparent to me. Age of Conan is an enjoyable game with a great deal of potential but after a month of intensive play I’d gotten to the point where it just wasn’t worth the consistent and mundane technical hassles involved in playing it. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t frustrated, but at that moment in time I’d found something better to do and so I just stopped playing.

This is the problem I’m currently having with Lord of the Rings Online. My poor old desktop is five years old and, while it’s pretty much tweaked out as far as the hardware will withstand, it can’t get any better, and when I start up Lord of the Rings, the machine’s old bones really start to show. Graphics issues. Lock-ups, some of them system-wide. Horrible horrible lag.
In order to combat this problem (which, rather than getting better over time and bug-fixing on LotRO’s part, has gotten progressively worse as they add newer content and cooler graphics — the problems aren’t bugs, they’re just the way things are), I’ve had to dial my game settings down to the lowest possible. The gorgeous LotRO panoramic views? I don’t see much of them when I have my graphics set to “Low”, to avoid lag — I dial up to “high” to take screenshots, then back to “low” to actually, you know… move. I have a dual monitor system, but one of them is now simply taking up space on my desk, unplugged, because running both at the same time, with LotRO, causes heat problems on my video card, thanks to the strain that the game puts on my card. Don’t even get me started about the hiccuping sound during any of the justly-vaunted cinematics within the game.
I love the game, I really do — I think they’re doing a fantastic job on it, and I acknowledge that the problems I’m having are largely due to trying to run the thing on an old, loyal golden retriever of a PC that really needs to be put out of his misery. Hell, Kate’s laptop is only a few years old and IT struggles with all the rendering it has to do in a busy town.
But, you see… there’s this thing. WoW doesn’t cause me any of those problems. I might have a night of lag, due to a server issue, and when that happens I’m glad to be able to do something else, but that’s a known server issue, easily fixed, not an inability of my Hardware to run the Software. When it comes down to it, I spent many evenings choosing to play WoW over LotRO this last month (even when LotRO can include Kate) because I knew that when I logged into WoW, the game would RUN.
I appreciate that games traditionally push the envelope of what PCs can accomplish — more than any other kind of software, GAMES push hardware developers to climb to the next plateau, and that’s great.
But if you want to really be a huge success? You need to remember that you can’t be so cutting edge that the playerbase spends more time trying to balance on that cutting-knife-edge than they do ACTUALLY PLAYING YOUR GAME.
I mean, it’s not just LotRO. I bought Tabula Rasa because the idea of a good Sci-fi MMO excited me — and couldn’t get the game to play, at all. I made it halfway through the tutorial before I gave up.
I have a copy of Age of Conan gathering dust in my office closet because if I deleted everything but the operating system off my PC, I still wouldn’t have the harddrive space to INSTALL IT — forget about whether or not my other system specs would be up to speed.
It doesn’t matter if your game is awesome if people can’t run it. WoW graphics are comic-book in style (On purpose – comic-book-style imagery has successfully sold for five decades – uncanny valley CGI? Not so much.) and requires what is now low-end hardware to run quite well. That’s at least part of the reason they have retained 10 million active subscribers. Ten. Million. No one seems to know what it is they they’re doing to enjoy the kind of grade-curve-breaking success, but I’ll tell you what they aren’t doing — they aren’t pushing the hardware envelope — that is not, in any way, where they garner their win.
I had a great, really fun time playing Lord of the Rings last night. Kate and I led a group of heroes (total strangers) into the ruins of Fornost, the last, ruined, capitol of the Kingdom of the North, now thick with wights and orcs and wargs and their horrible leaders, bound to life by the morgul blades they wielded. We fought our first Nemesis-level foe, and defeated him only when Kate figured out that we had to light the old Kingdom’s signal fires mounted on the rooftop where we faced him, in order to weaken him enough to win.
It was epic.
But you know what I enjoyed the most? It was the second night in a month where my PC hadn’t locked up while playing the game.
“Not locking up” shouldn’t be the thing I liked the best out of the whole night; that should be assumed.
My one regret of the evening shouldn’t have been “the screenshot I took from the top of the tallest towers of Fornost was pretty boring, because I forgot to dial my graphics back up from the setting where I can play to the setting where it looks good.”

DnD Skill Challenges

Skill Challenges are a new wrinkle in DnD skill use that aim to make said skills use… well, more interesting. The basic idea is that each Skill Challenge has a Complexity rating from one to five.
A Complexity One skill challenge for a group of level 1 adventurers, for example, requires that the group as a whole succeeds at 3 skill checks before it fails at 3. A complexity Five skill challenge is something like “succeed at 11 before you fail at 7”.* The idea is that everyone around the table who is involved is taking turns at working on this challenge, either by making their own skill rolls or helping someone else hit theirs, and that each of these ‘moves’ is roleplayed/narrated as you go, making the whole thing more interactive.
In an ideal world, there are a few ‘obvious’ skills that work for each encounter, and the unspoken challenge to the players to come up with novel ways to apply the skills they’re good at that aren’t on that pre-approved list. It’s all very, if I may say so, hippy and indie. It’s a LOT like how all the skills and combat in Heroquest work.
In practice, the Challenges have come under a lot of fire, both because the Difficulties for success are weighted HEAVILY toward failure in some places, and because people are having trouble getting their heads around it, and finally because the results of the Challenge are, as written, binary: you either Win Completely or fail completely.
Enter Keith Baker, and some excellent thoughts on making Skill Challenges interesting and winnable, without actually changing the math. (Which I’m doing anyway.)
One good suggestion is something straight out of Heroquest, but predicated on the DnD Combat model: more graduated levels of success, ranging from the Crit-like total victory, to a regular old Success, to Moderate success, partial success, failure with some benefit, failure with a single mote of light, and the Crit-fumble of Total Loss.
But the best suggestion is one I’ve been working on for what seems like years, now: setting up conflicts so that the failures are as interesting as the victories.
* – I know the numbers I quoted for Complexity values are off, compared to the rules — I’m quoting a mathmatical rework of the rules that makes more sense to me.

Design Challenge: a world without spiders

The premise: A GM is starting up a new game, and wants to have a world with no spiders.
Result: people make suggestions. My personal favorite is the one where Lolth the Demon Queen of Spiders has been killed, and her death took all her little eight-legged minions out with her.
The results, it appears, might be pretty catastrophic.

Spiders: We’d Probably All Be Dead Without Them
Why? Because spiders are the dominant terrestrial predators on the planet.
Why? Because there are so many of them. (An acre of English meadow in late summer has been estimated to contain more than 2 million spiders, and it’s safe to assume that wetlands and undisturbed forest contain significantly more.)
Why else? They eat a lot. So what? Because they structure insect communities wherever they occur, spiders play a vital role in the terrestrial food chain. Without all those hungry, carnivorous spiders, insect populations would explode, food crops would be decimated, ecological balances would be ravaged, and humans would probably starve within a matter of months.”
* Spiders are the largest entirely carnivorous order of animals.
* Assuming an average consumption of 0.1 gram of prey per spider per day, the spiders in one hectare of forest would consume 47,500 kilograms of prey per year–which is equal to 47.5 metric tons of insects!
Their sheer number make spiders vital in maintaining the balance of nature. Because they structure insect communities wherever they occur, spiders play a vital role in the terrestrial food chain. Without all those hungry spiders, insect populations would explode, food crops would be decimated, and ecological balances ravaged. Humans would probably starve within a matter of months–if they hadn’t already succumbed to various insect-borne diseases. No spider, incidentally, has been found to transmit disease.”
The spider is really man’s best friend. Imagine a world over-run with flies. Life would be intolerable! Without our friend the spider eating other insects like the fly, many serious pests would rise in number and present humankind with an incredible problem – one which would seriously affect our chances of survival. Even the good old household spider, like the little one I have here, does his part. Imagine how much it would cost to develop tiny little robots to roam over your house and clean up the maggots, eggs, flies, larva and other living things hidden away in every crack and cranny throughout your home. The spider does it all for you, and all for nothing. Most times he even has the sense to stay out of the way when you are around. So if you want to keep the real pests down, tolerate the spider a bit more in your home. If you really cannot bear to have one in the room with you, go and fetch a glass, pop it over the spider before he runs for it, and slip a postcard or stiff bit of paper under the glass to temporarily seal it in. You can then turn the glass upright and with the card or paper still held on top, take it out into the garden and let it go. One deft flick of the glass low to the ground should do it.”

Ecological impact of spider predation: a critical assessment of Bristowe’s and Turnbull’s estimates.

In any case, a fun little mind-game.

“Keys” for DnD

For a longer-term DnD game, I am seriously considering using something like the experience point system in The Shadow of Yesterday — the “keys” that you pick for your character and which give you xp when you ‘hit’ them. (You’d need about 10 to 15 to level, probably, which would be pretty fast, even compared to the speeded up ratio in 4.0.)
Clinton wrote up a hack of the system for 3.5 d20. It’s here, and would require a very little bit of tweaking to update to 4.0. Some excerpts:

The first way you get XP is through Keys. They determine behaviors that will earn XP for your character. Keys are motivations, problems, connections, duties and loyalties. You should pick one at 1st level, and one every odd level after that. You can never have more than five Keys.
Each Key has a Counter. If you go against the Key – that is, act according to the Counter – you can choose one of two options:
* Lose 2 XP.
* Remove the Key and gain 7 XP. You can never take this Key again.
((A few particularly typical d20 key examples.))
Key of Bloodlust
Your character enjoys overpowering others in combat. Gain 1 XP every time you/your group wins a battle, or 3 XP for defeating a foe equal to or more powerful than your group. Counter: Be defeated in battle.
Key of Glittering Gold
Your character loves wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth (max: 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP every time you finish an adventure with more wealth than you started with. Gain 5 XP every time you finish an adventure with double your previous wealth. Counter: Lose (or give away) over half your fortune.
Key of Fraternity
Your character has someone he is sworn to, a friend who is more important than anyone else. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character (maximum 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP whenever your character makes a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character defends them by putting himself at unusual risk. Counter: Sever the relationship with this person or the person dies.
Key of Vengeance
Your character has a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 2 XP every time your character strikes a minor blow at that group or person (killing a member of the organization or one of the person’s lackeys, disrupting their life, destroying their property). Gain 5 XP every time your character strikes a major blow at that group or person. Counter: Let your enemy go or destroy the entire organization.
Key of the Masochist
Your character thrives on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time he is bloodied and 3 XP every time he is dropped to 0 hp. Counter: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.

There are also some “classic fantasy trope” examples of Keys on the TSoY wiki, here. I particularly like:

Key of the Explorer
Your character seeks novelty and discovery at every opportunity. Gain 1 XP everytime she goes somewhere or encounters something new to her. Gain 3 XP whenever she experiences something unknown to her society. Buyoff: Settle down to a quiet life.
Key of Extravagance
Your character seeks every opportunity to impress those around you with his means and generosity. Gain 1 XP every time he gives a gift or spends money on an unnecessary luxury. Gain 3 XP every time he blows a significant fraction of his net worth. Buyoff: Refuse a luxury you could have had.
Key of Glory
Who cares about power or riches? You crave fame! Gain 1 XP when your actions inspire strangers to talk about you insultingly (there’s no such thing as bad publicity). Gain 3 XP when your deeds win you acclaim and adulation. Buyoff: Adopt a pseudonym or go incognito.

You can probably see where a set up like this would speed up the leveling process in some entertaining ways. 🙂

How did they know?

Waiting in my Inbox, early this morning…
Not quite the 60% discount is was on preorder, but the box set of all three core books is still 40+% less than the sticker price, and approximately half what the three books would cost, purchased separately (sorry, FLGS).

Actual Play: Keep on the Shadowfells, Session One

As I mentioned, had a chance to play the first couple events in the sort of “DnD 4th Edition Lite” Keep on the Shadowfells. What you get with this game is basically a DnD Lite version of the rules (somewhat too light in a few places — would have helped to know a few things that aren’t mentioned in the 16 page rules booklet, but it worked out), 5 pregenned characters with all the math worked out and put on a nice, easy to read sheet and their first two level-ups already worked out, and an 80-page adventure… a pretty good one, at that.
Oh, and you get all the maps you’ll need for any combat, so when I fight starts, you just lay out the map, drop down the tokens, and go at it.
Stuff I noticed about the game
1. In MSExcel-speak, 4e still tests as “True” for whatever value you assign to “Dungeons & Dragons.” A lot of people have been busting on it, saying that it’s all-combat, all the time, and there’s no support for anything else, etc. etc. This has pretty much been true for every iteration of the game. The people saying such things are very silly. We haven’t had a chance to do a skill challenge yet, but when we do, I expect good things.
2. You really do need mini’s or good counters to play this thing. I need to get better wood discs than the ones I made — smaller, and less splintery. Either pre-made, or I need to get a 3/4″ dowel and get a MUCH finer-toothed blade for the saw.
3. Combat is a lot more interesting than it’s been before, because…
3A. Everyone can contribute meaningfully to the fight, even/especially the (traditionally useless) first-level Wizard.
3B. Everyone can do a lot of crazy maneuvers and funky stuff. It’s entirely possible for everyone to “Use their Nuke” and really do something awesome.
3C. We did not make full use of it, but I did see that classes are designed to have serious synergy in combat: the Cleric’s maneuvers set up Paladin’s maneuvers set up Fighter’s maneuvers. You’re really a TEAM now. Heaven help me when Margie and Kate start coordinating their respective ‘battlefield control’ abilities — they started to get a handle on them by the middle of the second fight and suddenly my super-mobile Kobolds had a VERY difficult time moving around.
3D. The monsters are really a team too. I played stupidly with the Wyrmpriest in the second fight. I should have bombed guys with his acid bomb ability from long range for awhile first, THEN come in and drop his two AoE attacks once the battlefield set up.
3E. The monsters require so much less book-keeping than before.
3F. A lot of the crazy 3e complications are now much simpler.
3G. There’s some better rules on building an encounter so that terrain, traps, conditions, etc., matter more–the scene is more interactive… there are many more ways to interact and use terrain.
4. On the other hand, while fights require more intelligence and imagination than prior editions’ Rock-em Sock-em Robots combat system, fights last a long time.
5. There’s a disconnect at the table, because most of use have played 3.0 and 3.5 before — I’ve played a LOT, Dave and Margie and Jackie played quite a bit, and Kate’s played less, but MUCH more recently — so when a rule in 4.0 is different from 3.5, there was a bit of shock… sometimes it was “is that a new rule or a Doyce Houserule?” (disclaimer: I used no houserules) and stuff I remember from 3.5 that isnt’ true anymore (Example: Standing up from being prone doesn’t cause an Opportunity Attack — in fact a LOT less stuff does, which makes it easier to deal with… but leaves veterans with the niggling suspicion that we’re forgetting to do something.)
6. In previous editions, each class had a very different feel: if you were a 1st level Magic-User, you had to play the game very differently than a 1st level Fighter. This difference is FAR less pronounced now. Also, the classes that are “simple” versus “complicated” have changed. Paladins and clerics have a LOT of stuff on their sheets. Rogues LOOK simpler than that, but the way you apply what they can do during a fight is pretty advanced stuff.
7. There is pretty much no effort to make the mechanics hyper-realistic. Hit points are as much “morale” as they are “health”, and that kind of logic is the only way some abilities make sense. I like it.
Stuff I noticed about the play
1. All the characters are awesome. I want to play a fully tank-specced dwarven fighter so much I can taste it. Similarly, I think a rogue with a rapier, a ranged weapon (vs. twin-blade) ranger, and a cleric would all be a ton of fun. There are really no classes that, when reading about them in the PHB, didn’t sound fun and worth checking out.
2. Christ, but we are a persnickety, particular, optimizing bunch of nitwits. I mention this solely because Katherine played with us last night, running the rogue, and by the end of the night I felt positively terrible for her, because the nice nurturing adults just could. not. let. her. play. her. guy. and just do whatever she wanted, because there was a tactically better move to be made somewhere. We need to let her just ‘go in and hit that guy’ for awhile before we worry about shit like flanking and such. Let her GET flanked once or twice, and I guarantee she’ll learn to do it herself.
3. Along the same lines: good lord we’re terrified of taking an Opportunity Attack. Damn.
4. I was tired, and Kate was flat out exhausted — really, we shouldn’t have played, but I’m glad we did — it would have been close to a month before we could have gotten these specific people to the table again, and it was nice to pull out all the dice and really beat on stuff.
What happened?
Oh, Margie’s guy is friends with a sort of professional adventurer guy. Said guy is haring off on one of his wild adventures to find a Dragon’s burial site. He’ll be back in a month. It’s been three month’s and the guy’s wife comes to margie and guilts her into going and looking for him. Said dwarf recruits several mutual acquaintances to come with. His drinking pal the mage. The paladin he knows from the warrior’s guild. The cleric the paladin is tight with… and the rogue that the cleric has turned into a little “rehabilitation side-project.”
Right. Oh, and when word gets out that the priest and paladin are headed for Winterhaven, a friend of theirs in the temple who researches such things drops in while they’re packing and advises them to keep on the lookout for a death cult that was spotted heading that direction about a year ago. “You know, just in case. Sure it’s nothing. Ta-ta.”
So they’re traveling to the town and about three days in and getting close to the town they get waylaid by bandits. Little lizardmen- kobolds. There is fighting. The slinger gets away and the others die.
The group gets to town and starts talking to folks, asking after the dwarf’s buddy. Clues are had. The paladin approaches the Lord of the town and gets a promise of reward if they wipe out the kobolds that are harassing the town.
So they have to decide about what to do next: go down to the rumored dragon’s graveyard to look for the missing guy, or head for the Kobold camp? (Or even head for the old abandoned keep from the fallen empire, up in the hills — the one either haunted, or infested with goblins, or both.) They decide that the dwarf’s buddy is the first priority.
They head south out of town and are ambushed by more kobolds — a bit tougher group. The slinger had run back to camp and told such a tale of horror about the adventurers that some bigger guns were called out.
There was more fighting. A lot of “once per day” powers made an appearance, some of which healed the party for large amounts, others of which set large patches of foliage on fire. The group came out of the fight largely unscratched (thanks to healing) but with some of their bigger powers already used up for the day. They’re a little shaky about if they should move on or rest up. *mutters about over-cautious heroes*
And that’s when we called it for the night. I had a good time. I hope we play again.
At the same time? It made me really appreciate the kind of play we have with In a Wicked Age. Different (very), but also very good. I should always make sure to have a copy of that game with me when heading to someone’s house.
As a side note: I’m rolling all my dice out in front of everyone. No fudging, so there’s a good chance some folks are going to be making Death Saves at some point… heaven knows how many times I soft-pitched a fight in 3.5 to keep folks from dying (and the rogue still bit it like… what? Five times?)

Dealing with the whiff-factor in DnD

Played some DnD last night. It was good. I will talk about that more in a bit, but for now, an idea for combating the frustration of repeating missing in a fight.

The Angry Meter
If you miss, you get a token. A Big bowl of glass stones that you get to grab from when you miss — a nice tactile way of portraying building anger. Conceptually it transforms a miss from “a whiff” into “I didn’t hit you yet…but I’m getting closer”.
You can turn in five tokens on a future roll, after the roll has been made.
In Heroic Tier: they’re worth a +5
In Paragon Tier: +10
In Epic Tier: +15
That way, if you would miss anyway by spending tokens, you wouldn’t spend them and just rack up another for the pile.
Critical Fumbles give you two tokens, because 1’s make us really angry… alternately, if you want a fumble to suck more, you lose all your stones when you roll a 1.
You lose all your stockpiled tokens during an extended rest.

Kind of like it… but I’m not sure a game with so much “Marked enemy” stuff going on needs another token floating around the table.

OM Freakin’ G: The DnD 4.0 game with the seven-year old got even more awesome.

You haven’t been keeping up with the exploits of D and his dad Tony? Why on earth not? Go here. Read.
Turns out two of the kid’s characters can speak draconic, and they’ve been fighting kobolds, so the kid is making Dad translate what they’re saying all the time.

At this point in the fight it was very much all over but for the agonized draconic shouting. But that, interestingly, is when things got really funny and weird.
“GGLgLGGGLGG! SSSSSSSssss ss ss …”
“What’s that mean?”
“We are done for, my brother! Let us die with honor!”, I say. After all … they’re toast. Everyone knows it.
Quoth D: “Do you surrender?”
>Blink, blink< "Uhhhh ... SSS?" "What's that mean?" "Uhhhh ... yes?" So now he's got two prisoners, and I'm all like "What the heck is he going to do with prisoners? Is there going to be horrific torture involved? Is he going to wring information out of them, then slaughter them? Kids can be dark ... " Quoth D: "Are you good now?" >Blink, blink< "Uh ... I don't think we're really ... uh ... good or evil. We're just sorta ... us." "Oh. Well I've decided you're going to be good." "But that ... that doesn't actually make us good." "It will. I believe in you." Wow. His major adventure-genre influences have been Fantastic Four, Naruto and Avatar ... but I didn't realize he'd actually been listening.
So he took them back to Winterhaven. He said “You’re going to live here now, and you’re going to be good.” He spent all afternoon talking to extremely mistrustful villagers, convincing them to give these two guys a chance.
In the interest of having chances to, y’know, fight (which D definitely agrees is a lot of fun) we established that he’d gotten lucky and captured the only two non-evil kobolds in the whole tribe, and that the rest of them were terribly evil right down to the core and needed to be killed with extreme death.
D listened to that and said “Yeah, because otherwise we’d have to rescue everybody, and I don’t have enough legos for that.”

Can’t. Stop. Grinning.

Watching the 4.0 DnD release

… is a fascinating kind of car-crash voyeurism.
Lots of folks into gaming have never really tried anything outside of their comfort zone for gaming, and that’s fine.
Many many of those folks are playing DnD.
But what’s happened with 4.0 is that the designers for the game, unlike many of their players, have been watching and (unlike some of the gaming-industry-aware-but-disdainful d20 faithful) embracing some of the significant gaming innovations of the last five years or so. For example:

  • In-combat “tagging” with non-combat skills to give your allies bonuses. (Spirit of the Century)
  • Reducing resource overload to keep the characters streamlined and fun to play as they level. (MMOs)
  • “Respeccing” your character without significant penalty as you level. (SotC. MMOs)
  • The same system used for all actions, even spellcasting. (Heroquest. Dogs. Hell, any indie game in the last 5 years.)
  • Taking actions that set everyone up to be awesome, not just you. (The driving force behind most any indie game.)
  • It seems like a small thing, but it’s something *I* had been playing with a hack for for a couple months now… mechanics to support a “Tank, holding aggro” in a tabletop game.

One of the things I hadn’t seen so far, though, was this little tidbit…

*Q:* Will there be social combat rules in 4E or some other system that allows for non-combat conflict resolution?
A: Yes. We have been playtesting a new social encounter system, which has been one of the most heavily developed—and contentious—parts of the game. Look for it in the DMG.

One of the things that bothered me about 3.5 DnD is that, as a tactical combat game at heart (something it does very very very well), non-combat interactions (ie: the “roleplaying” in RPG) never got the same amount of system support that combat does. Consequently, combat is more *important* than other activities; it has more weight, just in terms of time-devoted-to-it-at-the-table. When a scene that uses Bluff and Diplomacy will simply be ten minutes of roleplay and (if I’m lucky and it’s not simply hand waved away via GM Fiat) one die roll… while a combat with that same antagonist might run 30 minutes to an hour of game play… why would I put much time into developing my Bluff and Diplomacy feats when Combat skills let my character ‘be awesome’ for a much longer stretch of play-time at the table? It’s got a bad payoff percentage at the gaming table.
Answer: I wouldn’t, or I will anyway and be frustrated. (See also: my bard character Gwydion.)
Rules that let an important ‘soft skills’ encounter get the same love and attention from the system that a physical fight does? Games with that kind of ability are the reason I abandoned 3.5 in the first place.
It heartens me that the designers for 4.0 obviously paid so much attention to the best stuff that the REST of the gaming industry (both pen and paper and electronic) has introduced in the last 5 years.
Why is watching the release of the game like watching a car crash?
Well, for many DnD players, all of this new stuff, which is familiar to ME (and my friends, thanks to the evangelical nature of my enthusiasm for those sorts of games in the last few years), is very unfamiliar, new, strange, and just plain WEIRD to them… watching them come to grips with the new DnD is just… fascinating.

Learn about DnD 4.0 with some cool, funny guys.

Okay, so here’s what happened.
Tycho and Gabriel from Penny Arcade, plus Scott Kurtz from PvP, got together with one of the R&D guys from Wizards of the Coast, who runs a DnD game for them.
They recorded the whole thing. Plus, Gabe and Scott drew some scenes from the adventure.
So what the teeming public gets out of it: the whole adventure has been recorded as eight podcasts, plus funny comics.
But that’s not all!
See, Tycho plays d20 all the time. Scott hasn’t played in years, but did at one time. Gabe has never played DnD or any other tabletop RPG at all.
And the GM is really good and takes his time explaining everything, so you find out about the game’s system in a way that’s really natural — the guy is REALLY good explaining the game.
And you have players who are just kind of excellent to listen to.
The first session is here.
The second session is here.
You have to create a login to the Wizard’s web site to see the stuff and download the podcasts. If you have the least little interest in the game, at all, this is how I would suggest you learn about the game, before even looking at the rules, or buying them.
I have to admit, I’ve been looking over the rules for the levels 21 to 30, the “Epic” ranges, and thinking that those rules represent exactly the direction our long-time DnD game went… an ogre warrior gathering an army to become a battle master… or a cleric on the way to demigod-hood, for example (she gave birth her deity’s son, after all)… it’s a shame these weren’t the rules we were using back then. We would have had somewhere to go.

For the nerd on your Father’s Day list

Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition.
I’m sorry, I’m just hearing too much good stuff about it. The indie roleplaying community is going gah-gah over it. “If old-school basic Dungeons and Dragons were rewritten by Days of Wonder, after they’d played Spirit of the Century for six months.”
It’s meant to be a high magic game… crazy high magic like rivers of flowing earth and villages of dragonblood humanoids. Dunno if I love that, but …
Eh. I dunno. I mention it mostly because of the great reactions from people whose opinions and gaming tendencies I frequently agree with, and from this actual-play write up, in which the gamer’s seven year old son plays through the first DnD 4th edition module, simultaneously running five characters, keeps all the rules straight (even for Attacks of Opportunity), and outmaneuvers his dad.
I confess: the battlefield rules sound really fun.

How Conflicts Work (PTA, Galactic, and many many more)

So in this post, I’m going to talk about some different games and how they deal with conflict resolution.
Specifically, in which games do conflicts work, and which they don’t work, and how to help out the ones that don’t work as well. I’m going to start with something bog-standard that pretty much everyone is familiar with (DnD), and move progressively further out until I get to an indie game with a lot of good going for it, a lot of good rep, and a conflict system that we keep failing to really ‘get’ — Primetime Adventures.
So, DnD. It’s hardly perfect, but the thing it WANTS to do well it does really well. The only real problem I have with combat is that there really isn’t an end-state where someone doesn’t end up dead; there isn’t really a point in the game SYSTEM where you can say “no: the potential price here is too high — I’m out”. There is a point in the game FICTION (if the play group supports you) where you can do that, but that’s it — the rules themselves don’t support it, and do a lot to discourage it (AoO rules, etc).
The main problem I have with NON-combat conflicts in DnD/d20 is they are all one-roll wonders; you roleplay roleplay roleplay, and then roll to see whether you succeed or just wasted your time. With combat, you get a blow-by-blow recreation of the action, and with a tense diplomatic session, you get… one roll. If you’re lucky, the roll might be adjusted up or down via GM-fiat-bestowed bonuses, thanks to your roleplay, but nowhere in there do you get a system that will give you a sense of verbal sparring.
Result: combat is (sometimes unfairly) called “20 minutes of fun packed into four hours”. Roleplaying is largely freeform, unsupported by the (inarguably solid) small unit combat system.
Here’s a game where you get to use the same system used for everything (unlike DnD, applying the same granularity to everything as well), and as a result of that, all conflicts feel equally important. The basic one-roll system is used when some sort of conflict needs to be resolved, but it’s not a hugely important conflict. The “Extended Conflict” system gets trotted out when a conflict is Really Important. This is kind of brilliant, because depending on the kind of game you’re running, a huge set-piece battle might play out in 10 minutes, with two die-rolls, while a conversation over tea back at the castle might be THE MAJOR ‘FIGHT’ of the session.
The only problem with the current version of the rules is that the gulf between the ultra-simple basic conflict system and the ultra-complicated extended conflict is pretty broad, and often filled with house-ruled mini-extended rules, because the extended conflict rules are cumbersome. This is being fixed in the new rules coming out sometime this summer, and from what I’ve seen, the new “let’s use the longer conflict rules, because this scene is IMPORTANT” rules are going to be easy and intuitive and do exactly what they’re supposed to do. Bravo, sez I: I can’t wait to do some stuff with that system again.
Spirit of the Century
Much like Heroquest, the game uses the same mechanics for both physical combat, verbal conflicts, and really anything else — this means that everything is equally important (ie: represented by the rules and the time spent on it at the table) and any kind of character can contribute. In many ways it’s a very ‘traditional’ game, but full of stuff you can use to really have some kooky story-game fun. I’d love to use this to run a middle-earth-style game of “subtle magics”; the system in the game of being able to Declare an Aspect on a location or in the scene is perfect for the kind of “did I really see that?” magic that’s prevalent in the books.
((Note: it totally isn’t fair to list Spirit at this point in the “timeline”, because it comes after and learns from a bunch of the games I’m about to talk about, but whatever. It reminds me of HQ, so I’m mentioning it here.))
Dogs in the Vineyard
There has been a lot of talk in the indie-game-design scene in the last couple-four years about “stakes”. This is all Ron Edwards fault, thanks to a little game he wrote called Trollbabe that originally introduced the term, after which it was promptly co-opted and at least partially misused in about a gazillion other games.
The idea basically is that before you start rolling dice, you decide what’s at Stake. An example of this might be something like “Okay, I want to get Count Bobo to back down and release the prisoner to me — if I win, he does that.” or something like that. The problem with Stakes is that, if you do it wrong, in the process of defining “what happens if you win, and what happens if you lose” before you roll, you frequently end up discussing and halfway playing out all end result possibilities, so that once you roll the dice, there’s really nothing else to PLAY. You just kind of grunt and say “Okay, well, that cool thing we already discussed to death? I guess that happens. Moving on.”
((Trollbabe, incidentally, bypassed this problem in typical Ron Edwards fashion, via the mechanics of the game — the stakes themselves aren’t nearly as important as the pain you’re willing to go through to GET them — but as is typical with Ron, he doesn’t really explain that in the text, and it’s only head-slappingly obvious about five years later, after everyone’s already cocked up a number of other games trying to pull off the same thing.))
Now, Vincent Baker wasn’t immune to this use of Stakes — he wrote Dogs in the Vineyard during that time, and the concept of setting stakes are there, but (in my opinion) are presented in a far clearer and cleaner way (because it’s Vincent, really). Basically, the conversation you have before rolling is basically “Okay, I want you to reveal what you’re hiding in the house”, and then you roll dice and let the dice sort out what happens. If I just plain beat you in the series of rolls that follow, you’re forced to give in.
However, you might not be willing to take the kind of Fallout (damage) from that full exchange, and give in early. In a sense, that is the heart of Vincent’s conflict resolution in all his games: Negotiation with a Stick. The Thing You Want is out there, but the getting of it breaks down into ACTIONS; into What You Are Doing.
“What you get” is interesting. “What you are doing” is interesting and COOL.
In Dogs, this breaks down roll by roll and is narrated roll-by-roll as a series of discrete and interesting and impactful actions… all of those actions DO something to someone else (that’s the ‘with a stick‘ part) who might decide not to take any more and just give in. (Or they might decide to up the ante and Negotiate with a Knife. 🙂
It’s genius. It sets a bar.
In a Wicked Age
I’m not going to sit on the Vincent Baker bandwagon for very long in this post, but I want to draw a parallel between IAWA and Dogs — they both do the Negotiation with a Stick thing, but they manage it from completely different directions.
The big thing with In a Wicked Age is that Vincent has entirely done away with the idea of Stakes. Instead, you go back, waaaaaay back to that good old d20 stuff and just talk about “What I’m going to do”, which (for me) is a more comfortable place to be as a player. And the end of a series of rolls, you know who actually did what they said they were going to do, and who failed. The winner can then say “give me what I want, or I hurt you.” And the loser can say “Okay” or “hell no, tha’s jus’ a flesh wound!” and you go back into conflict for more pain.
((I’m getting there. I’m almost to the Primetime Adventures thing. I swear.))
Galactic isn’t a finished game, but it’s by the same author who wrote PTA. Since it’s a newer game, it shows how the author’s learned and expanded what he wants out of the game and the conflicts, but it still carries with it some of the flaws. The biggest one I hear the most is that the conflict system is good for conflict, but not so great for roleplaying during the conflict… it has the back and forth dice and sacrifice tactics of, say, Dogs in the Vineyard, but there’s a bit more dice-handling going on, and you’re sort of focused more on that and less on the roleplay that (should be) allowing new dice to hit the table.
Hmm. That’s not very clear. Let’s go to the instant-replay, Bob.
Dogs in the Vineyard Example:
Dave is in a conflict, arguing with a recalcitrant member of one of the towns on his Circuit. The first couple verbal exchanges didn’t work out that well for him, so he’s going to assert a little authority in the form of his Coat — the sort of badge of office of the King’s Watchdogs.
Step 0: It’s his turn.
Step 1: He roleplays bringing the Coat into the scene. Maybe it’s how he stands, maybe he says something about it or asserts his right to wear it, or maybe he just flings it back and the end of it swings in the air, all cool-like. Whatever. He roleplays it first. That’s mandatory, and whatever is narrated to bring the Coat into play DOES happen.
Step 2: He rolls the dice associated with his coat and adds them to his pool. Maybe the dice are awesome, in which case the coat will have had a big impact on the conflict, and maybe they suck, in which case it didn’t.
Step 3. He narrates further, going into what he’s doing as his ‘move’ and ‘plays’ the dice that will represent the strength of what he just did.
You see what happens there? Roleplay is a MANDATORY prerequisite that allows the player to both strengthen their character’s position and justify the dice that he ends up playing against his opponent.
More importantly, it’s specifically stated as The Way You Do It in the rules.
Galactic Example:
Dave is in a conflict, arguing with a recalcitrant member of a colony world he’s trying to get some information from. The first couple exchanges didn’t go his way at all, and he’s gotten some of his dice potentially knocked out of play… plus the dice he has are kind of weak compared to his opponent’s.
Step 0: It’s his turn.
Step 1: He checks off a couple Edges that let him ‘save’ some of his dice from being knocked out. He also spends a fortune point to bring one of his unused Archetypes into play, to give him more dice.
Step 2: He pulls the ‘saved’ dice back into play, and adds his new dice to the mix, and he and his opponent roll.
Step 3: We figure out, based on which dice stay and which dice get knocked out, what happened.
Step 4: We narrate what we deduce has happened … it’s a bit like reading tea leaves. 🙂
See what happens there? Roleplay/narration is a kind of… addendum. An epilogue. It is not central to either the action or the mechanics. Note that this is just the way my group does it. We could (and should, now that I’ve figured this out) do it this way:
Step 0: It’s his turn.
Step 1: He roleplays the actions he takes and everything that happens that will bring in the Edges he needs and the Archetype he’s introducing.
Step 2: He pulls the ‘saved’ dice back into play, and adds his new dice to the mix, and he and his opponent roll.
Step 3: We figure out, based on which dice stay and which dice get knocked out, what happened, and continue roleplay/narration from the stuff we already did in Step 1.
See how that’s better? And there’s no reason we can’t do it that way… but there’s no reason we can’t do it a slightly sloppier, much less roleplay-reinforcing way either, cuz The Way It Is Done is not in the rules.
Hmm. Need to send these thoughts to Matt. Anyway.
Primetime Adventures
Whoo. Been a lot of typing to get here, hasn’t it? Sorry about that.
Okay, so PTA is brilliant. Seriously, and truly, it’s brilliant. I’ve never seen a game that so perfectly represents the way a story is told in the television-medium. The way fan mail works is great, but especially with screen presence and Issues… it’s hard for me to watch a show now and NOT see it in terms of “who has the big screen presence this week” or “oh, it’s an Spotlight Issue session for Angela”, or whatever.
The conflict system, though. Oy. My head.
The problem is, it’s so damned simple. I get x number of cards. You get x number. We flip them over, and whoever has more red cards wins. See? Easy.
No, no it isn’t.
The problem is two-fold. Maybe threefold. Two-and-a-halffold.
One is stakes. PTA is built entirely on setting stakes, and it was written when the term was very vaguely defined by the indie community, so it’s kind of vague and hazy here. It is very. very. very easy to discuss the stakes of the conflict to the point where you’ve entirely explored everything that can happen in the scene, before you even PLAY. THE. SCENE. We don’t focus on what is being DONE; only on what (eventually) happens.
Two is the conflict mechanic itself: flip over of all your cards and you’re done. Conflict mechanics are more interesting when you can insert narrative/roleplay action in the midst of them — we said that even all the way back when we were talking about DnD, didn’t we? The combat is better than the non-combat stuff, because there’s more stuff going on — it isn’t just one roll. In Heroquest, the “important” conflicts are the ones with a few more rolls and detail. Dogs always has a series of rolls, into which roleplay is completely integrated. Galactic has a similar back-and-forth, but doesn’t integrate the roleplay (yet), so it’s not as smooth or as enjoyable.
PTA? It has one cardflip. Boom. Done. The most suspenseful conflicts in the games I’ve played in so far have been when we use the “Chase Scene” rules, which means we flip one card at a time, so if we each have three cards out, we break it down into rounds, basically, and narrate how the action is going up to that point, then flip the next ones.
That’s good. Honestly, I think we should use that “Chase Scene” method a lot more of the time, if not always. If we houserule in a rule that said you can spend Fan Mail in the middle of the conflict to bring in another card (probably paying double for it, since it’s mid-fight), as long as it was before the last flip, that would give us one more reason to roleplay each of those exchanges.
Problem Three, put simply, is just how the scenes are introduced.
Bad: “Okay, I think we’re at a conflict here, what do you want out of this, if you win?” (this is how we do it when we’re not feeling comfortable in the game)
Good: “She says ‘I love you…’ and looks at you expectantly.” (BANG!)
What’s all that mean? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. I’m possibly running Galactic this weekend after a lot of time away, and we’re playing PTA next weekend, so these things are on my mind. I welcome any thoughts from those (two) of you who managed to stick with me til the end.

“I kick it (old school) for 1d6+2 damage.”

bt-dd-box-225.jpgSo a few weeks ago, I was poking through an old chest of junk from high school and found something I thought I’d long, long LONG since lost. That image to the right gives the suspense away, but I’ll say it anyway:
The pink-box, 1980 copyright, got it for Christmas out of a Sears catalog, “red box” Dungeons and Dragons. The dice are gone (as is the crayon included to color in the numbers), and the spine of the book is cut through so I could put it in a ring binder, and the box is full of old maps and worlds and character sheets, but it’s there. The expert rules, too, in all its weird, crazy, “dwarves, elves, and halflings are characters classes, like warriors and wizards” glory.
And I want to run it so, so bad.
Or at least something like it. For me, a romp down the OD&D lane would be one thick with nostalgia, but I understand that, while the rules are kind of light, not everyone would want to spend the time grokking them (and ignoring the stuff you know from more recent, if not really improved editions) just to smack some kobolds for 1d6 damage with an iron mace.
But… something like that, you know? I love me some Wicked Age, or Spirit of the Century, and I long for a good campaign using Heroquest rules, but while WIcked Age is lean and mean and good story-making fun, and Spirit is a hell of a fun romp and plenty rules crunchy, and Heroquest has a kind of all-in-one fantasy beauty to it, none of the games I’m playing right now scratch a particular itch that I can best sum up as “defined progression.”
You know what I mean; that thing that D&D does, where you get a certain number of experience points, and then there’s a ch-ching and you get a new skill or new trick or new something. Wicked Age characters change, but it’s more story-like. Spirit of the Century characters… shift but, superhero-like, don’t really level up. Dogs characters change all the time, but it’s as a result of things that happen in the story, not because you got 1000 xp and became a Dog-Exorcist, Level 3, you know? There’s no level-up chart for fixing 2 Dogs towns and then *ding!* Heroquest is more traditional, but is like Hero System or other point-based games in some ways — little, incremental changes that you pretty much get by your own spending of points.
I want… I dunno. Burning Wheel would probably do it, with its skills and mega-crunch and life paths, but it’s a big meaty system that Kate played once and didn’t love, and I don’t want to have to learn and then teach another huge, meaty system, anyway. I did that with DnD 3.0 and 3.5, and it burned me out to the point where I won’t play those games anymore; they make me sad the way a failed, codependent relationship does.
So I want something with some structure to character progression, some smacking-kobold fun, that I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power learning… so something I already kind of know, and like, and didn’t burn out on.

Continue reading ““I kick it (old school) for 1d6+2 damage.””

In a Wicked Age

So I’ve mentioned this game a couple times on the site, but haven’t really gotten into the game that much or talked about the sessions. Let’s fix that.
A few months back, I went down to Lee and De’s with Kate, and we cracked open my copy of In A Wicked Age — a game designed to do Sword and Sorcery in the vein of Howard or Tanith Lee. There’s a cool podcast interview with Vincent about the game, here.
The game basically let’s you draw a few cards to define the elements of the setting, pick up some of those elements as PCs, some as NPCs or setting, get each of them pointing guns at each others heads (metaphorically) and then dumping them into a situation together.
Combat/conflict is about as complicated as any “roll initiative/roll defense/gain advantage for next round” game, and is basically perfectly designed to create a kind of an anthology of loosely connected short stories that involve many of the same characters (to a greater or lesser degree) in many sessions. Each session jumps to a new chapter… forward in time… backwards, sideways… whatever. It’s pretty hot, and the rules cool and pretty easy to ‘get’.
It hit the gaming community, and everyone promptly built like 300 million new oracles to use the system in different settings — unlike Dogs, it’s highly setting-independent as a system.
Anyway, we got to the game-starting, and I opened to that part of the book, and we did that stuff. Here’s what the book said to do, and what we did.

Continue reading “In a Wicked Age”

The Sound of Silence

The internets are pretty darned quiet today… at least the areas I listen to. This is, I think, almost entirely due to the release of the Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures on Friday — all those folks who normally blog about WoW stuff are creeping through the jungle, watching the branches above for Stygian assassins. Seriously: I mean it. WoWInsider posts maybe 50 to 70 news items a day, and yesterday a bunch of new information on the upcoming and much-looked-for Expansion was leaked out.. and today, there have been seven posts.
It’s set up to be a big hit.
* Huge potential fan base. A major fantasy property. A million subscribers in the beta, alone. That would be, as a point of reference, three times more than the best numbers CoH has ever put out for a quarter, and larger just in the BETA than all but the truly huge players in the US and Euro market are doing with their production models right now. Their BETA had twice as many player accounts as LotRO — a successful game by any measure, representing possibly the most definitive fantasy setting in the world — does right now.
* Beautiful, evocative, machine-straining gameplay. I’ve known I’ve needed to upgrade my desktop machine for a while now — it’s … (checks Dells site) … wow… it’s over FIVE YEARS old, and although I have tweaked and upgraded and pushed and prodded and squeezed additional performance out of that box until it damn near vibrates with the strain, the very very best I can get out the old horse today is less than the cheapest desktop models Dell is selling today as factory refurbs. Age of Conan knows it — their bare minimum requirements to run the game are beyond anything I have.
* A combat system that’s actually… you know… different.
* A crafting system that you don’t have to screw with for 40 levels, if at all.
* Acknowledgment of the growing-older playerbase with an “M” rating that it works HARD to deserve. Bloody, violent, grown-up fun. That alone will put it in the shopping cart of another 500 thousand folks.
I’ll be honest — it’s not the only reason I want to replace my home computer, but it’s one of em.

Greetings from Shell Beach Eriador!

Again, look at these as snapshots from a recent vacation.
The first shot is from a few weeks ago, taken a few hundred miles northeast of the Shire, in the easternmost reaches of the north downs. It’s one of the passes into the mountains that leads (after quite a lot of winding and ambushes and scary dragon kin) into the southernmost reaches of Angmar, the Witch King’s seat of power. The statues framing the pass look a lot like Nazgul to me. The dark trail on the ground marks the passage of a massive army that went through not too long ago (now occupying the valley of Dol Dinen to the south).

“… but the trees are actually quite lovely…”

This one isn’t really a screen shot — it’s just the current map for the game. As you can see, a lot of the ‘world’ isn’t in play yet — really it’s just the section of the map connected to the areas that the Fellowship ‘touched’ or referred to just during the first half of the first book. Click on the picture to go to an annotated version of the map.

Rivendell. What more do you need to say? In this shot, Geiri pauses on the steep, steep path leading down into Imladris to take in The Last Homely House. At this point in the game’s timeline, the Fellowship is resting up after all the misadventures that got the hobbits there from the Shire; Gandalf and Elrond are in deep council; Aragorn ponders the reforging of Narsil; Boromir remains as far from Elrond as he can; Gloin hasn’t arrived yet, nor has Legolas; Frodo mopes; Samwise worries about him; Bilbo spends his time in the Hall of Flame, telling riddles… and Merry and Pippin smoke barrels of Old Toby don’t pay much attention to anyone else.

Geiri and Tiranor, somewhere in the inhospitable reaches between the northern Shire and Lake Evendim.

Geiri, at Tinundir — Dunedain-held ruins along the shores of Evendim, at sunset.

Geiri, facing off against one of the bestial gauradan, LotRO’s nod to werewolves while staying true to Tolkein. They’re very beast-like in movement and appearance (I had to work at getting a screenshot that showed me their human face under the wolf head for several minutes and numerous fights), and their tribal areas are very cool. I particularly like their facial characteristics; that lantern jaw and heavy brow really sets them apart from other Men.
In this shot, I’m doing what I usually do: smashing my shield into the bad guy’s face until Tiranor gets a couple arrows into them and they decide to have a lie-down.

And that’s it, for now. I tried to get a shot that captured us on our (new!) horses, riding through frozen Forochel, with the northern lights in the sky and our breath coming out in white puffs, but I never quite got it all in a good shot at the same time, so that will have to wait.

A couple screenshots from World of Warcraft

Really, what is an MMO but a mini-vacation? And what should you do on a vacation? You take pictures.
I’ll have some screenies from LotRO soon as well, because they are much prettier. WoW is much more comic-book style, but pretty in it’s own way… or maybe I’m just a nerd.
WoW_Prince Action
This image is from a Karazhan run that, judging from the gear I’m wearing and who I’m grouped with, was probably about 2 or 3 months ago. First, I like this picture because it’s kind of a heroic action shot: Grezzk has just released an arrow at Prince Malcheezar, Octan’s water elemental is blasting an ice bolt over my head at the target… it’s cool.
Second, it’s a pretty good shot of my customized user interface in action. I’ve tweaked the look of the game a lot from the default (thanks to Blizzard making the UI pretty much open-source for developers to mess with at will and release addons for). If you click on the picture above, it links to the Flickr page where I’ve made a bunch of notes on the elements in the picture, just because I’ve never done that before, and it was pretty fun to do.
Whoops. I killed Dr. Boom.
Who’s Dr. Boom? Officially, he’s a guy you’re supposed to kill in this one quest in Netherstorm — a mad goblin who specializes in making exploding robots or something. The thing is, the guy has like like a million-zillion hit points, so in the quest you get some special bombs that you can chuck at him if you can get close enough — hit him with like four of them and he goes down. Unofficially, his stupidly high health and the fact that he never aggros on you — just surrounds himself with bombs — means that ranged DPS like mages and hunters can use him to test out new shot rotations with a DPS-meter running to see what options do more damage, without worrying about (a) killing your target or (b) dying.
I had cause to use him for that purpose last weekend.
Turns out, you will eventually have to worry about (a).

So how did that “interview” raid go?

You know, the first time I went to Karazhan with Grezzk, I was geared up appropriately, ready to go, and yet… I didn’t outperform anyone.
I mean, I did my job, and I didn’t screw up (too much: I saved that for my second run), and I filled a role that needed filled and did the damage that needed to be done. But that was it. I wasn’t posting chart-topping numbers, I wasn’t three-times higher than the next higher damage-class, and I wasn’t doing as much damage as all the other teammates put together.
Eventually, I manage all those things in Karazhan and Heroic-level dungeon teams, but not that time. I was the new guy. I was decently geared for entry-level, but that was it.
And that stage… being the new guy with “good-enough” but not actually “good” gear, and not knowing what I was doing and actually gimping my performance simply because I was focusing so hard on just not screwing up? That stage was a LONG, LONG TIME AGO.
Note that I say “was” a long time ago. As of last night, I’m back in that same place again. I’m the guy with “good enough, but not *good*” gear — the one who needs to learn the fights before he relaxes enough to really open the throttle up — the one who died about 2/3rds of the way through every boss fight. I did the job I was brought in to do, but it wasn’t A+… it was … maybe a B-, maybe a C. “Shows promise, needs to focus” writes the teacher in my new class — not nearly as ‘easy’ as my old class.
A friend from my old guild who convinced me to join him in this new guild told me that he really wanted me to come in and just blow the doors off some of the cockier members of the guild. That didn’t happen last night.
But it will.
I like this new pond. It’s a lot bigger.

Not-a-job job hunt

Hmm. I wrote a really really long post that didn’t go anywhere. Let’s start over.
Playing Grezzk, I’ve been working on the new event in World of Warcraft — the introduction of the Shattered Sun Offensive and all the heroic behind the scenes effort (read: repeatable quests) that go into it — as you complete quests, you and all the other folks doing those quests on the server help the ‘progress’ of the war effort move along — over time, you gain a foothold on the island, then expand it, get logistical support, et cetera, et cetera.
I’ve really enjoyed being part of the Offensive. This can be shown numerically, because the quests themselves pay pretty well and advance your reputation with the Shattered Sun faction — in the short time since this faction was introduced, I’ve gone from 500 gold to the almsot 5200 I need to get an epic-speed flying mount and because Exalted with the faction weeks ago… all without trying… just ENJOYING my small part in the war effort. Good stuff.
But I’m kind of done with that. I enjoy my alt characters a lot, but at the same time I like playing GREZZ: I’ve got more play-time on him AT level 70 than the play time I have on all his other 69 levels combined (a tribute both to the character and to the piles of stuff there is to do in the end game), and there is a lot more stuff to see in the game that I haven’t yet — ‘end game’ stuff that no one will run come Halloween/Thanksgiving when the new expansion comes out. There are seven 25-man dungeons in the end-game, and I’ve seen one of them. I’d really like to fix that.
I was in a guild that was gearing up to hit that content really hard, and it melted down. Scholomance Debate Team went from a really quirky family to a truly poisonous environment in a matter of weeks. In Lee’s words, “it was like dating a really pretty, smart, sexy girl for six months… and then finding out that she was in a mental institution for the three years just before she met you… and then escaped.”
When all the happened, I just didn’t have time to deal with it; I wasn’t an officer or a class lead, and frankly between Kate moving out here and looking for a new job, I just had more important stuff to think about.
So I moved into a casual guild of people I knew who were thinking about doing a little more raiding then they had been. What they were moving up and in to was stuff I’d already done a bunch, but it was still fun to see it again through new eyes. I wasn’t sure it was the right fit for what I wanted, but the GL talked to me about what he wanted to do in the future, and convinced me to stay. That was just before the wedding.
While I was off getting married, the guild leader quit the game during a firestorm of a guild meltdown that I’m pretty glad I missed.
Right. Guildless again. Farstriders is a small server (note: still 5 times higher population than the average CoH server), and there are really only about three guilds who are doing the content I’d like to see, and they’re all kind of ‘hardcore’ raiding guilds; to use an amateur-sports analogy, I was playing with my friends, out in the park, on weekends. These guys are trying to win their division the sponsored league play.
But seriously? It’s that or doing a paid transfer to another, much bigger server and looking for a ‘responsible, but casual’ guild that would take in a stranger.
So I’m basically trying out for one of the local Big Names this week. It’s a series of job interviews all over again.
Honestly? I’m pretty excited.

And in the meantime, i get to play Lord of the Rings with Kate, one which we’ve really picked out our ‘mains’ and started some serious exploration of the higher-end areas. People want us to get to Rivendell in time to give Aragorn a message! We’ve seen Angmar! (Well, we snuck into the southernmost passes leading into angmar and saw a really terrifyingly big dragon go by overhead.)
Pretty heady stuff for a steadfast dwarven guardian and his adorable elven hunting companion. (It’s my blog, so she’s his companion. 🙂

No, there haven’t been a lot of updates

… that’s largely because there hasn’t been a lot of gaming going on.
Sometime last month, Dave ran a session of Ill Met by Gaslight, and that was good.
A little while before that, I ran a session of In a Wicked Age down at Lee and De’s, and that was good too.
I haven’t run Spirit of the Century this year… maybe since last November.
I haven’t run a session of Galactic since mid-December.
Which would leave me posting mostly about World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings online (which, unlike my local playerbase/social calendar, is always available). I don’t really want to do that (though I may have a “WTB: PvE Hordeside Raiding Guild that won’t Melt Down” post coming up at some point), so that has left me with not a lot to write at the moment.
In lieu of slew of WoW/LotRO-centric posts, I’ve installed two twitter feeds into the sidebar to let me natter on, in a constrained fashion, regarding whatever bit of digital-adventure minutia I’m currently obsessing over.
And seriously?
“Skilled Orc Hunter WTB: Hordeside raiding guild that won’t melt down. Will transfer servers for new content and good group of players.”

Playing Wrong… Right

So Paul Czege (author of the RPG My Life with Master) has something really interesting to say about that game and how it’s viewed and interpreted by the playing public.

I blame [this misunderstanding on] what came later. When I designed My Life with Master, my play style was characterized by fluid scenes involving multiple player characters, a natural enjoyment of roleplay and dialogue without any particular hurry to use the resolution mechanics, and no particular concern for equitable apportionment of screen time. To my great frustration, it has subsequently become characterized by formalized stakes-setting, abrupt usage of resolution mechanics, and narration at the expense of roleplay.

Does that boldface thing sound like some of the less-successful Primetime Adventures play? Hmm…
So there’s this thing I always find myself apologizing for on the Story Games forums, and it boils down to something like this:

“Here’s some Actual Play that I wanted to share with everyone. It’s going to be long, although there’s only a few conflicts: we got through about five scenes in the five hours we played — we just don’t play as fast as everyone seems to.”

Why did I bother apologizing for something like that? We had a good time with our five hours — we did some cool stuff and had fun, right? However, I’d been reading so much on the ways that various folks ran their games (and I mean THEIR games — games THEY wrote) that I wanted to at least try for the kind of style envisioned by person who wrote the game.
What did that mean? Well, based on what I had interpreted to be the case, the idea was to cut into the action, drive straight for whatever the current conflict might be, get there, engage the conflict mechanics as soon as logically possible, figure out what happened, and then narrate it. Then immediately cut to the next scene.
Hmm. Damn, it doesn’t even sound viable when I describe it like that. Often it wasn’t, although using PTA’s rule of “skip anything that would bore the audience” works better.
Result? Usually, Epic Fail.
So lately, I’ve kind of let that go, a little bit at a time. De helped with this in one of her comments on this blog: “So we play slow? So what, we have fun,” and lately I’ve come to a better place for MYSELF in gaming, where I *still* focus on the next drama- or conflict-laden scene, and still try to get to a point of conflict IN that scene, but I get there with more roleplaying, less narrating, and let more of the CONFLICT be roleplay, with the system itself used to determine the final ‘what happened?’
There was a really good example of this in the second-to-last Primetime Adventures game I ran — so much so that I really started to feel like I was “getting” that game (ironically, but simply letting go and not TRYING to “get” it.)
So, is it stupid be kind of relieved and “cleared” to find out that most of my concern over playing the game wrong stems from incorrect assumptions on my part about how it’s being played by others, from the beginning? I hope not: I will feel that way, regardless.
These crazy new games, they talk a lot about the Story and how to get to it — something I already know, but was sloppy about in the past. They’ve helped with that. However, all that very specific language about the story made it seem as though the story itself, and the creation of it also had to be parsed out and diced and sliced in the same very specific way, or all the advice would be useless. USELESS!
And it’s not that way; it’s like writing advice. Yes, it’s often good and useful and helpful, but if you try to observe and follow every single bit of good advice all at once, being careful not to forget anything and to get all the words exactly right in the first draft…
… it’s going to fucking suck. I mean, it’s going to godawful unreadable shit. There will be a gem here and there, and you’ll cling to those gems and analyze the HELL out of them, because they are undeniably BETTER than what you were doing before, but the net result is worse.
You can’t do it that way. You write. You keep those other new things in mind, and let them all gradually sink in over a great deal of time, or you incorporate one thing at a time until you don’t think about it anymore, then add the next thing.
Why do you do it that way? Because if you can write at all, you already know how to write in a way that makes you happy, and that is the important thing you have to hold on to no. matter. what.
The same is true of play. I got all excited for a while about how I could be doing things better, and lost track of the fact that what I was doing already makes me pretty goddamn happy. So I let all those little guides and hints sit to the side, and I’m slowly working them in, a little at a time, and I’m not worrying about the fact that I’m doing it ‘wrong’, according to what I’d thought I’d read.
And just about the time I got completely comfortable with being wrong, I find out I was okay, all along.
Life is funny that way.

Nobilis, renewed.

(Via Story Games:) Rebecca Borgstrom has released “Unlikely Flowerings”, the first part of the long-awaited Society of Flowers supplement for Nobilis as a 115 page pdf at Drivethrurpg for $5. It’s also available for free at (the publisher) Eos’ website, but “purchasing it from DTRPG will show your support for the author, her efforts and improve the chances of seeing the rest of the book.”
Nobilis is also getting a reprint by Eos Press. The reprint will be revised and twice as thick as the 2nd edition, due to resizing the book to 8.5″ x 11″; will contain new art, a new visual style, and content from The Game of Powers Live-action RP rules. (Which is ironic, since I always thought the rules in Game of Powers worked better for TTRPGs than the main rulebook’s more LARPish rules.)

Week in Review

Not a ton to say, really. Kate might disagree, but it doesn’t feel as though a lot’s been going on with Gaming-stuff.
* No Galactic or Spirit of the Century. *sad panda*
* I led a Kara raid up through the Opera event on Wednesday. That was fun in a wacky way; more stress, but we had a weird group and ended up doing stuff like taking out Moroes and company with no priests, chain-traps, and a lot of shooting things in the face.
* One of the other Raids on a ‘free’ night fell through, which left me with nothing to do, so I hopped on Syncerus the Drood and chewed up Strangethorn Vale and Duskwallow Marsh for awhile, dinging both 40 (hellooooo Dire Bear form) and 41.
* I didn’t really want to watch the Oscars, so I played during that while Kate watched and filed a bunch of her books on our now-full shelves. This led to FINALLY getting Kayti done with the huge Zul Farrak dungeon for which I’ve been gathering quests and prepatory gear for… three months? A long time. During the run I dinged 47, and turning in the (eight!) quests afterwards took her all through 47 tp 48. Tanking the run was fun, though the paladin threat generation isn’t as easy as I recall (partly due to trigger-happy pug-teammates).
Grezzk’s guild is struggling to recreate itself in an active-raiding mold. Consequently, raid schedules are in flux, the officer corp is in flux, the guild charter… you get the picture. Old officers unhappy with the changes are leaving, etc. etc.
Y’know what I’m doing about it? Nothing. I went to the (vent-based) meeting to vote on various changes, and offered my two cents and a reality check or two on some of the rules, but volunteer to be a raid leader? No. Volunteer to be an officer? No.
Thanks. I’ve done that. I have the t-shirt and the “die in a fire” emails from former guildmates.
I log on. I play. If I’m really lucky, I get in a group with some folks and we have a good time. If not, I still get to blow stuff up and mess with my little characters and play a game.
A second job (unpaid, that is) I do not need.

“All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.” (Galactic: introduction and Session One)

I’m really not going to be able to do the Galactic game justice with an Actual Play report.
First, we’ve had four sessions now and I haven’t done a report yet. The first one was back in late November, and the details are a bit hazy.
Second, a ton of stuff has gone on, and inevitably, I’m going to forget some stuff.
Third, I want to talk a bit about the mechanics in the game, so that’s going to color things a bit, and there’s a lot of that to talk about.
I’m going to give a shot, though, because the game deserves the thought and discussion.
So let’s start from the beginning.
In Session 0, we had too many players. That’s all right, because (a) one guy wasn’t going to be able to stay with us for the whole run and (b) with a few extra players, we were more likely to have enough people to play even if someone couldn’t make a session.
These are the characters we came up with. We each also had to come up with one planet and one faction that’s active in the setting, and you repeat that between each of your three quests, also, during the first session, every Captain comes up with their own cliffhanger for the first quest to start with. They also pick the world the quest will feature. The player on the left picks a faction that will be prevalent. The player on the right comes up with a central NPC for the quest.
So there is a lot of communal world-building going on throughout the game, which means that each game of Galactic is very different in tone, elements, and story than any OTHER game, despite the “main” story being the same. (Even the Scourge itself is different in each game.)
Now, on the surface, Galactic looks like the kind of game where no one can miss a session. The reason for that is the way character creation works. Everyone makes up a starship captain, and then we sort of ‘meet’ each captain in turn, and everyone else at the table (except the gm) makes a crew member for that captain. Captains and their ships can run the gamut from an officer of the Concordant Navy to the captain of a commercial cruise ship to the leader of a ragtag group of scavengers — it’s all good. Thing is, it seems like “if someone doesn’t show, then that crewmember isn’t there on every captain’s scene, and so forth”, but as long as you make the ‘minimum’ number of players (which might be three plus the GM, maybe, but which could work with just two players, short-term), you’re good to go.
The basic background of the setting is that mankind, after creating the huge Galactic Republic, was wiped out by the mysterious Scourge. One colony ship escaped the genocide, and founded a new home on a nasty, brutish world at the end of nowhere. They finally returned to the stars, found out about their lost history, and are starting to explore and colonize back in the direction of the “Core” — the home of the original Republic. On the way, they run into lots of alien races who were once part of the Republic (and who often revile or worship humanity, by turns), as well as the ruins and abandoned technology of their own ancestors.
And then the Scourge wakes up.
The game is about how these captains (working alone for the most part) try to stop the thing that no one could stop the last time. It’s got a strong feel of the new Battlestar Galactica for me, both in the story tone and in the mechanics and interplay of crew and captains.
This is basically how the conflict works out.
A scene opens with a captain. We set up what happens and we play. At some point in there — maybe right away, maybe later — we get to a point where either I or the Captain say that something happens that other one says “no” to, and that’s where and when we go to the Conflict system.
The conflict system works like so: in true Firefly- or BSG-style, there’s two sides to every conflict — there’s “what the conflict is ostensibly about” and “the relationship between the Captain and one of the crew that is either going to be strengthened by Trust or weakened by Doubt as a result of what happens.” It’s important to understand that Winning or Losing the Goal happens INDEPENDENTLY of the Trust/vs/Doubt thing with the crewmember. You can totally get your ass kicked in the epic space battle, but the crewmember who is “on the hook” for that scene could trust you more at the end, because of the WAY things happened. Or vice versa: you could kick ass and take names, but your actions fill the crewmember with Doubt.
1. You figure out what the Conflict is about, and which crewmember is ‘on the hook’. (This is my term for it — not the game’s.)
2. Then, the Crew who are involved take the one dice that they get to contribute to the conflict (there are painful and dangerous ways to contribute more dice — sometimes a LOT more dice — using what I and the author call the “leaf on the wind” mechanic) and decide if that dice is going to help the Quest or the Crew side of the conflict.
3. Then, the GM decides where he is going to allocate his dice in the conflict — is it mostly going toward weakening the crew’s resolve, or to resisting the Goal of the quest? Maybe an even mix? The GM has a budget of dice he can use on each captain (plus any Doubt the crew has in the captain), so I can’t just crush them every time with as many dice as I want.
4. Once the captain sees where the crew are putting their effort, and what forces are arrayed against him, he puts out his own dice, which can be quite numerous — he has multi-dice ‘archetypes’ that can be brought to bear, as well as the ability to utilize any Trust that he’s earned from any of his crew (like any captain, he can put the crew’s Trust to use, though that puts that Trust at risk — he can lose it). Finally, he can decide that whatever he’s doing might put innocent bystanders at risk, and the bigger those potential Consequences are, the more extra dice he can bring in. They are BIG dice too, those Consequence dice, so they’re very tempting.
When it’s all said and done, the dice are all arrayed against each other, and there is rolling, and comparisons a lot like the old dice game “War”, and narration of that round happens, and then folks might have lost, or they might ‘give’, or they might rally and go into another round and keep battling until the whole thing is resolved. At the end, the Captain has either won or lost their goal, and one of the crew members has either gained Doubt or Trust in the captain (and the same crewmember can totally have both Trust AND Doubt in the captain, over time, which is awesome.
Once that scene is done, we do it all again with the NEXT player; we switch to a new captain, everyone switches gears to playing a new character, and off we go.
So… that’s kind of what happens in play.
This is a very set kind of story arc. Each captain plays through three quests. A quest is over when the captain wins three conflicts having to do with that quest. Now… that might be three wins in a row, or 2 wins, then a loss, and then a win; or maybe five straight losses followed by three wins (which would be kind of cool). Doesn’t matter — at some point, they get the three wins, the quest is accomplished, and they move to the next, then the next. (Unless they die — they CAN die, and there are provisions in place for that.)
Once the third quest is done, we move to the Last Big Quest, and at the end humanity is either saved or it’s wiped out by the Scourge. The end.
Right now, we’re about four sessions in, and pretty much everyone is done with their first quest.
Session 1 (Chris, Tim, Dave)
We started with Tim’s Captain Nils, the captain of Isabel’s Dream, which is ostensibly a cruise ship, but is also a neutral ground for diplomatic meetings and happens to be armed (definsively!) to the bloody teeth.
Tim had a great cliffhanger set up, and I was looking forward to it, but I also wanted to make sure we were ‘getting our roleplay in.’ Matt Wilson is a great game designer, but in playing his other ‘big’ game, Primetime Adventures, I’d noticed that players got wrapped up enough in the mechanics that they didn’t… you know… “just roleplay” — they only did with regards to the Conflict — making for very focused, but very short scenes… maybe only a few lines of dialog and lots of narrative. That’s partly Matt’s playstyle (as I understand it), but I wanted to make sure that we were taking the time to roleplay just for the sake of roleplaying as well.
Also, this “who is the ‘featured’ crewmember” thing was kind of new to everyone, so I took a page from BSG and started the ‘show’ with a scene between the captain and the crewmember-of-note. In this case, that was Dave’s college student, working as an assistant purser on the ship.
We opened the scene with Tim’s captain briefing the purser on the seating arrangements for a big banquet that evening on the ship. This was an impromptu thing, but Tim really rose to the occasion, rattling off page after page of detailed “do’s” and “DO NOTS” about everyone attending the party — who couldn’t sit next to who, and why, and which group’s hated which other groups, or who needed special treatment, or practices, or food, or greetings — while the harried and utterly overwhelmed purser trailed along in his wake, nodding and trying to take notes. The scene really illustrates how good Nils is at his role (which is largely an act) and how new to the whole thing Dave’s purser is.
So now the cliffhanger, which is simply this:

During the banquet, as the Dream comes into orbit over the planet of R___, the mysterious black box in Captain Belinar’s room (passed down for generations in his family in readiness for ‘when the Scourge return’) begins to beep. The captain is called to his suite, and he and a few select members of his crew enter. As soon as they do, the box emits every more beeps, and the ship shifts perceptibly. The helm hails the captain, and informs him they have just lost all steerage control, and the ship has moved into a landing pattern with the planet’s surface.
There are a few seconds of silence, and the captain comments, “It’s unfortunate that we’re not atmosphere capable.”

The goal for the conflict was “Get control of the ship away from the box, before we enter the atmosphere.”
I’d love to give a play-by-play, but it’s been months, so here were the key bits:
* Dave’s neophyte-purser character was at some level mind-melded with the mysterious black box.
* Chris’ security chief/ship’s chaplain was a pain in the captain’s tuchas.
* The captain kept the ship from entering orbit by cutting all the main power in the ship (including things like the gravity control) and using on-board nuclear missiles (!), fired at the planet (!!!) to introduce enough counter-momentum to get back into a shaky low-orbit.
* Dave’s character, as a college-level historian, was shocked that the captain targeted the planet randomly to induce the right thrust for the ship, ignoring the fact that he was targeting key bits of the local ruins, such as the famed “Third Pylon”, but the captain’s plan paid off : the planet’s highly damaging Acid Raid (which actually shouldn’t have been falling during that phase of the planet’s weather) damaged the missiles enough that they didn’t damage anything of any importance on the uninhabited planet — several didn’t even fire.
We then switched to Dave’s character, Allysande Daen, who’s main goal is to track down her father, a former navy admiral, and find out what happened to him and What’s Going On.
We join the crew making planet fall on Ando III, a cool-temperate planet with a vaguely oriental flavor, on which “Zeno”, Daen’s father’s former XO, is living… in a well-heeled asylum.
Tim’s crewmember Bosley, Daen’s personal ‘batman’ is the crewmember on the hook. Chris is playing “Smoke” the stoner-mode mechanic who keeps Daen’s “Heart of Darkness” working. Daen and Bosley are heading to the Asylum. Smoke is heading to the local bazaar to scrounge up some supplies.
Bosley, who knows Daen well, is quietly talking with her during the mechanized rickshaw ride to the asylum. They’re discussing things like “Are you prepared to tell him how your career is doing?” (It isn’t: she left the navy to pursue this personal quest.)
Dave’s cliffhanger setup was the next bit:

Daen and Bosley walk into the public “sun room” where Zeno and a number of other patients are sitting around doing various sun-room activities. He looks up and recognizes her. She says “Hello, Commander. I’m looking for my father, and I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”
The old man nods and says “I was afraid of that.” Then he and EVERY OTHER PATIENT IN THE ROOM pulls guns out from under their lap blankets and open fire.

The goal for the conflict is essentially “Win the firefight without killing Zeno.”
((A word about conflict goals: they are best when they have interesting failure options built into them. “Survive the fight.” is boring, but “Survive without killing Xeno” is cool: you can LOSE the conflict, but that could mean lots of things. Maybe you lose the firefight; or have to flee; or the police arrive and arrest everyone; or you win, but you shoot the one source of information you have… or a dozen other things. Setting up a good conflict WITH INTERESTING FAILURE OPTIONS is a key part of not just Galactic, but any game. Losing should be just as interesting, if not more so, than winning.))
So there’s a gunfight. Meanwhile, Smoke is in the bazaar, and only a few seconds after the shots start in the asylum, some guys jump him in the bazaar and he’s running for his life and shouting for help from the Captain as well. (His crew-dice were in on the side of winning the Crew conflict, not the Quest one — how well she handled Smoke’s problems would build Trust with Bosley. Bosley was ALSO in on the Crew conflict, not the quest.)
Again, I have only a few bullet points.
* The captain took a few bullets in this fight. Dice that get knocked out of a conflict stand the chance of being “impaired” – made unavailable for the rest of the quest. A LOT of Daen’s “Warrior” archetype dice got impaired during the fight, so that’s how that was narrated.
* Dave went to a lot of work to protect both Tim and Chris’s dice from getting knocked out — lots of shouted commands and shoving Bosley out of harm’s way and suchlike.
* Some ‘deep cover’ agents from the organization that Daen is working with a lot showed up to help out (use of her Connections trait, which allows (or forces) rerolls)
* Dave ended up winning the conflict, and closes in on Zeno, who’s run out of bullets. He agrees to talk, and then goes into a violent seizure (seizures being one of the “Scourge traits” in this version of the game.
And cut to the next guy.
Captain Argon Slash is docking his ship, the Legion, on “The Drift” — a massive space-station in the middle of uninhabited space, comprised of hundreds if not thousands of different ships crushed, bound, and welded together. Each captain has his own ‘flavor’, and Slash’s is a kind of mix between Firefly and an anime where the characters often make Super Deformed angry-faces. The crewmembers for this part of the quest are Sonja, Slash’s ex-wife and the ship’s negotiator; and Jake, who’s sort of a young, crazy, gun-ho shootist (and Slash’s fifth-cousin).
Slash, who collected crazy Solar Republic artifacts (and then tries to integrate them with his ship), has discovered a weird pyramidal object. He’s not sure what it does, but he’s heard a rumor that at the heart of the Drift are ships that date back as far as the Solar Republic — ships that still WORK. His ‘plan’ is to find a way into the core of the gang-turf-controlled Drift and plug the device in… and just… see what happens.
Which is his approach to most ancient tech.
The three are heading toward a meeting with a contact on the Drift who controls the territory they need to get through when they’re jumped by members of the neo-luddite, anti-expansion “Blue Sky” faction.
Slash holds them off — thermal detonator in Jabba’s Palace-style — with a Mysterious Ancient Artifact (or two). Jake is waiting (and eager) for orders to shoot. Sonja is verbally sniping at everyone. The following verbal exchange takes place
Sonya: “Listen to the man — I was once married to him, and I can assure you it’s dangerous to get close to him.”
Blue Sky: “Silence! We would hear nothing from someone who has succumbed to the sin of divorce!”
Sonya: “Excuse me?!?”
Blue Sky: “Quiet!”
Sonya: “All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.”
And that’s when the shooting starts.
* Slash was pretty much conning the Blue Sky folks all the way through.
* Jake’s crew dice where very hot — he was shooting all over.
* Sonya was saved from ‘knock out’ by Argon’s love of tech. She takes a shot and the chest and Slash cries out, running over to her and pawing at the hole in her clothing. She protests that she’s fine — and he reveals he was just checking to see if the armor weave that he put into her jacket (without her knowledge) held. It did! Slash is happy — Sonya is pissed.
I put a LOT of dice against the Crew aspect on this fight, cuz I wanted Sonya to have Doubt in Slash, but the group banded together and held me off — Sonya, although she doesn’t *like* Argon very much, does *trust* him… at least she trusts his instincts with technology. (Ironically, it’s turned out that Sonya is the only crewmember who DOES have trust in Argon… maybe the other’s don’t know him that well?)
The Blue Sky scatters, and Jake runs off after them, whooping and hollering. Sonya storms off back to the ship. Argon is left by himself.
Back to Captain Nils
The goal of this conflict was not very good on my part — simply “Get Control of the Ship back from the Box.” It was a FUNNY conflict, to be sure, but not a good one — failure would have resulted in nothing much happening, which sucks. Luckily, they one.
What happened.
* The box used some kind of lightning on Chris’ guy… then sort of mind-controlled him. Nils had to incapacitate him with some other ancient family-heirloom widget.
* Dave’s character was the box-translator most of the way through this. (“No, no, using the blue lightning against the Reverend is BAD!”)
* The box was receiving a signal from the planet, telling it to come down to the planet. The Signal is on U-space frequency … ironically, from the just-saved-from-destruction Third Pylon!
* Nils is able to control the box by speaking commands to it in Trilatian. (The Solar Republic version of the /sudo command.)
And Allysande Daen…
With Zeno having seizures and possibly doing himself serious internal harm, SMOKE has to talk the Captain through dosing the man on something that will bring him out of the seizures and subdue him… without killing him. Luckily, Smoke is something of a ‘pharmaceutical expert’.
* Smoke gives quick, professional medical advice and actually shouts at Allysande when she hesitates at one point.
* She trust him and follows his instructions.
* Bosley now really trusts her for her success and for supporting her crew. (Though I think we awarded Trust wrong here…)
… and that was the end of session one. I’ll put another post up for Sessions 2 and 3 combined, and a third for Session Four, which is where we are now.

“Let’s not create a WoW-widow before we even get married, hmm?”

… or, to be fair, a Gaming-widow in general.
I’ve been giving my Google-calendar a workout for the last couple days, because although I am a gamer of many different colors and stripes, I have traveled down the road of life-imbalance quite a few times since the early 90s (oh, those early MUDs and MUSHes; oh those hours of Space Hulk and Battletech map creation), mid-90s, and far far more recently… and I’d just rather not go back there, thanks.
So: I raid in WoW (though I could wish for a little more progression-status and a little less farm-status — I did my farming in my youth :P), and I have some alts I really enjoy, and I play LotRO, and a have a copy of Tabula Rasa winging its way to me for a practically criminal discount, and I have table top games I’m running and even more that I want to run, and then there’s writing stuff, and reading stuff… the question before me is “how do I get enough time to ‘blow stuff up’, without ensuring that I have “ALL THE TIME YOU COULD EVER WANT, AND THEN SOME, YOU BASTARD”?
I’m not an expert, but these are the guidelines I’m working with right now.
1. Schedule my time. I don’t mean just my play time, but just flat out schedule the Big Stuff that needs doing during the next week. Note: I use the word “needs” advisedly, and not without some irony; leveling my druid does not “need” doing… it’s just one of those things I’d enjoy getting to do.
2. Kate and Kaylee first. The time I will, without fail, spend with My Girls during the week goes on the calendar first. Everything else bends to adapt. Non-negotiable. This is fairly easy for Kaylee-time, as Jackie and I already have a set schedule that pretty much ensures I see her every day (barring the off-weekend). Kate and I — not habitually that detail-oriented — are working on actually scheduling stuff, too: weekly date nights and the Regular Tuesday Night Activity (currently swing dancing). This also (happily) includes some activities like LotRO and watching geeky shows like Avatar, so… Win/Win!
3. Limited ‘play commitments’. I have a limited amount of time to be online and playing stuff. Call it 15 to 20 hours a week. My guild has planned activities that take about 15 to 20 hours a week. I do ****NOT**** want to spend all my online time on those planned activities. Therefore, I need to strictly limit my raiding commitments. This basically boils down to (selfishly, very selfishly) signing up only for stuff *I* really want to do, and NOT signing up for things just to ‘help folks out’. I’ve prioritized my time helping online-people out before, and it always means I spend too much time online with an exponentially decreasing amount of personal enjoyment. I play so *I* can have fun; bugger off, internets. This rule means I get to spend a good portion of ‘me’ time completely unstructured. I approve.
4. Vetoes Unless I am currently involved in some kind of group activity in which my sudden departure will result in screwing over a bunch of other people. (I’m GMing a game, a central player in a game, or in some kind of group, online), Kate (and, to a lesser degree, Kaylee) can ask me to drop what I’m doing. ((Emergencies, of COURSE, mean that I say “sorry guys, gotta go” and I f-ing GO. Duh. Obviously.)) Conversely, I reserve the right to go kill stuff instead of watching a third hour of Trading Spaces… or Little Einsteins.
There are unspoken parts of this, like the assumption that there will be lots of ‘white space’ on my calendar that will get filled in naturally with the “sand” of honey-dos, chores, random acts of laziness, and especially impromptu fun stuff involving either The Girls, or Games, or both.
But you have to lay out the Big Stuff first, before the whole area fills in with sand and leaves no room for them.
Or so it seems to me. I’ll report back, maybe, on how it all works in practice.

Fiddling with my global cooldown

Cooldown: n. MMO-related. A period of wait time before a spell, ability or power can be used after that same spell, ability, or power has been used.

Example: In World of Warcraft, a character’s hearthstone has a one hour cooldown. Once you use it to teleport back to your ‘home’ location, the stone cannot be used again for an hour.

Global Cooldown: n. MMO-related. A period of wait time before any spell, ability or power can be used after ANY OTHER spell, ability, or power has been used.

Example 1: In World of Warcraft, any attack power triggers the ‘global cooldown’. At the moment that an attack power occurs, all other special abilities become unavailable for 1.5 seconds. This is to prevent players from stacking up skill uses at an unrealistic or game-breaking rate.

Example 2: In City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings online, the Global Cooldown is actually ‘front loaded’ into each power — there is a (often uninterruptible) delay between activating an attack and that attack actually happening. The end result is the same as WoWs global cooldown, but allows players to queue their next attack while the current attack is still ‘going’.

Global Cooldown: n. Doyce-related. A period of time during which I need to decompress at the end of the day. Cooldown times vary, depending on what has been happening that day. Cooldowns often include use of an MMO, but might also involve reading, watching videos, or various other activities; however, many people adopt specific activities that they prefer, and are reluctant to change.
Failure to observe the the Global Cooldown can be game-breaking.
Global Cooldowns (as defined here) are strongly affected by who else is in your adventuring party, as other players can aid the GCD, extend the time required, or even interrupt the GCD unknowingly, resulting in a number of system errors.
Communicating with the other members of your team about the GCD is highly recommended, especially when you have recently added a new member to your party.

Almost suspiciously perfect

A job opening posted by Blizzard Entertainment. I’ll boldface the requirements I meet.

* Contribute to the written development of Blizzard Entertainment’s intellectual properties.
* Write copy text for use by other Blizzard Entertainment teams.
* Write technical information for game manuals.
* Author original short stories that showcase Blizzard Entertainment’s rich and diverse intellectual properties.
* Contribute in the research, gathering, and documentation of source materials from Blizzard Entertainment’s intellectual properties.
* Work with business partners in the development of our intellectual properties through the creation of ancillary products
* Perform editing tasks when needed by creative development.
* Perform other duties that may be assigned by creative development management and producers.
* 2+ years of industry or related industry experience as a writer
* Successfully published writing work, preferably in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres
* Working knowledge and understanding of technical writing and editing
* Excellent written and oral business communication skills
* Working knowledge of Blizzard Entertainment’s intellectual properties, and a vast knowledge of current successful intellectual properties in today’s popular culture
* Ability to work and thrive in a team environment
* Ability to produce writing without constant supervision
* Excellent organizational skills and ability to work well under deadlines
* Experience creating and running pen and paper RPG campaigns and/or live-action RPGs
* Experience in playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games, especially World of Warcraft
* Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience
* Experience in designing and playing computer games (finally, my years buildings and running those text-based MMOs, written in LISP, pays off!)

Could this possibly be for real?

This is a full-time position in Irvine, California.

Ahh, there it is. The sting of verisimilitude.

Week in Review

Got everyone together for the third installment of our Galactic semi-playtest this Sunday. Despite horrendous paint fumes and a cuddle-needy munchkin underfoot, we still got a lot done and… MAN I need to write up an actual play report for the whole three sessions so far.
This game delivers. Wow. Seriously. Unlike a lot of other games I really really like (Heroquest, Dogs in the Vineyard) Galactic is not the kind of game you can easily kitbash to work in some other genre. it’s hard to explain, but it’s designed very specifically to play several science fiction ship captains, with their crews, working independently to stop the destruction of humanity. It is really NOT the kind of game that twists and bends into some other genre very well.
However, the stories that you get OUT of the game will be very different, even with repeated replays, so in that way, it’s different every time. It does one thing, but it does it very well. More later.
After a two-month break from progression raiding for the holidays, the guild I’m in has started fast-tracking some raiding work. To this end, the officers have been recruiting and we took our single, over-populated, weekend Karazhan team and split it into one weekend and one weekday Karazhan team, which lets us gear more people up, more quickly.
The challenge there is that we’re then working with much leaner ‘rosters’ for both teams — we no longer have the luxury that we had over the holidays of swapping people in and out to create the perfect team to annihilate whatever boss we were about to fight. If we don’t have ‘enough’ priests to handle the undead guys in Fight B, then … well, we have to deal. If we don’t have “enough” rogues for the Aran fight? Tough. This has forced us to be a little more resourceful, coordinated, and willing to use some unconventional tactics to win what are sometimes ugly fights.
But win we have: three weeks running, both teams have had full clears of Karazhan from front to back. Cool.
Also: after our almost two month break from progression raiding, we took a brand new raid group back to Gruul’s Lair. With a significant number of new raiders in key roles, the result might have been tough to handle, but instead we handed High King Maulgar a flawless, one-shot kill. Seven days later, the guild downed Gruul himself for the first time in the history of the guild, which is awesome. (I wasn’t there to see it, but hopefully I’ll be in on the next one.)
The most notable thing about our first Gruul kill is that they took him down much more quickly than a first-time guild would. We’ve recently adopted a new strategy that verified what many have suggested all along — once we learned the fight, we would prove to have *more* than enough Damage, Healing, and Tanking to immediately start looking at the next challenge after Gruul.
In non-progression news: I’m leveling up a druid and a paladin. Grezzk is Damage, so one of these new guys will be a Tank, and the other will be a healer. Don’t yet know which will be which, though.
Hey: those folks who play LotRO and read this: we should set up a time to log in and do some stuff.

Week in Review: Done with PvP

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I like WoW battlegrounds. I like WoW Arena. I even like flagging myself for PvP and going after various PvP “world objectives.”
I especially like the way they implemented PvMP in Lord of the Rings Online.
So how exactly am I done with PvP? I’m done with PvP-servers in WoW. I transfered the last of my characters from a PvP server to a ‘carebear’ server last night.
Here are the things with the PvP that I like: It is challenging and it is a very different kind of game than the typical PvE “Kill Ten Rats” missions that you run over and over and over again with gradually improving special effects budgets. Playing against other players is fun.
It’s also NOT what I want to do ALL THE TIME. If I sign up for a battleground or an arena — that’s what I want to do. If I flag myself PvP so I can take back the town of Halaa — fantastic — that’s what I want to do.
If I’m riding around the open plains of Nagrand, hunting clefthoof bulls for their hides and meat while I get caught up on my newsreader, then PvP is NOT what I want to do. Setting up a game so that anyone who wants to be a jerk can interrupt what I’m doing just for the hell of it is not fun for me. It’s like reading a book on the edge of the playground and having some other idiot decide that — whether you want to or not — you’re playing Dodgeball.
Right. Now.
So the deal with the WoW “PvP” servers is that, if you’re in a ‘safe’ zone, you can’t be attacked unless you specifically say you can, and if you’re in any of the ‘contested’ areas (read: 85% of the landmass in the game, and almost 100% of the area you’ll be in for 96% of your character lifespan) it’s automatically Duck Season.
Switching from a PvE server to a PvP server is like learning how to play an arcade game in a regular video arcade, and then visiting an arcade where all the other players are allowed and in fact REWARDED for walking over while you’re playing your game and SCREWING WITH YOUR CONTROLS. Nevermind that they could just wait until you got in line to play one of the player vs. player games there — they want to screw with you while you’re doing one of the solo race car games.
Thank you, no.
What bugs me the most about the PvP-server-players’ attitudes is that it’s more realistic to play in a setting like that.
Because, well… no. No it isn’t. If ‘realistic’ means ‘like real life’, then I disagree. The two major factions in WoW are currently observing a TRUCE. Moreover, both sides are being assaulted by other, more powerful forces. The SAME ones. Enemy of my enemy? Hello?
Secondly, people don’t just randomly see another hunter on the open plains and say “he’s not bothering me, but I want to engage in a life-or-death struggle with him RIGHT NOW.” Why? Because they might DIE. And, realistically, DEATH IS PERMANENT, and not to be engaged in between two people over who gets to kill the next clefthoof cow down the road (when both the people in question have thousands of gold in their pocket to buy food).
People go PvP for objectives. Important ones. Otherwise, realistically, it’s not worth the risk.
Or, coming back to the game, it’s not worth the TIME WASTED. Having some level 40 guy following my level 20 character around to kill her over and over again, then /dance, /spit, and run off? That’s now how I want to spend my 15 bucks or my time.
You want to get me in a battleground with that guy?
Bring it on.

Week in Review

Just a quickie.
This was kind of an exciting week with the guild, as we expanded our raid schedule a bit to accommodate more people.
Normally, we do the (10-man) Karazhan instance on the weekends (most of the real progress is on Saturday and Sunday for a couple hours, though we do sometimes get started with a drunken Friday night ‘run’ for laughs).
This last week, we ran a Kara raid on the weeknights as well. This is a pretty big deal, because you can’t be saved to two instances at the same time, which means we had 20+ different people (or at least different characters) participating, and two runs means more gear upgrades for everyone. Both teams pretty much cleared the whole instance. (I believe the weekday team did it in three nights, and the weekend group did everything but Maiden in two runs and just decided to skip the Maiden of Virtue, as there was no benefit for anyone to doing the fight.)
That was cool, but even better was fielding a full 25-man group to take a shot a High King Maulgar (and his court of Ogres) on Friday night, followed by Gruul the Dragonkiller.
This was a pretty momentous thing. The last time we took a serious stab at that fight was in November, and we didn’t really get enough people: we didn’t actually even beat Maulgar, and we’ve had that fight pretty much worked out for awhile.
Now… this time… okay, the signs weren’t great. We took maybe an hour to get started, and we have a LOT, and I mean a LOT of new people. The guy who usually magetanks Krosh Firehand was on his healer, so Lee was magetanking with Wyrmeyed. We had a new guy tanking Kiggler the Crazed who’d never done it before. We had a new guy who doesn’t speak English very well tanking the Warlock. Probably half our healers were new. We brought a level 68 guy along just to fill out to 25 people. It was crazy.
So we fight through the trash to get to the High King, we explain the fight to the new people, and how complicated the five-simultaneous-pulls start is, and we say “go” and we go…
… and we one-shot it. Damn near perfect fight. After not doing it for months and then bringing a bunch of new people. That was cool. I was up around 900 damage-per-second, and another guy broke 1000 dps. Insane. In-sane.
So it’s on to Gruuls. The Raid Leader announces that we’re going to do three tries and be done with the fight, no matter how it’s going. No building frustration: we have a lot of new people (we swapped in a 70 for the 68 at this point, with no hard feelings), and a brand new strategy to learn.
Let me explain what kills people in this fight. It’s not really the Boss. Gruul is an incredibly big guy in a very big cavern, and he does this thing every so often where he smashes the ground. Again, this guy is BIG: when he smashes the ground, it jumps like a trampoline and everyone goes flying in the air in random directions. When you land, you are slowed… slowed… slowed, and six seconds after you land, you’re frozen for a few seconds, and then SHATTERED. Everyone who’s within 15 feet of you at that point will cause you (a lot of) damage, then you can move again, if you aren’t dead. Around four people or so around you, and you stand a good chance of dying. If no one is close to you, you take no damage.
The problem is, even with a big room, there are 25 people in there. The chance of you landing too close to too many people is HIGH, and it’s hard to get away when you’re slowed. So we have a strategy now where everyone but the healers and the tanks run to the walls before the slam, so we don’t fly around anywhere — just the healers and tanks do. Less people flying around means less damage from the Shatter.
And it works. Damn it works. We did not get Gruul down, but we got him lower than we ever have in the past (again, with a lot of new people and no practice in two months). We had some bad luck where all our healers got silenced at a very bad point in the fight, so the tanks died… and on another attempt, sheer bad luck bounced all the healers and the tanks on top of each other, so the whole healing and tanking groups Shattered each other to death.
But that’s just bad luck. We can beat bad luck. We totally have the damage-dealers we need (I broke 1000dps on one attempt, and another guy broke an unheard-of 1200) and we have the method we need to beat that bastard. It might even be this Friday night.
… when I will be on a plane to New York, which I’m very happy about… so I wish them luck.
ANYWAY: it was a very fun series of runs, and Grezzk got the last of the gear he can get from either of the instances (pretty much — I’ve given up on getting the Wolfslayer Rifle or Nightbane’s mail leggings, and that’s okay) — Curator in Karazhan dropped my Demon Hunter (Tier 4) shoulderguards and I got the matching gloves off High King Maulgaur, so not only are my stats pretty damn good, I *match* — at this point, I’m going along on the runs to help the rest of the guild gear up and to have a good time (which it almost always is). My last two major equipment upgrades until we get past Gruul and start doing the later 25-man raids are going to come through Arena pvp.
Syncerus and Thienedera
I’m leveling up two Horde alts right now. Syncerus the tauren druid (the bearcat cow), and Thienedera the paladin. Last week, they got a lot of love. This week, I’m leaving them logged out in Inns to build up their rested rating for that lovely double XP bonus. I’ve seen the low and mid-game content already — I’m not interested in dwelling on it this time, so I’m focusing on flying up to 70 as fast as I can with both of them. Thie is a little lower level than Syn at this point (she’s on a PvP server for now, so I’m a little more cautious), but I expect they’ll get a lot of playtime soon.
My grand scheme is to have one Damage dealer, one Tank, and one Healer at level 70 and reasonably well-geared by the time the next expansion hits. I don’t have much interest in alts past that point.
I have, really, one alliance character. I finally dusted off Kayti and took her for a spin this week, and it was a lot of fun. Spell casters are a total pain in the ass on a paladin, but if I avoid them it’s a nice relaxing solo grind. I’m taking my time on her because there’s stuff on the Alliance side of the mid-game that I HAVEN’T seen.

Kate was available to play this week, so we got on Geiri and Tiranor. We had a lot of Fellowship quests to do, so I got on the Looking for Fellowship channel and asked around for some more people. A guy sent me a tell and pretty quick we were in a group with a bunch of guys who all know each other in real life and were all on voicechat.
Two hours later, all those Fellowship quests were done, Kate had gotten hooked up with some new crafted loot from one of the other players, and I had built up a pretty good start on a “DPS” set of equipment to put on when I’m not tanking — something that will become a lot more useful when Book Twelve opens up new options for Guardians, and we had some new people in our Friends list. It was another good run with a random group of strangers — in that arena, I believe LotRO is the Best MMO on the market, bar NONE.

No gaming this week, but here’s what I having coming up:
* Galactic: We still have a lot of game left to do there.
* Spirit of the Century: Need to get those sessions started up again.
* I have Savage Donjon Squad ready for our next pick-up game session.
* Once Galactic is done, I want to take a stab at Bliss Stage with Dave and De and whoever else I can get in.
* I have the pre-order copy of In a Wicked Age, a sword and sorcery bit of genius from the guy who did Dogs in the Vineyard. Totally new system. Totally new kind of Awesome.
* Don’t think I’ve forgotten about our characters for Breaking the Ice, Kate. I haven’t. Also, I have been challenged to play a Paranoia-set game using Breaking the Ice, and I don’t intend to back down from that. That’s a two-person game — anyone out there want to learn a new game set in a familiar, crazy setting?

WoW, that’s a big number

WoW breaks 10-million subscribers.

Blizzard also explicitly defined who it counted as subscribers, clarifying that the 10 million number (2.5 in the U.S and Europe each, 5 million in Asia; currently available in 7 languages and coming soon to Russian) refers to those who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access.
The count does not include free promotional subscriptions, expired or canceled subscriptions or prepaid cards.

For the purposes of comparison, CoH has about 120 to 150 thousand active subscribers at any given time. LotRO has, at last report, 300k and rising.
People need to stop comparing WoW to other US-developed MMOs in terms of subscribers or size or ‘who wil be the WoW-killer’. 10 MILLION people isn’t a game, it’s a city. Comparing WoW to something like DnD Online is like comparing CoH’s playerbase to the population of Chicago.

Week in Review

What can Brown do for you?MMO – WoW
Grezzk – level 70 (effective level: 117)
Most of my time on Grezzk has been spent on (1) Kara runs (2) getting folks qualified for Karazhan runs and (3) getting together supplies for the Kara runs. Which isn’t to say that they’re terribly time consuming, just that that’s all the time I’ve spent on him in the last couple weeks. Just a few updates:
Team Stuff:
I’m the default “caller” for the Infernal ‘bombs’ during the fight with Prince. Basically, while fighting the boss, these bombs fall out of the sky at regular intervals, flying in at and angle, change direction one time in the sky, then hit the ground. If they land near or on the team, the team probably wipes, and we all start over. The caller’s job is to figure out where they’re going to land, and get people out of the way. One of the members of the guild calls the fight “Grezzk vs. the Prince”, due to the way the fight tends to play out — everyone is doing their job, but it pretty much comes down to whether or not we can stay out of the Infernals long enough to kill the Prince. Some of it is just luck, unfortunately, but alot of it is good calling a group who follows instructions well, and quickly. It’s a tricky thing to judge when you don’t have anything else going on, which of course I do. As ranged DPS, I’m in a position where I can pan my camera around to watch for the Infernals as they fly in from the sky behind us, while still doing my primary job (kill the boss) and keeping my pet fighting and alive.
I’ve called the fights for about a month now, and we’ve been pretty successful. The raid leaders have been pretty vocal about my ability with the calling. Feels good.
I’ve pulled in quite a lot of heroic badges commemorating boss kills, which you can then use to acquire some nice loot, so I’ve upgrade quite a lot of stuff (my new leggings aren’t on yet, since I’m still waiting to get an enchant on them from a guy in the guild. I also got a really really sweet bow off that Prince fight last week, so right now my gear is pretty strong.
There’s really nothing I can ‘buy’ with honor from the battlegrounds right now that would be an upgrade for me as near as I can tell, so after I got a very nice ring, I’ve been giving them a pass for now.
HOWEVER, there is a very nice hunter’s axe I can probably pick up with a few more weeks of doing arenas. The “noob” 3v3 team I was on kind of dissolved, but another guy got a 5v5 team started this week, featuring some pretty major DPS guys from our Kara runs. I like 5v5 a bit more because I’m not ALWAYS the “first kill priority” target in the bigger group. In our first series of matches, we won something like 8-of-12, and we were actually short a healer for that run, so that group looks really promising, and they’re fun to chat in Vent with as we play. I like doing arena as a fun break from the typical activities in WoW — it’s fast, furious, and over quickly — you can get your 10 matches in in about 20 minutes and have the rest of the week to do other stuff.
Honestly, I think my favorite part of the raiding isn’t the gear (whatever) or the boss fights (though they are fun), it’s having everyone in Vent and talking while we play. It’s a very laid back, fun, social kind of thing, and I’m less interested in being on Grezzk just to make some gold and do solo quests than I used to be, simply because I’d RATHER be doing something that involves running Ventrilo. I probably end up doing more Instance runs because of that, since it usually means having vent to chat on.
MMOs — a social activity. Who’da thunk it.
Syncerus (level 31)
My tauren (minotaur) druid is a ton of fun, and that’s reflected in the time I’ve spent on him — I think I was level 22 or 24 about a week ago. For you CoH people, druids work a bit like a Kheldian. You can stay in your ‘native’ form and heal/cast damaging spells, shift into bear form to tank (or when you pull way more aggro than you meant to), and claw the crap out of stuff in a “cat” (read: lion) form when you want to sneak around and kill stuff super quick (read: scrapper). Basically, whatever mood I’m in, there’s probably some way to scratch that itch with this character. Right now, all his talents are going into stuff that makes his Bear/Cat forms stronger, but I have a pretty decent set of “healer/caster” gear that I switch into when that sort of thing is called for — I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with him at level 70, but he’ll be either a tank or a healer. (I already have a ranged DPS character, so as cool as the Moonkin (read: spellcasting, facemelting Owlbear form) is, that won’t be what I do.
My current project with him is doing the quest chain to give him the ‘water’ form — a kind of manatee — cuz I need a lot of stranglekelp for my alchemy right now. I have a non-combat ‘cheetah’ form for hauling ass on land and let me tell you — it actually makes gathering up herbs fun — looking forward to the same ability underwater. 🙂
Herbalism aside, I’m not really stopping to smell the roses on Syn, though; I want to get him to 70 and join in all the big-reindeer games. Ultimately, I’d like to have one DPS, one CC/Tank, and one Healer available in the end game. Since I don’t know whether Syn will be a tank or healer, my ‘third’ guy should probably be someone who can go either way as well — that probably means Paladin, so I might be talking more about Theinedera in the future.
Kate’s been MIA for a couple weeks to get her company rolling and wrap up things in NYC, so I haven’t really been on LotRO much. I did get a chance to play a bit with Dave and Margie’s trial-characters last night, and I hope they decide to give the game a run; Dave geeks out on the lore like I do, and Margie seems to really enjoy the ‘mini games’ hidden within the crafting system and auction house, as well as the nuances of the skills and traits. They’re both adaptive and smart (obviously) and have quickly figured out the changes to gameplay that you need for different quests.
I leveled my little armorsmith a bit with them — one more level and he can actually wear the heavy armor he’s been making for other people. Really do like that game, and I look forward to some more time spent there once things settle down for Kate and myself.
face to face
No joy in mudville. We were going to run another session of galactic on Sunday, but I’ve been sick (not really feeling better even today), so I called it off and took a long nap. Hopefully we’ll get something going soon.

Dragonlance Animated Movie: first one released in a few days.

Holy crap. Holy CRAP.
Okay, the animation isn’t great, but the voices are pretty good. Why am I so excited?
Here’s the story with Dragonlance. Basically, a group of DnD players back in the days of ADnD, working at TSR, ran a campaign. The two authors who were writing the books basically statted out the characters from their story and everyone divvied them up. A huge amount of stuff that happened in that game made it into the story, but as importantly, the idea of the story superseding the basic DnD practices of “kill it and take their stuff” infused the campaign.
It didn’t hurt that the books are actually pretty good.
When the books were released, TSR also released a series of campaign modules designed to let anyone play those characters through, essentially, the story of the books, with some extra stuff that you only see alluded to in the books. It was something like 14 modules, I think — an epic, epic kind of story. Huge.
But more importantly, a lot of the players in my group (this was back in high school) read the books and were really jazzed about the characters and the story. They saw what the characters were doing, they saw what happened to them, and what kind of choices they made — more realistic, less ‘loot it!’ And that informed their play.
In short, that was the first game I ran where people weren’t so much playing a group, tabletop version of Gauntlet, and started roleplaying.
The story was a horrible, horrible railroad from one end to the other, I’m sure — no way it could be otherwise, really, when you’re trying to follow the basic storyline of a book — but it was a golden, special time in my memory, and I preordered the movie this morning.

Aggro and You (and you… and you… and you)

I really enjoy Lord of the Rings Online as a game and as an immersive Tolkien-geek experience, both because of its similarities to games like CoH and WoW, and for its differences.
One of the BIG differences in LotRO is Aggro Management and handling big fights in the game. I’m going to illustrate how Aggro generally works in most MMOs that I’ve played, even for only a few days.
Aggro: Aggression. The amount of “hate” that a computer-controlled bad guy has toward a player’s character. It’s summarized (behind the scenes) as a numeric score.
The BASIC mechanics of aggro work something like this, in most games:

Continue reading “Aggro and You (and you… and you… and you)”

Week in Review: Online

Didn’t have any face to face RPG goodness going on this week (and yes, I know I have yet to deliver an actual play for Galactic — it’s just that it’s going to be SO LONG… *whine*), so here’s what went down in the world of Online Heroics.
MMOG: Lord of the Rings, Online
Tyelaf (hunter) and Tirawyn (captain) are level 25 and working with Radagast the Brown in investigating Things Gone Wrong in the eastern Lone Lands around the ruins of Ost Guruth. (the lands between Weathertop and the Trollshaws, for those soaking in lore-geekery). Throw in an encampment of Dourhand Dwarves, wights, more evil spiders than you can shake a flaming arrow at, and some sort of neeker breekers soaking in the waters of a swamp filled with the dead, and you’ve got some good times.
Geiri (guardian) and Tiranor (hunter) are in the North Downs past Trestlebridge (up the Green way from Bree a fair hike). They are also level 25, and the main thrust of the storyline in that region seems to be around a Ranger and a few organized Men who are trying to unite the free peoples of the North before the whole region falls to lawlessness and orc raiders out of Angmar. Baddies so far are mostly the aforementioned goblinkin, or are bestial in nature — lots of wargs, maddened bears and wolves, et cetera.
When they aren’t directly on the front lines, Geiri keeps working on the fine art of jewelcrafting — gold necklaces, intricate silver rings and so forth. Interesting, fun, with lots of benefits for those wearing the finished products.
Aside from a weird disconnect in my head where it feels like Geiri and Tiranor should be the ones fighting the evil dwarves, while Tye and Tirawyn help unite the Men of the north… it’s going pretty well.
Finnras (captain) is also in the Lone Lands, but a bit closer to the Forsaken Inn, so he can travel back to Bree and the Old Forest more easily when he’s working with Tirathien (minstrel). He’s closing in on level 20, which will give him access to a cooler man-at-arms, heavier armor, and… well… other stuff, but that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment.
Grezzk had a pretty good week. Early on in the week, the hunter class boss decided to spend a night farming up the materials he needed to give (give!) me a couple nice if minor upgrades to my gear.
Me: Did I mention how much I appreciate this?
Him: Did I mention hos much you deserve it?
So that was a good feeling. The guild had a Karazhan run scheduled on Saturday, but I had some stuff to do, so I wasn’t around for the first part. When I did get on, they had already taken out Attumen the Huntsman, Moroes, Maiden of Virtue, and were just starting on the Opera Event, which turned out to be Big Bad Wolf. The raid leader (who was that same hunter leader) got me into the group in his place (passing the leader rains to another guy) after that, and I stayed in for the rest of the run.
Result: total clear of all thirteen boss fights in about six hours, which is pretty awesome. I was in for… the Shade of Aran (1-shot), Chess, Curator (1-shot), Terestian Illhoof (1-shot, during which I disconnected and got logged back in in time for the last half of the fight), Prince Malchezzar (three attempts, due to some bad luck on the Infernal bombs), Netherspite (1-shot), and Nightbane (1-shot).
My personal performance was (I feel) pretty damn good. Aran went damn near flawlessly. Curator involves me a lot, since I’m pulling all the patrols prior to the boss, I did a LOT better on Netherspite and really kind of helped communicate the ‘rotations’ that have to happen during the fight, and Nightbane was okay — I got killed just before the last phase, but I wasn’t the only one, so I don’t feel that bad.
Prince? On the Prince fight, which I’ve only done twice, they put me in charge of Calling Out the Infernal Bombs.
How to explain this fight? Basically, there’s a big boss who knocks the tank all over, so he has to be fought with the tank’s back against a wall to prevent that. It’s a big open courtyard, and every minute or so, a big demonic stone golem thing drops out of the sky AT AN ANGLE and hits the ground. It doesn’t MOVE, but it it sends out an Area Burst of fire that ticks for damage every second. The damage will kill you in three seconds, or one, if you’re currently weakened by the Prince.
So it’s one guy’s job to watch them as they fall, figure out where they’re going to hit, and tell everyone where to move BEFORE it lands.
And they change direction in mid-flight.
Sometimes twice.
And you have to keep FIGHTING while you’re watching these things… while you have the camera swung around to look ABOVE and BEHIND you. The job always falls to a ranged DPS person, cuz healers and melee guys just can’t do it.
And when the Prince gets down to about 33% health, they drop every 30 seconds, instead of every minute, so you start running out of places to stand that are safe.
I’m happy to say that our first two fails weren’t due to my screw ups, but just bad luck on placement of the infernals or silly things like the tank getting bounced away from Prince and dying. I was kept on the Infernal calling for each try, being told by the raid leader “you’re doing a good job, and you’re getting better every time” and by the end I was moving people a lot more confidently. The third try was very clean.
Best of all, the loot off Prince included the hunter’s Kara-level (tier four, if you speak WoW) helm, so I really felt like I EARNED that sucker — it was very nice upgrade for me. (Picked up the Badge of Justice trinket, and I’ll have the T4 pvp shoulders this week some time.)
Best of all is the feeling that I’ve gone from the noob guy on the teams to someone folks feel like they can count on to do well. “Grezzk is going to keep calling the Infernal drops” is worth a lot more to me than a shiny new helmet.
We were going to try to down Gruul on Sunday (we totally have the DPS, Tanking and healing for this fight, we just need to manage the Slams and Shatters better), but with the holidays, we just can’t get 25 people on. It sucks, cuz I KNOW we’re ready to beat that big bastard.
And that’s it. Got another post coming up about Aggro and the fighting style in different games.

Building Excitement

It is a very special kind of activity that, when discussed (even in the abstract) via any medium, actually makes you more excited about performing that activity in the future.
I believe that’s also the definition of most of the leisure activities I really, truly enjoy.

Week in Review

Sunday’s Galactic session (which was the second gaming session, and the third session if you count chargen) was covered in Awesome. I promise to post an Actual play report on both sessions, combined, this week.
I wish I could write a book based on this setting. Great, great story.
MMOG: Lord of the Rings
Mostly working on some crafting skills in mid-week and then got on Geiri and Tiranor for some grouping goodness on Sunday night. That went reasonably well as a duo, but we tried to do a six-man quest on Weathertop THAT I HAVE SUCCESSFULLY TANKED BEFORE, and we got owned repeatedly. Huge repair bills. We had a PuG-healer who was SEVEN levels higher than the rest of us and he couldn’t keep me standing against bosses that the healer on the last run had no problems with. I know why it was happening, and I also know why I don’t want to run with that guy again. Moving on.
Really like the tanking ability Geiri has right now. I’m holding aggro pretty damn well, and am quite tough. Now if I could only tweak a few things about the interface that i don’t like, I’d be really happy.
Grezzk finally got the horrible “KILL FIVE SONS OF A GOD” quest chain done, which opened up a whole slew of new quests in the Blades Edge mountains, and made him the King of the Ogres (the ogres in Blades Edge don’t aggro to you after that, and if you kill one, they say stuff like “Me so honored. Me killed by King!” — it’s funny).
I’m getting a lot better at the PvP battlegrounds with him. Last weekend in one match I got something like 97 kills in 14 minutes, 25 of which I dealt the killing blow for (which usually means I took them out one-on-one), and was defeated twice. One-on-one pvp fights pretty much used to mean I was dead — these days, one on one means I’m down about 30% health, and 2 vs Me is still sometimes in my favor, depending on what classes the other two guys are. I hate shamans a lot. 🙂
Ran most of Kara on Friday and Saturday. Friday we one-shotted Attumen the Huntsman, Moroes, Curator, the Opera Event, and took out Aran in two or three tries. It was my first time fighting Aran, and it’s a very very fun fight. “Hit him hard. Okay, no one move at all, or we all die. Now there’s a Blizzard sweeping through the area… avoid it! Now don’t move again or we all die! Now run to the edge of the room before he AoEs! Now Freeze again! Now kill the elementals he summ– DON’T MOVE! BLIZZARD! KILL HIM! KILL HIM TIL HE DIES!” And win. It’s fun. We did Chess and Maiden of Virtue and Prince and Netherspite the next day. Netherspite was a new fight for me. I suck at Netherspite. A small upgrade for me dropped in the Chess event, which was cool.
My personal bragging, however, was on the Moroes fight the first night. Moroes is one boss with four other Elite Ghost mini-boss adds.
How it usually works: You have two priests in the group, at least. They each use Shackle Undead on one of the adds, which keeps an undead mezzed the whole fight. One tank takes the other two adds, and one tank takes Moroes. We kill the two ‘loose’ adds, Kill Moroes, then take out the two shackled mobs. Getting to the shackled guys usually takes like 3 or four minutes, which means the priests have to be reshackled about three times per fight.
We didn’t HAVE two priests. We had one… and me.
HUNTERS have Freeze Trap. it is pretty much the only thing besides Shackle that works on Undead. (Freeze Trap basically works on anything that can be mezzed at all, but it has Certain Downsides.)
The downsides:
– It lasts 20 seconds.
– It can only be cast every 30 seconds. (Yes, do that math — that’s not hunter friendly.)
– You don’t cast it on a mob; you drop it on the floor and then lure your target over it by hitting the mob.
– Hitting the mob once it’s trapped releases them, so make sure you stop hitting them when they’re getting close to the trap.
And… yeah, so for that fight I had to keep one of the “Shackle guys” trapped for … a long damn time. Normally hunters might have to ‘chain trap’ from one trap to a second one… maybe a third. This one was going to be more like five or six in a row.
…while continuing to do high damage to the group’s current target.
1. Drop a trap, which lasts for one minute, unused.
2. Wait 30 seconds until the skill is ready to use again.
3. Tell the tank to go. Hope he listens and doesn’t wait so long your trap expires.
4. Tanks pull. Hit the mob and piss him off, lure him to us, and into the trap, seconds before it would have vanished from the floor.
5. Take two steps off to the side, drop another trap.
6. Send the pet after the main target and start shooting.
7. About 18 seconds later, the trap breaks and the mob comes after me, hits the second trap, and freezes. I have 10 seconds left on the skill before I can use it.
8. Move a few feet. Switch to the Group’s Second Target and start shooting.
9. Drop the trap.
10. 10 seconds later, the mob gets loose and comes after me. He hits the third trap. I have 20 seconds left before my skill is ready, and the trap lasts 20 seconds,optimally.
11. Move toward the fight at an angle, while shooting.
12. Switch targets to Moroes and send pet.
13. Trapped Mob gets loose just as my skill is ready, but since I ran off a ways, I get it down before it reaches me. It is trapped (hopefully) for 20 seconds. I have 30 seconds before my skill is ready to go again.
14. Run all the way to the other end of the ballroom, shooting Moroes as I go. Turn back the way I came, keep shooting Moroes and watch my trapped mob.
15. Mob trap breaks. I switch to him and shoot him in the face. He comes after me down the long room.
16. Switch back to Moroes and continue shooting. Trap is still not ready.
17. He’s halfway to me. Trap is still not ready.
18. Someone on Ventrillo says “umm… the Trapped Mob is loose.” I say “He’s just coming to me, I got him.” (he is still controlled, because he’s doing what I want)
19. Trap is ready. Drop it just as he gets to me. Freeze. 20 seconds on the trap. 30 seconds on the skill timer.
20. Run 10 seconds away from him (counting in my head) while shooting Moroes, and repeat.
21. Moroes dies just as my baddie hits the trap again.
22. Everyone kills my mob, which by this point in time, due to the shots I used to keep him angry at me, is already down to half health.
23. I break my arm patting myself on the back.
… and I’m very lucky none of the traps broke early… which happens.
Anyway, I was proud of that. I was either second or third DPS for most of the Kara stuff, except for Netherspite. All in all, a pretty good run. I didn’t break anyone else’s mezzes, I didn’t send my pet onto any wrong targets, and I just generally didn’t screw up — after my second Kara run, where I was pretty unhappy with myself, this was a very good way for the run to go: uneventfully.
Aside: I’m just generally ‘better’ when things go pear-shaped, I guess. Seems like I screw up more in the controlled situations.
Case in Point: doing a heroic run of the Coilfang Slavepens, and the tank, mage, and healer die on a bad pull. There are two elites left to kill and it’s me and a warlock. Either one of these elites can two-shot either one of us.
And we won. THAT was a good fight. 🙂

Motivation in Games

Penny Arcade discusses why people play games.
Kate said to me “yeah, I definitely play to explore the game — to *see* it.”
I enjoy that, or at least I can understand enjoying that, but for me the real joy is in displaying expertise. I don’t mean BEATING the game, really — I mean doing stuff in a game that demonstrates a level of familiarity and skill.
First thing I learned how to do in City of Heroes? Run along fence tops. Stand on top of traffic lights and do jumping jacks. Get to the altitude ceiling in Steel Canyon without using Flight.
In WoW? Ice Trap two bad guys at once. Defeat a ‘team of five recommended’ bad guy with just me a long, open road. Tank a whole dungeon using my pet.
In Lord of the Rings? Defeat the evil, haunted oak tree in the heart of the Old Forest with two characters and no healing.
In Halflife? Beat the enemy gunship with a beat up pontoon boat, no cover, and half my health.
In X-Com? Taking an entire enemy ship with one solder, after the whole rest of the crew was killed in the first round.
I think everyone can give a ‘woot’ when that sort of stuff happens, but for me, that’s really the GOAL. I almost WANT things to go pear-shaped when I’m playing — because that’s when it gets FUN. I know Lee’s the same way.
By the same token, I really don’t like it when I’m the only one in a group experiencing a learning curve — it makes the whole experience less fun for me, and it’s one of the reasons that raiding in WoW right now is a little frustrating.
Why do you play?

Week in Review

This one will be brief. I’ll got into more detail in some following posts.
Tabletop: Galactic
We played our first session of Galactic on Sunday, with three players. It was an good sized group for learning the rules, and we had some excellent scenes — a shipboard emergency, a big gun fight, a little gun fight, a mexican standoff, and some fun MIND CONTROL.
The mechanics are much cleaned up from earlier iterations of the rules, and want only some reorganization to really come out clear. The strategy you use in the conflicts is a lot of fun and easily as engaging at that level as the crunch you work with in d20 — it’s just a completely different KIND of mechanical crunch.
We got the rules, we laughed a lot, we enjoyed the scenes, and we’re excited to play the next session. What else to say?
Oh, a lot more to say, but I’ll save that for a post of its own, later this week.
Grezzk: Some new gear becomes available tomorrow in the game, ‘purchasable’ by using the honor points that one earns by playing the PvP battlegrounds. There are two pieces in particular that I’d like to get that total something like 27,000 honor: a total I believe I hit last night, and if not I’ll be able to get the difference in one run tonight, then log on Tuesday and two new epic pieces.
We ran all of Karazhan on Friday with a couple of tanks I’ve never worked with before. Normally, I target through the tanks for these situations, and that worked GREAT last week. This week, it was an utter horror.
I did about half the boss fights, but it was a frustrating run for me. The Raid Leader I’d snapped at early on (You want me to run without a pet? Okay, you run without a weapon.) sort of made me his pet (pun) project — get ‘im geared up and used to the trash pulls. I think they’ve just never had a hunter in the guild who gets offended when you suggest they don’t use their pets. We did some other runs later that weekend where I did perfectly fine — I perform quite well when I know the fights, really. The Dark Portal instance is particularly fun for me, even if I’m in charge of the waves of adds, and most of the rest are very comfortable as well.
Running Kara as melee or tanking seems like it would be a lot easier than ranged damage — it’s so damned easy to target the wrong guy and screw everything up on those group pulls.
Tyelaf the hunter and Geiri the Guardian both hit 24 this week. Geiri is probably my favorite character on there, though Tye is a close second and Finnras (oh captain my captain) a close third at level 18.
This week, Geiri got to tank the Great Barrows up to the first boss and a Cave Troll, atop Weathertop. The group for that run was moving very fast, so i’m not sure how I did on holding aggro on the minor trash, but the boss fights all went very smoothly — I kept them on me without any wavering.
Also: CAVE TROLL! So much fun.

Week in Review

No face to face gaming this last weekend (pretty much everyone was gone or busy), but a fair bit of online stuff going on.
Play by Post Galactic
Captain Finnras of the Binturong is shaping up to be a great, interesting, fun character… that I’ll probably never get a chance to really play.
Face to Face Galactic
Trying to use email to get done with the last bits of campaign generation, prior to our game this coming Sunday. Some silence from the players on this point, but at least one has really stepped up and given me a fun cliffhanger to start his story off with. Woooot.
Looking at the calendar, I feel a bit of mope. We get a game in this weekend, then I’m gone the weekend of the 30th, then we have the 7th and 14th weekends… one of which is probably iffy… so maybe we’ll get three sessions in. Maybe. If only we had more TIME. Eh. A noble effort, either way, and maybe we’ll get a chance to keep going after the holidays with the folks who aren’t off to another acting gig in some other part of the country.
Pretty much everything I’ve done on WoW in the last week has been Grezzk. It’s not because I don’t enjoy playing Kayti, or Theinedera (who I’d LOVE to level up with the speeded up leveling they put in), but Kayti’s Alliance-side in a guild I don’t know that well and who aren’t my level, and Theinedera is on another server entirely (really should move her to Farstriders).
Hellfire Ramparts, Blood Furnance (fail), Shattered Halls, Steamvaults (twice), and Arcatraz.
We one-shot High King Maulgar, AND the guy that “the hunters” are assigned to (Kiggler the Crazed) dies so fast that we have time to switch targets and help the melee dps guys kill their first guy. That has never happened before (granted, it’s only our third Maulgar kill, but whatever). The guild Hunter leader is VERY happy about this and personally compliments me on the damage I was putting out.
We don’t beat Gruul the Dragonkiller, but MAN it feels like we COULD, if we could just figure out where NOT to be when he shatters us.
We take down half the bosses. Attumen the Huntsman (an epic for Grezzk), Moroes, Maiden of Virtue, Curator… and the random “Opera” event, which was Wizard of Oz… so we actually beat Tinman, Dorothee, Lion, Strawman, and Toto all at once, and then Wicked Witch. They’re all one-shot kills with no one dying. I am in for every part of this run. (10 people can be inside, but your group can actually be bigger than 10, with back-up people outside to swap in on certain fights where their skills are needed or they need gear — they keep me in for everything, to teach me the instance. I *did* screw up one pull on the trash before Curator and wipe everyone, and died a few times early on as I figured out what was what, but otherwise it was good.)
At the end of the day, I go to repair my gear… and I notice that I have been given access to a guild-funded repair allowance.
We one-shot all but one boss (they have to do Nethersprite twice — I wasn’t in that fight), and I do well in everything I’m involved in — we nine-man Prince, which was cool.
At the end of this week of stuff, Grezzk has a two-piece “Beast Lord” set from the Heroic runs (which helps me trap stuff better), THREE epic pieces of gear from Kara (when you’re the worst-geared guy in the run, you want lots of stuff that no one else has an interest in), hundreds of gold worth of enchants and ‘nice to haves’ from the Guild Bank… and some personal compliments from the hunter leader and the Guild leader. A couple more heroic runs, and I’ll have some more pretty gear from cashing in Heroic Dungeon badges.
Plus, as I already blogged, it really feels like he’s part of the guild now. Especially when people can just BS on Ventrilo while we run instances.
It’s been a good week. 🙂
I haven’t done much with Tyelaf since the epic battle with the Cave Troll on top of Weathertop. He’s level 23…
… and now, so is Gieri, my dwarven Guardian (tank!). This is where all my LotRO time has been going this week, and it shows — I’ve gotten some really nice tanking “Deeds” completed that are increasing the amount of threat he generates, AND the number of enemies he can keep locked on him simultaneously. It’s HARD to hold aggro in Lord of the Rings, and there’s some assumption that any but the truly crazy/dedicated tanks are simply going to let some of the enemies hit other characters.
I aim to be one of the crazy tanks. No one gets hit but me. Dem’s the rules. Generally, it works pretty well, though we have had a setback here and there. By and large, Geiri + Tiranor the hunter = EZ Mode. 🙂
Finally, Finnras, who is my ‘third main’ character. The captain is level 17.9, and will be the next person I work on catching up with the other two. Once Kate and I have a pile of people all the same level, we’re going to play around with the team ups to see what different ones might be fun.

Getting over the New-guy Wall

After a long dry spell, I feel pretty good with the guild Grezzk joined a couple months ago.
MMOG is Massive MULTIPlAYER Online Game, and if you’re solo for everything… well, play Halflife 2, it’s really good.
But if you’re in and MMOG, It’s like that song from Cheers, y’know? It’s nice when everyone knows your name. That’s where you want to go when you have some free time.
Especially when getting to that point was a lot of work.
So here’s Grezzk’s play history in a nutshell.

Continue reading “Getting over the New-guy Wall”

So let’s talk about Galactic.

Then Isabel, seeing before all others that the Scourge would indeed be the end of Humanity, did gather up the faithful and lead them across the Wastelands and through many hardships and past many tempting oases, until they came to their new home. There, Isabel said they would be safe, and told the people to persevere, and was gone.
On the nasty, unpleasant world of Caliban, that is the story at the core of the ‘origins’ tales in most of the religions. There was a great and powerful kingdom/empire/shogunate, and then the Scourge came (why and how they came varies wildly), and the great prophet Isabel led the Chosen on a long trip and left them to fend for themselves in a rough and dangerous place that was, nonetheless, safe from the Scourge. The Chosen survived, and everyone else died. Noah’s Ark, but with a LOT less water.
Time passes. Many many many generations of people live and die (often violently) on Caliban, which is a harsh world requiring harsh measures and harsher rules. The world is sparsely but widely settled, and its people are highly territorial, warring with all other territories both for survival and for the supposed evils “they” have committed since time immemorial. Mankind slowly becomes more civilized (or at least more technologically advanced) and, like Earth, people find a comfortable place in their lives for their religion — maybe making it a central part of their lives… maybe not thinking about it at all.
About five generations ago, someone found a long lost ruins down near the almost-uninhabitable equator. In the ruins are some very very odd documents and… artifacts that contain references to the prophet Isabel.
Many references.
And a lot of math that people are only barely able to figure out — math and information that seems to be showing the exact location of the great ship that Isabel brought her people to safety in… and that location is smack dab in The Reef.
The Reef… which is an asteroid belt on the outer edge of the solar system of which Caliban is a part.
Space-faring technology at that point in time amounted to a few unmanned rockets being fired into the outer atmosphere. (When fighting your neighbors and survival are your two main motivators for several millenna, a budding space program is not a big priority.)
People were, needless to say, a bit agitated.
Temporary treaties were signed. Much work is done in a surprisingly short period of time. Several territories send ships to the coordinates in the Reef.
They find Isabel’s ship.
The five generations since then have seen a lot of change.
So, the basic legend seems to be true. There was a big … empire? Federation? Something. A big human-founded republic that spanned thousands of worlds. Somewhere at the height of that, the Scourge came… or were created… or manifested… something. Isabel saw the writing on the wall, got together an enormous generation ship with all the best tech (much of which Caliban techs are still trying to reverse-engineer), and set out to get clear of the impending destruction of the human race.
She passed a lot of really nice, habitable planets and, for reasons unknown, picked arid, barely habitable Caliban to settle on. Humanity had to work so hard to survive in those first years that they lost — or gave up — pretty much any knowledge that didn’t focus directly on making it to the next sunrise. Society fell apart, scattered, and slowly… very very slowly… rebuilt, and discovered where it had come from; the disaster it had avoided. There is a resurgence of faith, but also a massive drive to analyze all the old texts in light of this new information.
What does mankind do in a situation like that?
They head right back out to the stars, of course.
In the current time, there are many colonies spreading out from Caliban, funded by the still highly competitive, barely cordial Territories of the home world. Beyond the colonies are the Remnants — hundreds, maybe thousands of worlds that were once part of the Solor Republic that was humanity at its finest. Left behind are ruins, lost technology, mysteries, and hundreds of Alien clans that still live on those worlds and who were, inexplicably, untouched by the Scourge that destroyed humanity. Some are neutral toward the last survivors of mankind; some worship them like returning gods; most of them shoot on sight (using technology far better than Caliban’s), screaming in a rage. It has been well over two thousand years since they’ve seen a human, and still they remember the pain of when it all came crumbling down.
You play a ship’s captain, sailing the void between worlds in search of… something. (What that is is different for everyone, isn’t it?) You might be a captain in the Concordance Navy. You might be a smuggler, or entrepreneur, or merchant, or archaeologist, or scavenger, or one of the idle rich, or something else: no matter what, you’re the Captain, and when things get rough, it’s just you and your crew.
Things are about to get rough.
The Scourge is coming again.

Continue reading “So let’s talk about Galactic.”

Game Mechanics that set the tone

So I’m musing about game mechanics; have been for the last couple weeks, actually, because I’m playing a lot of Spirit of the Century, editing a MONSTER of an old-school-style game called Robots and Rapiers, getting ready to run Galactic, and wishing I’d had more luck playing PTA and Dogs.
So all those systems are bouncing around in my head, and I start drawing comparisons.
Here’s an observation:
Lots of games have Edges. By “edge” I just mean “that thing on your character sheet that lets you tweak things in your favor.” Call them Aspects, Traits, Talents, whatever… in play, they let you tweak results.
There are really two ways that an “edge” can be invoked:
Mode 1. They can be used to give you a intial, “pre-roll” boost to your chances of success, thereby increasing your odds of winning a conflict. Primetime Adventures does this with both it’s Traits and Fan Mail. Spirit of the Century pretty much does this with Aspects (they come in after the roll, but before the roll *counts*).
Mode 2. They can be used to stave off or lessen the sting of failure. Galactic’s “Edges” do this. Traits you bring in after a conflict has already started in Dogs in the Vineyard do this. “Doom” in Conspiracy of Shadows does this. The appropriately-named Survival Points in Dead of Night do this. There are many others.
Now, my point is this: your final numeric result using ‘edges’ in either of the two ways above might be exactly the same, but the modes feel different, and that feeling seeps into the tone of the game you’re running. pushing either toward adventure-heroic (mode 1) or the survivalist-gritty (mode 2).
I’m not talking about the game’s power level. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving folks one ‘edge’, or five, or ten — I think if they’re implemented in the style of Mode 1, the game is going to have a kind of “let’s be awesome” feel, and if you’re using them in the style of Mode 2, it’s going to have a kind of “let’s survive this” feel.
What does that mean? I think that means that, even if you have a mechanically-perfect ‘hack’ to the Spirit of the Century rules to use it for zombie-survival-horror, unless you change the way you can invoke Aspects, the system itself will be subtly encouraging you and the players ‘be awesome and heroic.’ It’s not the number of Aspects you give people that matters, but how they can be used that will affect the tone.
Now, let’s say that you have a group sitting at the table who (a) totally gets the tone you’re going for, (b) agrees to it and (c) actively works to support it. Can they overcome the subtle whispers of the game and run an horrifying zombie-survival game using, say, straight Spirit of the Century?
Yes. Without hesitation, yes. The rules are only one voice at the table, and can be drowned out easily but other voices. It’s really no different — or less jarring — than when one PLAYER is working toward a different tone than everyone else.
You just can’t throw popcorn at the rules and say “knock it off.”

Galactic: good for the brain, bad for the eyes

I was going to write up a post about the character/universe generation for the Galactic game from this weekend (a complete campaign I’m foolishly trying to cram into the space between here and mid-December), but I wanted to transfer everyone’s notes up to the wiki first.
And reading their [censored] awful handwriting, I am now totally [censored] blind, so you’ll have to wait for the update until I learn how to read braille.
I thought *my* handwriting was bad. Holy hell.
Anyway, the stuff I sacrificed my eyes to transcribe is on the wiki here.

“I got Girl Cooties” (Weekend in Review, the MMO post)

Figured I’d split this up into two posts, since I have a lot to post about the face to face Galactic game.
If you want to know why the post has the title it does, you’ll have to read to the end.
Right then.
Who’s this? I haven’t mentioned her before. This is my level 20 blood elf paladin on Kel’Thuzad — a full-PvP server. I’ve been wanting to level up a tank on the Horde side, and while I’m still trying to get into playing a bear-form druid, I still REALLY LIKE paladins, and I already have a lot of experience playing a protection-specced pally on Alliance, so I’m working on Thienedera now.
The patch coming out on Tuesday is cutting the XP required to level from level 20 to 60 by 20%, and increased the XP from quest rewards, so I wanted to get her to level 20 to really set her up to smoke through the levels in a hurry. That meant getting her up 3 levels this weekend, which… I pretty much did just on Friday night — there’s a reason they didn’t speed up leveling from level 1 to 20. 🙂 In the process I was invited into a Guild and … was really really surprised by a very supportive group. There are no 70s in the guild, but they’re a very good-sized group and the leadership seems really really focused on helping out everyone and really helping the group progress as a whole. That’s neat. I’m pleased I’ll be part of a guild like that as try to her up.
Also, I might have to make use of WoW new renaming service (which take all of 2 minutes, apparently). Kaylee informed me that Thie’s name is “Casey”, so I might have to rename her. 🙂
After a couple weeks of fairly light play, I got Grezzk on and did some fun stuff. Said fun stuff included a run of not one or two but THREE five-man dungeons that I’ve actually seen before, and participating in Gruul’s lair, which is the first of the 25-man raid-dungeons in the game — a pretty short one that only takes an hour or so to do successfully, or longer if you’re still trying to beat the last boss.
The first instance was done as a favor to a friend of mine who is not in my Guild. He’s a tank, and a nice guy, and needed someone to provide damage in the Auchenai Crypts which, to put it simply, is my least favorite instance on Grezzk (I think I’ll LOVE it on Kayti — it’s MADE for AoE tanking). He talked up his guild a lot to me, how smart and quick they run things, and I’m at least five levels too high for it, so I figured I’d come help out.
Yeah, we team wiped probably 8 or 9 times. It was awful. I was pulling aggro off the tank with just my autoshot running, and … ugh. It’s a miserable mid-level-60 instance and they didn’t have the people they needed for it. Sucked.
The second instance was with my Guild in one of the wings of Tempest Keep known as Arcatraz. “Wings” is a particularly-apt name for it in this case, as Tempest Keep is actually a series of ornate palaces floating in open space — you can’t even get there without a flying mount. Arcatraz is essentially a prison for horrific critters that some bad people are keeping locked up, and whom someone is now releasing to wreak havoc — you must stop them, yadda yadda. I’m not sure, but I believe Arc is considered the hardest wing of Tempest Keep, which would then presumably make it the hardest five-man instance in the game (Again, the Crypts have my vote for MOST ANNOYING, but it’s not even a level-70 dungeon).
This is a particular FUN and FUNNY dungeon to run — there are two bosses in about the middle of the instance that have been working together so long that they really really HATE each other and each actually cheers you one as you kill the other one. The bickering and the cheering is done with some FANTASTIC voice acting. Also, the last guy in the run — a kind of powermad toady — is voiced beautifully by Curtis Armstrong, and always cracks me up.
This run went really well — it was a good group and everyone was guildies and on Vent together, so while we were a little tired and not too talkative, it still went really well. I found I was STILL pulling aggro off the tank (who is geared very very well and knows his job), so I’m not sure what happened there. Normally I don’t have aggro management issues like that, but maybe I’m starting to get into the DPS range where I churn out so much damage I have to routinely pull back a little. Would be nice if that’s so.
In any case, I was EASILY the top damage dealer in the group according to the DPS readouts which, considering I was running with some serious Guild vets, made me feel good. I also did a little chain trapping, which makes me happy when I can contribute in that way.
Saturday, the Guild was running the 25 man raid-dungeon Gruul’s lair. How to explain this…
There’s a giant that the Ogre tribes worship as a god. (For good reason.)
You go to his lair. You beat through his elite guards to the first main room. In it is the High King of the Ogres, and four of his closest advisors. These advisors are also full-on raid bosses in their own right. They are all standing in a pack AND HAVE TO BE PULLED, TANKED, AND KILLED SIMULTANEOUSLY BY FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE.
Kiggler the Crazed uses ranged magic attacks on whoever he’s fighting, and doesn’t hit too hard — anyone with decent health and a healer along for the ride can tank them — you just need DPS to kill him.
There’s a warlock who summons demonic pets the size of a bus and fears his tank all the time, so that’s a total pain. The fear is an AoE, also, so he has to be fought FAR AWAY from all other groups.
There’s a mage who keeps up a fire aura so nasty that it will kill ANYONE in melee range in a few seconds, so you have to take him down with nothing but ranged attacks.
There’s a priest who, unless interrupted by rogue stuns or silences or something, heals everyone ELSE, a LOT.
And there’s the High King, who just hits really frigging hard.
So you need
1. Someone to pull the High King off in to a hallway and basically solo tank him (with a healer or two to keep you standing, until everyone else is dead).
2. Someone to keep the fire-mage guy busy.
3. All the rogues and other melee guys killing the priest as fast as possible.
4. A tank (or two) on the fear-spamming demon-summoning warlock.
5. A five-man team of hunters, mages, and one priest to keep Kiggler the Crazed busy, and then make him dead.
It is one of the most complicated pulls around, and if the pull is good, and you kill everyone in a smart order, the fight is easy — if the pull is bad, the fight is very… short.
I got picked to pull and tank Kiggler the crazed this time — my second time in the run. Then when he (hopefully) dies, I’m to send my pet after the priest or warlock while simultaneous attack a different guy (the fire mage) and, when everything else is dead, join the whole raid in killing the King.
How’d it go? We killed everything on the first pull, and all 24 or 23 of us were standing at the end. We’re getting pretty good at this. I was really happy to be the guy in charge of pulling and at least initially tanking Kiggler, and really pleased to be in what is, so far, our best fight against the High King and crew.
Then we went on through another hallway full of tough guards to Gruul. This was really tricky and actually raid-wiped us once. Then we got to Gruul. People were told where to stand once we got inside. People were warned not to linger at the doorway when the fight started, or you’d be locked outside the chamber of this huge bastard…
… and I walked in a step too far, Gruul triggered, came over, and wiped us all out. &**&#$(&*@# . Dammit. Wiped out the raid. @#$@#%.
Anyway, we tried one more time, but folks had to go after the one try — we have yet to beat this guy, so I’m not going into all the stuff that happens in the fight, but suffice it to say it makes the fight with High King Maulgar look like a summer cotillion.
Peole were still on Vent after the raid was done, and some of us needed a run of another instance, so five of us reformed and ran and did that instance. I dunno if we were overgeared or what, but I’ve run The Black Morass before, and won… and this was a breeze by comparison. A BREEZE. 18 waves of dragonkin coming in through randomly spawning portals and trying to kill this guy behind us… with waves 6, 12, and 18 bringing along a full on Boss as well… and we smoked it. It was good and, again, among a group of vet characters, I was WELL in front on damage-dealt. I feel like I’m ready to sign up to participate in the (10-person raid, 13-boss, “task force in a box”) raid dungeon “Karazhan”.
I feel like I can contribute. I think I might do that this Saturday.

Saturday night (yes, after running Gruul AND the Black Morass instance), I got onto LotRO and Kate and I were running around the Lone Lands (the uninhabited region all around around Weathertop for miles and miles. We’re in a tricky place with Tyelaf and Tirawyn — lots of “need a fellowship” missions in both the Barrowdowns and Lone Lands, and not much else — in short, we’ve hit a wall we need some help to get over.
We were on no more than 10 minutes when Kate spotted someone on the Looking for Fellowship channel asking if people wanted to join them for “Clearing Weathertop” (which involves exactly what it sounds like — defeating the orcs and … OTHERS… that infested the area Weathertop after the Ringwraiths recently visited there.
We joined, and found out there was another player who also had the in-game voice chat enabled (a built-in push-to-talk tool that we use instead of Gtalk). We started chatting and coordinating that way, and eventually got the whole group on the tool, so we could get really teamed up well.
This was a GREAT group — one of those once-in-a-hundred pugs that just clicks. We had a great tank, some decent damage, and two Captains who, although not healers as such, do an excellent job of healing “morale” as long as you keep WINNING.
This was where I was really glad that I’ve played most of the classes by this point. The thing with the Captain-class heals is that they only become available when you DEFEAT AN ENEMY. If you just look at the skill list for the class, you see a bunch of heals and think “okay, they can heal, we’re fine.”
And that works great when you’re fighting packs of five or six orcs — bad guys are dying all the time, so their heals (and a number of defeat-dependent buffs) are available much of the time.
As I said, they’re really good when you’re WINNING.
BOSS fights, when you’re fighting one BIG thing, for a LONG time — they loose access to a LOT of those abilities, and become, basically, a mid-range damage dealer, which is bad.
And we had to kill a number of bosses.
So I’ve come off several hours playing WoW, where hunters can’t shoot things from too close in, and LotRO hunters have a HUGE range on their bows, so I’m WAY WAY WAY back.
And we fight our first boss, and I see that health levels are starting to drop all over, and finally the boss dies, and a heal goes up, and then his minions die, and we’re fine again.
So… the next boss guy… I switch to a minion. Hunters are like well-armored Blasters in CoH — we hit FRIGGING HARD. So I start on a minion, pull him to me, beat him up, and he dies in the middle of the boss fight.
And… I see a heal go up. I hear the other captain on voicechat say, six seconds after the kill, and one second after the “heal power” opportunity has dropped “dang, missed it.” She wasn’t expecting the kill, so she didn’t know all those buff powers were going to come available all of a sudden.
I kill another minion right about when the boss dies… so that doesn’t matter so much.
We get to the top of Weathertop.
There’s the big boss guy. None of us have ever been here before, but we’re ROLLING through the thing, so we (read: they) all charge in. It’s a toughish fight, but we win.
This guy has half-again as many hit points as the boss we just killed, we’re already down on power, and his had more minions. ACK!
So I shoot him a bit, and we’re getting POUNDED on. He smashes the whole group and everyone but me (who is WAY WAY back) is stunned. I switch targets off him so he doesn’t decide I’m his new target while the tank is knocked silly.
I’m on a minion. A HA!
I shoot the minion a lot. In the face. Health scores are plummeting and NO heals are going up, cuz nothing’s dying.
Just as I’m about to kill the minion, I get on Voicechat and shout “Captain! Heal opportunity is coming up… NOW!”
The minion dies. Beautiful green light floats up from everyone.
So. Damn. Cool.
We had such a good time with that we all just stayed in group all night and cleared Fellowship-only missions the rest of the evening. Good stuff.

So what’s with the post title?
I was in voicechat a lot this weekend. By and large? Everyone in charge was female, which I think is just unspeakably cool.
The leader for the Tempest Keep run? Female, as was the main melee DPS.
The Raid Leader, one of the tanks, and main healer on Gruuls? Female.
Pretty much the whole damn fellowship in LotRO were female — both Captains, the Tank… (And as much more of LotRO are 35 and up, it was a good group for that reason also.)
It was just a neat thing… and really made me appreciate the mental energy that that brings to a group.

Religion in Gaming

We need more Starbucks: the character, not the coffee. An interesting take on probably the most believably religious character in genre television. Very nice ideas about bringing that kind of portrayal to your gaming table.
After reading it, imagine bringing that kind of ‘real’ religion to, say, a Dogs character. FUN. 🙂

Year in review

Yes, I know it’s not the end of the year yet, but since the holidays typical kill my gaming, I’m simply looking at the last 12 months, to take a look at what kind of face to face gaming I got done.
November, 2006
– A year ago, today, I ran the first/last game for the guys out in NYC. It was the “freebooters” scenario for Shadow of Yesterday.
– I also started up a play-by-post Mountain Witch game that sadly died of asphyxiation during the holiday doldrums. More sadly, in cleaning spam out of that forum last week, I accidentally deleted all the gaming-related posts. 🙁
December, 2006
– Nothing
January, 2007
– Got together with the locals and made up characters for a clockpunk Shadow of Yesterday game.
February, 2007
– Nothing.
March, 2007
– Nothing again — I didn’t even post weeks in review for these two months. Sheesh.
April, 2007
– After two months of a big fat nothing, I am *rabid* to play, and fly to Chicago for Forgecon Midwest. There, I get to play Heroquest, run a game of Shadow of Yesterday and the Mountain Witch, and playtest Galactic with Matt. After I get home…
– I start up the Primetime Adventures “Weird War Two” game, and had the pilot session.
– I run the second (and apparently last) session of the clockpunk game.
May, 2007
– Nothing. Scheduling people for games continues to be a nightmarish endeavor.
June, 2007
– Stealing from the very best, I pick up on the NYC crew’s gaming plan, which is basically “have a huge group of players, and run a regular game for the first five who say they can attend.” I start a Spirit of the Century game and sign up 13 other people. Only one has not played to this point — most everyone has played at least two or three sessions, and EVEN I GOT TO PLAY ONCE! Success!
– I also start the Nine Princes in Pulp game this month.
– I get in the second episode of Primetime Adventures: Strange Allies — “Djinn” — it goes swimmingly awesome.
– Dave starts his Ill Met by Gaslight PTA game.
July, 2007
– Not one but TWO different FULL EPISODES of Spirit of the Century
– Another session of Nine Princes in Pulp — unfortunately, pretty much the last one, as we’ve yet to get back to that.
– Dave runs PTA again.
August, 2007
– Spirit of the Century and the ever-rotating player pool wins again.
September, 2007
– Nothing in here. How odd.
October, 2007
– More Spirit of the Century: Two new episodes, both on Friday nights. How unusual. And lots of fun.
– A session of Dead of Night: “Zombies At(e) my Homecoming Dance” Still need one more session on that.
November, 2007
– Flying in the face of history (and sanity) I’m trying to start, play, and FINISH a short Galactic game during the months of November and December. Chargen is this Sunday. No other gaming is on the docket yet, because Galactic is going to take scheduling priority, but I do intend to get in some more Spirit of the Century and finish the Dead of Night game.
Analysis, after the cut…

Continue reading “Year in review”

So Conflicted

The Zombie Fluxx card games combines a great love and a great hate of mine.
Love: Zombies. Man, I likes me some zombies.
Hate: Fluxx. I’m goal oriented enough that the constantly shifting ‘win’ requirements in Fluxx actually give me a headache (and remind me of a few too many bad I.T. projects).
I’m torn. I want to order a deck, but it might only be so I can set it on fire.

Week in Review

So here’s what’s been going on.
Face to Face
Ran a murder mystery for the most recent Spirit of the Century game on Friday night. “Doctor Brightman is dead.” Good stuff, for all that I suck at doing mysteries. It was “Margie’s session,” so I gave it a college try, anyway. There were investigations, autopsies, some wonderfully fun characterizations, a seance, and a whole lot of laughing. Present were Chris, Tim, Dave and Margie; again, I have to give a nod to Kate’s observation that I run better games when I’m NOT close friends with everyone at the table — we just generally focus more on the game and less on everything else.
Didn’t even seem to get too sidetracked by having Kaylee around for the first part of the game.
This Thursday, it’s Zombies at(e) my Homecoming Dance 2: The Revenge of the Hickey.
Online, not MMO
I’m going to be playing in (not running) a play-by-forum game of Galactic(!), using the ashcan edition that Matt did up for Gencon this year. That should be fun. No character information or even links yet — we’re juuuust getting rolling.
Grezzk is still level 70. I’ve actually being getting into some fun dungeon runs lately (there are only about… five or so in the later game that I haven’t done even once, if you only count the five-mans). I’m not UBER geared or anything, but at this stage my ‘effective level’ is 108, taking my gear into account. (Taking gear into account, the maximum level in WoW is somewhere around 150, while perhaps 125 is as high as I’m likely to get with the Guild I’m part of.) Anyway, I’m still having a lot of fun with Grezzk.
Hit 45 on Kayti. Nothing terribly exciting to report on her. People keep stopping in mid-run to ask me what kind of weapon I’m using, cuz they can’t figure out how a tanking paladin is topping the damage reports. I try to explain that the damage is all from the paladin abilities, and that I would do pretty much the same damage if i were naked, but no one seems to get it. Eh. In a few more levels, I can hurl an “Avenger’s Shield” (think Captain America-esque energy contruct) at enemies to pull them, and tanking is going to get a LOT easier. Woot.
I tanked a run into Scarlet Monastery’s Cathedral a few days ago and it went really smoothly. We obliterated everything and aside from one jackass who screwed up the boss-looting at the end, it was a great run.
There was one point where I TOTALLY “pulled a Hype” with her as well (which is a tactic that *I*, personally, have never seen work in WoW, that I used to do all the time in CoH). We were clearing out a big chapel area, one clump of guys at a time… like 3 or 4 guys at a time — it was SAFE, but it wasn’t particularly hard. About halfway through I told the other paladin “heal me, I want to try something” (I didn’t really tell the priest ahead of time. oops 🙂 and I just ran through a couple (or three 🙂 clusters at once and pulled them all back to the group — something like 8 to 10 guys. Got em all nice and pissed at me and the group just burned em down. I think most of them were JUST about out of mana when the fight ended.
The group’s response: “That was fun. Do it again.”
Tyelaf is level 21. We (he tends to work with Tirawyn the Captain) have done most of the quests around the town of Bree, and now have two BIG GROUP things to deal with — spying on the Witch King himself, and a foray into the Great Barrows that house the last ruler of Cardolan. Yikes. After that… folks need a lot of help in the Lone Lands, and a lot of that involves shooting Orcs, so I’m THERE.
Geiri remains my toughest character. I don’t know if he’s my FAVORITE, but he’s definitely tied for first. At level 16 (17?) he’s got considerably higher morale (read: health) than Tye, and he and Tiranor the elven hunter TEAR through quests that I recall being a pretty big pain in the tuchas with Tye. We were on last night for a few hours and finished up all the storyline in Ered Luin (the Blue Mountains and Celondim) and headed East through the Shire and into Bree, where we met up with Strider and continued to harass the kinda-sorta undead dwarf Skorgrim — that dude HAS to be tired of seeing use show up and mess with his plans over and over. It’s been like… well, for Tiranor, it’s going on 600 years, now. (God I love how the time-instanced storyline in LotRO works.)
Downside to Geiri: he takes half a coon’s age to kill anything on his own. However, this rarely comes up. 🙂
His personal bane: creban. Friggin’ evil birds.
Oh, and elves that go running off of cliffs and break his damn ankles.
I haven’t played Yarren much, but she’s also wrapped up all the quests in the Shire and has headed to Bree to see what this “Strider” guy wants (something about heading into the Old Forest to look for some hobbits he’s supposed to meet up with in Bree). She’s also going to give up the plain-jane professions of farming and cooking. Poking at old scrolls and bits of lost lore from the Second Age is SO much more interesting (and likely to get her face melted off, but THAT’S FUN TOO.)

[SotC/Fate] A Different Take on Phases

From one of the game’s author’s a great tweak to the phases in SotC character generation to move away from a time-oriented series of phases and instead use a more organic series of questions to find answers for:
* Who are you?
* Who are you connected to?
* What’s your big issue?
* What kind of situations do you see yourself being involved in?
it’s very very good.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the phases of character creation in the standard Spirit of the Century rules, and I’ve used them both in a standard game and an Amber game with good success, but the phases themselves are pretty closely tied to the post-Great War setting. This tweak allows you to ‘fit’ character generation into virtually any setting with no problems at all — it has all the Aspecty-goodness of SotC with some great flavor added from things like Primetime Adventures “issues” and even the old-school Amber questionnaires. Good stuff.

Zombies at(e) the Homecoming Dance

Caught up by the desire to play a little wacky horror roleplaying in the middle of the week, I got a few folks together, pulled out the pocket-sized campfire horror game Dead of Night, and we had ourselves some fun.
The players:
* Jay, in town from New York for the next few months — catch his part in Pride and Prejudice next month at the Denver Performing Arts Center.
* Meera the Fierce
* Randy
The Concept:
* It is 1985
* You are in High School
* Heathers and Pretty in Pink meets Shawn of the Dead
The Main NPCS:
* Meridith, the Homecoming Queen
* Troy, the “captain awesome”, knows-everyones-name, cool but cocky quarterback (played by James Marsden)
* Rick “the Hickey” – head linebacker, bully (played by Jake Busey)
* Sarah – salutatorian, on the field hockey varsity team, pretty, popular, and rumored to be pregnant (I said Julia Stiles was playing this part, but I was actually thinking of Erika Christensen. Huh.)
* Kinney(, Melvin) – an angry young man who’s been threatening to burn down the school since sixth grade
* Bender – the stoner dude
My constraints for character creation:
* Tell me why you’re NOT going to the Homecoming Dance
* Tell me about some kind of relationship you have with at least two of the NPCs above
Here’s what we got:
* Meera: Alice (“don’t call me Allison”) – the smart, acidic, Scary Goth Chick. Sophomore. She’s Troy’s little sister and dated Kinney in Junior High until he got “too intense”. She’s not at the homecoming dance because… c’mon, look at her. Look at THEM — it’s obvious.
* Jay: Chris – the slightly stoned, visionary singer/guitarist/songwriter of Beefcake Express (not the band’s actual name, which I can’t remember, but it was close to that). Bender is the bass player, and Kinney is the drummer. In play, we also discovered he had a one-night ‘thing’ with the homecoming queen, and he still has a thing for her. He’s a Junior. He’s not at the homecoming dance because the class officers selected a clearly inferior cover band to play at the dance.
* Randy: Jason – the rebellion-through-kleptomania kid. He’s a sophomore, and has a crush on Sarah. Rick the Hickey has selected him as a particular target for harassment, but Jason returns the favor by routinely stealing Rick’s stuff. ((He really doesn’t like Rick because he dated Sarah for a little while last year.)) He’s not at the dance because he didn’t have the guts to ask Sarah (who, because of her personal drama, is also not going). Also, as we find out with the first in-character line in the game, Jason always plays halflings.
What are they all doing during the Homecoming dance?
* They’re in the basement at Alice’s house, playing Call of Cthulu. Alice is GMing. Jason is playing a short british man.
Quote and other wackiness after the cut.

Continue reading “Zombies at(e) the Homecoming Dance”

Wish Fulfillment

Last night, Kate and I were running around the edge of this orc camp up the Greenway a few miles from Bree. We’re leaving, but one of the guards spots her and takes off after her. She ignores him, figuring (correctly) that she can outrun him and he’ll give up the chase in a little bit.
Me? I stop.
“You stopped you shoot him, didn’t you?”
But let me clarify.
It’s not because I’m bloodthirsty or need the xp or anything.
I (a dyed in the wool Tolkien fanboy) am given the opportunity to plant an arrow fletching-deep into the back of a fleeing orc.
It is going to be a long, long, LONG time before that gets old.

Playing to win

I actually had two points for my “serious gamer” post, but the thing was getting too long, so here’s the rest of it.
Let me pick out the bits in the first post that had to do with my second point.

Player B can have an extremely productive 90 minutes online and then go to a movie with local friends.

Productive. Getting stuff done.

Cleaned up some old quests, and started collecting some materials I need for the next ‘big’ dungeon I want to do with her.

How did I know I’d need them? I looked up dungeon instances for the basic level I’m at, focusing on stuff that was higher level by a little bit, because (a) it’s better rewards and (b) I’m a pretty good player, so I want to push myself.

Also, following some research on the “maintankadin” forums, I respecced her for a stronger tanking build, which cost me a ton of gold, but the results of which I liked.

I don’t just research what there is to do — I read about how to do it. Yeah, most of the posts are about playing at 70, and if I’m only level 40, that’s not entirely relevant, but it does tell me what to aim for, what to expect, and most importantly, what I will be expected to do if I want to team up with other people.

… spent some time in the afternoon doing more work on game-prep for that face to face game, and reading up on LotRO quests and appropriate surnames for Men of Gondor.

Prep, prep, prep. I want the face to face game to come off well, and while I don’t prep scenarios as such, I *do* prep by getting familiar with the rules. For this game coming up, I’m researching:
1. Half-life
2. Horror movies of the 80s
3. Mullets
And I’m looking up surnames of the Men of Gondor (note: they don’t use them) because at level 15 your LotRO character can pick a surname, and with the server I’m on, it’s important to me that it’s accurate. I’m a fan-boy.

Kate and did a little LotRO stuff, which mostly amounted to us running around the Old Forest in fear for our very lives.

Why do I prep? Why do I look stuff up? Because eventually the shit is going to hit the fan in whatever game you’re playing, and you want to continue to have fun — not have a frustrating night.
That’s the same reason I aim to do things that push my play ability. If my ‘safe’ play has more instances where I’ve pushed the limit and had to really work to succeed, then I’m ready for the times when I have to redline when I’m NOT expecting it.
Yes, we ran around all over, yes we scrambled — the only time I didn’t have fun was when I was defeated and had to retreat from some wild critters that really shouldn’t have been that much of a challenge — they WERE, because Kate and I got separated, which also shouldn’t have happened.
Saturday, I was on my paladin and teamed up with another one. I tank on my paladin, and I’ve done a LOT of reading on how to do well as a tank on WoW, because it is a LOT different than tanking on City of Heroes.
1. You don’t get any kind of front-loaded aggro. Most tanks in WoW only have a piddly little ranged attack — some (most paladins) don’t have any, and they have to build it by getting beat on for a good ten seconds. 2. Their aggro is FRAGILE. It is no challenge at all for a damage-dealing class to decide they want to pull the bad guy’s aggro from me onto themselves… the CHALLENGE in play is to do as much damage as they can WITHOUT getting aggro. (You can run an aggro meter to tell you were you are in relation to the tank.)
In CoH, Tanks get a ranged taunt that affects up to five enemies at the same time, and, once you start hitting them, pretty much guarantees you will never lose their attention that fight.
The only thing like that in WoW is dynamite, and I can’t MAKE dynamite.
So I was out with this other paladin, and while I’m still running up to the baddie, they throw off a holy smite — a ranged spell they get, because of their build, that I don’t have. Before you could say “What the…” I was running back the way I came, chasing the thing down as it went after the other character.
After the fight, I asked them to wait and let me build aggro on the mob first. “Five seconds,” I said, “during which you can even hit them with your basic attack if you want, just don’t use that Smite.”
“Why worry about it?” They said. “I can tank these little guys.”
Sure, but that’s not the point.
There’s something my football coach used to say. “You play like you practice.” Only into my mid-thirties do I really start to understand that.

Continue reading “Playing to win”

Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer

Okay. This is going to seem like it has a lot to do with MMO gaming, but at it’s heart it’s about gaming in general — even just about social commitments as a whole.
In the MMO world (and in gaming in general, in a much less formalized/articulated way) there are two labels for players that can tossed around: “Casual” and “Hardcore”.
Definitions of these two terms vary, but in a nutshell, the two might mean any or all of the following, depending on the speaker:

  • Casual – Doesn’t take the game that seriously. Doesn’t play much (less than 20 hours a week, let’s say). Isn’t reliable in terms of showing up for planned activities. Automatically drops game-related activities if something ‘better’ comes up. Isn’t a particularly good player. Isn’t a particularly ‘advanced’ player (has good gear — progresses through game content). Just isn’t very serious about it. Might say they’re showing up for something and just… won’t. Has a life.
  • Hardcore – Takes the game WAY TOO seriously. Plays more per week than they spend at work. Never misses, and usually organizes, planned game activities. Automatically drops other activities if something comes up in game. Is a ‘leet’ player with great gear, ultra-fast progression into end-game content, know the math of the game backwards and forwards, knows the Lore by heart. Is the attendance-nazi for in-game events. Lives the ‘life’ of a Basement Dwelling Virgin Troglodyte.

Clearly, the generalizations above are filled with statements from one side, talking about the OTHER side. In MMOs (and online forums in general) it’s a lot more obvious, but it happens in face to face games, too. We all know the guy who keeps the spreadsheet of all the treasure accumulated at last weeks game — who’s got the best gear so far — who the group has beaten, what the xp-per-session is, and who’s missed the most sessions.
We also know the guy who says they’ll show up to the game, doesn’t for three weeks running, and when he does, arrives with his second six-pack of the day and proceeds to drunk (yes, “drunk”, not “drink”) his way through the game. The other players shake their head at this ‘casual’ person, the casual person wonders about those other five at the table who showed up on time, and clearly have no life.
So… which one are you?

Continue reading “Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer”

Splitting the Party

A good, though old, discussion about the histrionics and misconceptions that surround ‘splitting the party’ in gaming sessions.

Are you even really getting less spotlight time? Think about it for a moment – there’s still only one GM, either way. He can only shine the spotlight for 60 minutes each hour. And even when the PCs are dialoging, the spotlight is switching back and forth between players. The total number of minutes is the same when playing “split.” In party play, you feel a tad less engaged when your character is not in a scene, because you know you won’t be able to be called upon to do anything. But everyone has experienced in party play where they’ve been in the room, but really not involved in the action going on, right? So is that possibility that you might be called on really all that much less engaging than just watching?

I like having characters who feel comfortable with doing their own thing — this is the kind of play supported in a lot of the game I’ve played (Amber) and play (anything current).
What’s great about this discussion is that is dissects the reasons behind player/gm reluctance to split the group up — where it comes from, why it continues — and shows how to make those boogiemen go away.

Gaming in review

A mix of gaming this weekend.
((Blogging bitching: it really should be possible to just hit Ctrl-B in Moveabletype to Boldface something. It worked in 2.0 for pete’s sake — you mean to tell me you can’t do it NOW?))
Played Spirit of the Century on Friday night. I pretty much went in with a scenario ‘aimed’ at two player characters who bailed out at the last moment, so I had to wing it.
Luckly, SotC is good at winging it. I had:
– The Daring Magpie – burglar and dilettante faceman, who has done a couple sessions already.
– Rami Samiti – East Indian psychic: ditto.
– Trent McCoy – new character for a player who’s been at all the games — a driver and ‘gun man’.
– Beau Brass – a musician and smooth talker.
My basic method with these games is to ‘focus’ on one or two characters in each session — specifically, I’ll pick someone who’s already been at the game a couple times, and make this ‘their’ session. I was going to game at the retired character for Trent’s player, but he was, as I said, retired, so that indicated The Daring Magpie and/or Rami as the focal point.
Those two characters are different enough, and I’m lazy enough, that I didn’t want to screw around with working out a story that featured both of them equally. Rami had a lot of stuff going on in “The Ape Soldier of Teyawasu”, so that mean The Daring Magpie.
Therefore: social situations, schmoozing, and possibly some sneaking about and stealing stuff. Main focus: something both urban and urbane (based on player comment).
Then, if we have new players, I try to throw something in for them. Trents a drive and shooter. Beau is also new.
So… I opened with a car chase, moved to New York City for the main action (since we’d already ‘done’ L.A.), and set the whole thing around a music festival at the Woolworth Building, to give Beau some musical spotlight.
The heroes started out in mid-chase, trying to stop the bad guys from delivering something to NYC for Doctor Methuselah. They stop them, open the crate with the MacGuffin inside, and find a note from Doctor M himself that reads:

Hello Century Club,
If you’re reading this, you’ve stopped my witless minions from delivering a key piece of equipment I require for my current project.
However, this puts you in a dilemma.
While the project in question would be a brilliant step forward for mankind, it also requires certain sacrifices you would likely find objectionable. You have, probably unknowingly, stopped that plan by acquiring the object in this box. Bravo.
However, the device that requires this object is already in place and will be activated on [date two days hence], regardless. Without this object in place, as a focus for the devices power, well over ninety percent of the population of Manhattan will perish.
So: Do you keep the object, foil my plans, but doom a city, or deliver the object and complete the device (and with it, my original plan)?
Either way, it is now your problem. Good luck, god speed, etc.

Then I just sat back and watched the fireworks.
We had a lot of digressions and such, simply because we hadn’t played or seen each other in a month, but all in all it was a good session and lots of fun.

Grezzk joined the Scholomance Debate Team on the Farstriders server a few weeks back. Since then, I haven’t done a LOT with the guild members, but the stuff I have done has been both fun and a good learning experience. I’ve also got a lot of good loot recently, but frankly that’s been mostly all my own doing.

  • Ran Mana Tombs, and tanked it with Tusker the wonder pig. Would like to do that again, as we didn’t finish the last boss.
  • Ran Auchenai Crypts with some of the SDT members. That went just fine, although the Tank… should play his other mains.
  • Pet-tanked the Coilfang Underbog. A competent healer that knew how to watch my pet and keep him standing meant that we cleared this with no problems.
  • Pet-tanked the Coilfang Slave Pens. Ditto here, though the healer was different. Tusker has tanked about a quarter of the high-level instances in the game now.
  • Ran “The Mechanar” instance with the guildies, and got a really nice gun that, unfortunately, I need to get some better gear to go along with it before it will be as good as my bow, despite the fact that it has better stats — basically, I’m just in better shape to use a bow right now than a gun.
  • Ran the 25-man raid “Gruul’s Lair.” Big group, but a short instance — just two big rooms with some trash mobs in between — takes about an hour. We downed High King Maulgar and his 4 Boss-level buddies (think fighting Statesman, Back Alley Brawler, Synapse, Positron, and Numina, all at once), but couldn’t quite take down Gruul himself — the Guild hasn’t been able to take him yet. Crazy fight. Crazy.

Heck, all the boss fights in WoW are crazy at some level. The easiest boss fights in WoW make the hardest boss fights in CoH look like a game of air hockey at Chuck E. Cheese… I have a lot to learn about most of those fights, but I didn’t screw up too bad (except for siccing Tusker on the wrong boss at one point in the Maulgar fight and feeling like a moronic “huntard” when someone on vent said “Grezzk, where’s your pet?”
Kayti the Paladin-tank
Got to level 43 with her, and continue to plow forward. I like tanking, and of the tank classes, I still like tanking with Paladins the best.
Syncerus the bear-cow
Played Syncerus the tauren (bull) druid (bear form!) with Lee’s little priest for awhile on… Sunday? Saturday? Got about 3 levels and most of a fourth, cleared all my missions for the first low-level Dungeon in the game, and got a bunch of new gear and abilities. Druids are like CoH Kheldians, except the nature forms they take (Tank, Melee DPS, Healing, Ranged DPS) are actually AS GOOD AS their equivalent counterparts, with different mechanics for every form. Very challenging class.

Lord of the Rings Online
Tyelaf the Hunter joined the Council of the Secret Flame, an Kinship. Good group of folks, and helpful. He’s level 14.
Yarren Heatherfoot the hobbit burglar passed Tye as my highest level character, thanks to lots of Bounders-related misadventures with her cousin Tirra. I don’t know that she’s my favorite character — I really like all of my characters on that server (Hunter, Burglar, Champion, GUARDIAN) — but with the neat crowd-control ability and funny situational stuff, she and Tirra (who’s also a burglar) are a LOT of fun to play.
Geiri the dwarf Guardian. Yeah. Stop me if you’ve heard this one — I get in front and do a lot of shield-meet-goblin-face-bashing goodness, and Tiranor the Elf Hunter shoots things until they are very very dead. It’s a match made in Valar. Although they are not our highest level pair, they are very likely our most deadly. Tiranor frequently kills stuff before it even gets to me. No oliphaunts, yet, but she’s getting there.

He’s not pretty, but I like ‘im.

“What are YOU looking at?”
I’ve had a couple pretty good runs with Grezzk lately, and he’s looking pretty badass: the Shoulderpads-of-self-impalement (not actual name) are new, as are the badass spear and the eyepatch. Not pictured, the insanely ornate, gorgeous, kick-ass bow “of the Torn Heart” that he was given by the ghost of its previous owner, as a reward for saving the world. Again.

The economy in an MMO

Here is a simple fact about MMO economies: every “value” in a MMORPG boils down to time investment.
In short, a thing becomes more valuable to the player-base in any game, in direct relation to the time required to make the thing.
CoH Example, since that’s what most people reading here know:
The really valuable invention recipes in CoH are valuable not because they’re uber powerful (a “tech wings” costume-piece recipe doesn’t do ANYTHING for your character stat-wise), but because they represent an investment of TIME that pretty much EVERYONE has agreed they’d rather pay ridiculous amounts of influence (which everyone earns just by playing) to get rather than spend the time (multiple Task Force runs) to get.
Right now, is MARGINALLY worth more to sell a completed Invention Enhancement (which you acquired the recipe and materials for, then made), than it is to just sell the rare recipe.
That will probably change. I say that based solely on my experience on other games that have a ‘one-click creation’ system for “production” of cool stuff… the fact that ‘making’ the thing required virtually no time at all will devalue the finished product to the point where people will actually not be willing to pay as much for the finished product as they would for the component ingredients, sold separately.
This is, anyway, what I’ve seen in games with both gathering and crafting components: gathering takes time (in WoW or LotRO, stopping on your way to somewhere else to chop wood or mine or whatever — in CoH, doing the rare bosses or Task Forces that yield the cool inventions), while Crafting a Cool Thing out of the gathered stuff is just one button click. Because the one-click-crafting is easy and requires no time, but the gathering process takes time and effort, the raw materials are (usually) worth more on the Auction House than the product you make with it, even if the thing you make is inarguably a ‘good’ item.
Which is why I tend to focus on ‘gathering’ stuff on MMOs — so far, I’ve found that you can do better, financially, simply by gathering stuff, selling it to people willing to pay for it, and just BUYING the finished products you want, rather than making it yourself… and you’ll still have ‘money’ left over.
The single exception to this I’ve found is WoW’s Herbalism/Alchemy pairing — by dumb luck, the time required to gather (herbalism) matches the time needed to Produce (Alchemy) so well that the final product (lovely potions for health, mana, good stats and smooth skin) are worth more in the live economy of the playerbase than the component parts.
Also, making potions is fun. 🙂 I dunno why, but it is. 🙂

Demonstrating Learning Behavior

Three MMO mistakes I’ll never make again
“I do not need to level tonight.”
For “level,” also insert “get the pretty new item,” “finish this mission,” or do ANYTHING when the whole point of staying on is just to accomplish some virtual goal. If I stay on too late some night because I’m having a great time (either just doing a good storyline, or playing with friends, or even soaking up some testosterone in a PvP battleground), that’s one thing — that’s fun — that’s adding a smile to the ledger of your life. If I’m blearily trying to pound out that last 150 hellboars I need to get the XP to level up? Log out — the boars will be there TOMORROW.
“I do not need to help people run things.”
I don’t need to be a class leader. I don’t need to be a guild leader. I especially don’t need (or want) to spend any online PLAY time having meetings, discussing some kind of inter-player drama, or conducting interviews with new members. I can do it — and I’m for damn sure GOOD at it — but I will eventually resent it, and that will cause me to burn out, with fiery, painful consequences.
“I do not need to play a healer.”
This one is somewhat tongue in cheek — what I need to do in any game is make up (a) a ranged damage dealer and (b) a tank. Judging from both CoH and WoW, I’ll make them (and level them up) in that order. That is what I enjoy. Anything beyond that… will probably have to wait until I’m done with those two.
Bonus: “People are only rarely as reliable when you are an online friend as they are when you are a face-to-face friend.”
That’s just the simple truth. Note that I did not say “virtual” versus “real life” friends: inasmuch as the time I spend online is REAL time, and I am talking to REAL people in other parts of the world, and spending time doing activities and having REAL fun — the people I know online are just as “real life” as anyone.
But they aren’t a face to face friend to me, and I am not a face to face friend to them, and no matter how good a person you are, that makes a huge difference. Raise your hand if you have NOT been burned by assuming otherwise in the past.

A little note for Battleground players

If you have a nifty little macro/code/addon widget that, when you’re down to 20% or 10% health, automatically has you do something like “[Yourname] calls out for healing!”…
Shut it off when you go to the PvP battleground.
Yes, it’s probably useful when you’re grouped up in a quest or dungeon or something (though any healer doing their job well would find it insulting)… it may even be useful to hear your character (or the voice actor they hired) shout “HEAL ME!” when you’re solo and not paying attention to your health…
But in the battleground? When it’s just your and me, and I’m trying to pound your helmet back into your face? Calling out for healing at that point… it’s really just kind of sad.
And funny. I shouldn’t forget funny.


Hmm. I was planning on a basic week in review post, but I realized pretty much everything I have to say boils down to whining.
In summary, it’s more interesting and fun when I have people to play with, be it on CoH or WoW or LotRO, and the large part of my current problem is, I don’t (most of the time, with exception to the rule specifically granted to the obvious people it should be granted to).
That’s it. Five page itemization deleted. I’ve accepted it and plan to get some editing and revision work done this week. I’m online too much right now anyway.

Tiny gaming update

Not a lot of gaming in the last week. Here’s what’s been going on.
Grezzk Level 70 orcish hunter. Farstriders server. Blood and Thunder Guild
Ding 70! Simul-ding with Lee’s warlock Blynd. Last week I mentioned some things I was going to do once I hit 70.
* Run all the Outlands instances. ((Not started yet.))
* Go to Mulgore and run all the newbie starting-zone missions for the Tauren to finally get my rep with them up to Exalted, so I can get a war kodo. ((Done! Got exalted on the second to last available mission. Did NOT, however, get the war kodo yet, as I’m saving up for my flying mount.))
* Get my flying mount. ((Not yet. Give me a few days.))
* I’m going to get a dragon (fine: netherdrake. whatever) for a flying mount, once I have the ‘regular one’. ((Not yet.))
* I’m going to figure out where the quest line is that lets me walk up to Garrosh Hellscream, kick him in the nuts, and say “man UP, for chrissake — you’re an embarrassment — you give ‘mamas boy’ a bad name.” ((Found the quest. Still need to finish it.))
* Leveling up Alchemy, having finally dropped Skinning. Just no money in it. ((Started that. Potions, Ho!))
* Get a firefly pet.
* Get Cooking high enough to make the uber pet-buffing snacks. ((Done!))
Kayti Dwarf Paladin (Kirin Tor server)
Level : 40 (Ding!)
I have a pony (or in this case a paladin’s warhorse)! I also have plate mail! Herbalism and Alchemy level caps both raised to 300! Two horrible horrible PUGs, but lots of good duos.
It was a good week to be a paladin :).

Grezzk: Ding 70

Because it is late, simply a brief screenshot summary of some of the better moments from the last 10 levels or so, including (thanks to the magic of photo editing, to cover up my mistimed click) the simultaneous Level 70 ding of Grezzk and Lee’s warlock, Blynd.

Week in Review

Here’s what’s been going on in the last week or so:
Grezzk Level 69 orcish hunter. Farstriders server. Blood and Thunder Guild
Ran the first Hellfire Peninsula instance twice, and got some phat loot from that. Cleared all the non-dungeon-group quests in Hellfire Peninsula, Zangarmarsh, and I’m through MOST of the stuff in Nagrand, except for the stuff that *really* requires a group (to differentiate between that and quests that say they require a group and really just require a hunter and his pet. 🙂
Also got a nice new ranged weapon, and should get a real elephant gun of a weapon pretty soon.
Level 69 right now. 10% done on the way to 70. If things continue at their current pace (and there’s no reason to think they won’t), I’ll probably ding 70 on either Wednesday or Thursday this week, maybe Friday, and I should have enough money for the riding lessons and manticore flying mount at almost exactly the same time as I level. (No point in getting it earlier, since you can’t get the mount until level 70 anyway.)
I can’t wait to ding 70, simply because it’s going to open up so much more stuff to do without thinking about ‘is this getting me xp’ anymore. I’ve spent lots of time on little ‘non-earning’ side projects in the past, but now?
* I’m going to run all the Outlands instances.
* I’m going to go to Mulgore and run all the newbie starting-zone missions for the Tauren to finally get my rep with them up to Exalted, so I can get a war kodo.
* I’m going to get a dragon (fine: netherdrake. whatever) for a flying mount.
* I’m going to figure out where the quest line is that lets me walk up to Garrosh Hellscream, kick him in the nuts, and say “man UP, for chrissake — you’re an embarrassment — you give ‘mamas boy’ a bad name.”
* And aside from all that, there’s 3 more regions in the Outlands that I haven’t even touched yet, in terms of doing the quests and checking out all the cool content. 🙂 That’s fine: I really like Nagrand — it’s a hunter’s paradise — so I think this will be a good place to ding 70.
Haven’t done a ton in the last week or so, but the Brightsides have gotten a lot of play recently, and they’re lots of fun to play, so that’s good. I think the last thing we did on them was the “Cape” mission… by which I mean “find a hero in Paragon City, beat them up, and take their cape.” Funny.
Lord of the Rings Online continues to impress me with the evocative setting. The interface is a little unfamiliar to me, still, but it’s getting better. Pretty sure I have one of every class and probably two of every race, just to play around with different stuff until I find the stuff I really like. Also, it takes a lot of work in the character creator to come up with a halfling male who doesn’t look dumpy as all get out.
Tabletop -Spirit of the Century
Kate was in town and I finally got to run session of Spirit of the Century with her in attendance. I asked her earlier that week to pick a good town for a pulp adventure and she said Hollywood… she was, unbeknownst to me, thinking “Noir” and not “Pulp,” but it worked out. The story opened at the grand opening of the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, with a big display of Egyptian antiquities that turned up missing…
… cue a car-chase (our first real use of the change mechanics that I like so much), a mook fight, the first use of the incredibly deadly explosion/grenade rules… and a MUMMY! Woot.

Warhammer Online

The Human Side of WAR — this is an easy to ready two-page interview, and I recommend it. Lots of great quotes, and exciting descriptions of the ‘living world’ they’re working on with Warhammer Online, but this is the one that got me:

WoW is The Beatles, who changed music forever. You can’t be the Beatles; they already exist. You can’t copy them. If you try, you become The Monkees. You’ve got no chance. We’re not The Beatles. We’re Led Zeppelin.

Having played a lot of Warhammer back in college, both on battlemats and as an RPG, that stuff got me excited. That’s always been Warhammer — heavy metal.
Heavy, sharp, slightly rusted metal.
Check out the trailer at their website ( See if the orc and the catapult make you laugh. If so, this might be your kinda game.
((If WoW = the Beatles, what’s CoH? Shinier, with a smaller, much more niche-oriented fanbase, and more system resource requirements… I’m going to say something like the Cure. 🙂

A very limited market of appeal

I can’t seem to find that vital crossover audience of people who appreciate the subtle genius of taking Little Einsteins songs and rewriting the lyrics for World of Warcraft.

LOTRO Review

Tempted in by Avocet, and as a long-time Tolkein Fanboy (let’s not talk about how many times I’ve read the Hobbit, LortR, and even the Silmarillion), I gave Lord of the Rings Online a try last night.
Overall review: Very very good. Visually appealing, very intuitive “explain it all” interface, very evocative of the setting. A little buggy during scene transitions. Not beta-level buggy, but a bit — I’m encouraged to upgrade my video card drivers.
More beneath the cut.

Continue reading “LOTRO Review”


(Here’s a cunning scheme from NCSoft…)

Any and all Superpowered individuals are needed immediately to stave off the Rikti Invasion that threatens all of humanity! To support the fight against this ruinous alien invasion, all former players in good standing have their accounts reactivated from Thursday, August 2nd through late Sunday night (August 5th, 8:59PM PST / 11:59PM EST).
Anyone who has previously played City of Heroes or City of Villains is able to log in get into the fight! Spread the word to your supergroup or guild mates and online friends who might not be playing CoH that now is the time to come back and check out the great new Issue 10, for FREE!
Welcome back to these Heroes and Villains! Join the fight against the Rikti Invasion Force and have a great “City of” weekend!

City of Heroes Official Forums

Random Additional MMO Thoughts

My GOD I’ve missed having Fly on a regular toon I play. Slow, but still the best move power ever.
We need some kind of bulletin board to post up rare Invention Salvage we need. 😛
We should run Statesman’s TF, and the Rikti one, soon, but I’d like to wait on the Rikti one until I’ve got someone through the zone content.

Week in Review

Played a little Spirit of the Century this last weekend. It wasn’t the session I’d dreamed up for the game I had to abort last week, since that would have been totally inappropriate for the group we’d assembled, but it was still fun. We had…
Mob Mooks
Mysterious Vanishing Zeppelins
Mushrooms, Giant
Mushrooms, Glowing
A lost civilization of cannibals (sorry, ran out of M’s)
… and a whole lot of fire.
Best of all, the most “turtle-up” player got drawn right into the middle of the story, which I think both startled and pleased him. He habitually makes people who are kind of distant from everyone else he’s working with, and hard to socket in, and with very little work on my part (and thanks to a great idea from Randy) he was right in the middle of the whole story. It was ABOUT him, really, which was cool.
I think the best part was when he rescued the starlet of his favorite Radio program — Esperanza Kittredge — and she threw her arms around his neck and said ‘get me out of here!’
And… see… he has this Aspect about how he loves this radio show…
And he has this OTHER aspect of “No one touches the Master of Shinanju!”
So I held up a Fate point and said “She’s sobbing into your shoulder, and her voice is even more amazing than it is on the radio, but No One Touches the Master of Shinanju…”
And he could either take the Fate point and shove her rudely away, or
let her cling and instead pay ME a Fate point (and it’s not like he had a ton at that point).
Does he comfort his idol, or stick with the hard line, elite attitude?
Bang, baby. 🙂
And he thought about it a bit, and paid me the point, and let her cling to him as he carried them away from the giant burning mushroom on the rope ladder dangling from the escaping zeppelin.
It was cool.
MMO stuff after the cut.

Continue reading “Week in Review”

Fiddly Bits

One post before I hit the paving stones of the work-street… possibly with my face.
Hmm. I was going to make this a long, drawn out thing, but instead I’m going to boil it down to a few bullet points.
I’ve played CoH a long time. I like it.
I’ve played WoW not as long, but also like it a lot. Possibly more than CoH, but that’s an apples to oranges thing — CoH is not WoW, nor vice versa.
One of the things I DO NOT like about CoH is that leveling takes ages. This is a design choice from NCSoft, because there’s no end-game content in CoH — once you hit the top level, there is, in short, f#ck-all to do.
Compounding this is the fact that, between leveling dings, there’s nothing HAPPENING to your character. Except for the dings, there’s just nothing going on. When you get to a new level, you either get a new power, get a few points to improve a power, and can maybe upgrade the effectiveness of all your powers (with new enhancements for said powers).
But that’s it, and it all happens when you ding. Other than that, you just slog slog through the same 50-odd, random mission maps, reading the story-lines in depth because those stories are the only things differentiating the missions.
I think that’s why RP is so much bigger on CoH than WoW (in my experience) — adding your own personal stories to the characters is the only way to have new things happening to your characters with more frequency.
Contrast this with WoW. When you level, you ALWAYS get at least a new Talent point, which at the least is going to improve you character, maybe give you a whole new ability that not everyone has. Plus, you get new skills, et cetera. That’s all pretty much like CoH.
However, you level faster, MUCH faster, because there’s LOADS of stuff to do at the max level for the game — many folks actually think of getting to 70 as “the first part” of the game, while the stuff you do once you get there as “the rest of the game.”
But then there’s all the other things you have going on BETWEEN levels. Skill-ups as you’re moving around, doing stuff, be it for defense, weapons, fighting, or a profession. New gear that might possibly be an upgrade to the stuff you’ve got… maybe an obvious one, or more of a lateral promotion that emphasizes a different strength of the character… either way, something to look at and ponder.
In other words, fiddly bits.
Some folks don’t like fiddly bits. For myself, the fiddly bits that fill in the ‘in between leveling’ is what keeps the game INTERESTING, long-term.
No where near a level? That’s fine, I’m working on getting my Alchemy skill up — I wanna be able to make water-breathing potions! Plus, I’m working with the forces in Thrallmar a lot right now, and they have a lot of cool stuff that they’ll give you… IF you reputation is high enough with them, so I’m doing missions specifically for them, to get up to Honored, then Revered, then Exalted with them, cuz look at that fancy bow they ha–
Oh, I dinged? Wow, I didn’t even notice I was getting close — I was busy playing THE REST OF THE GAME.
There’s always something to do, and I really, really love that.
CoH folks are starting to get a taste of this with the Inventions system — now, in between those leveling dings, you can keep an eye out for cool inventions that fall your way — stuff that, just like cool new gear in WoW, tweaks, changes, and improves your guy without a ding — stuff that, in some cases, is really worth CELEBRATING.
Hell, Pummelcite make 2 million influence yesterday, just selling off stuff he had no use for — that damn near made back all the money I spent on upgrading him this weekend. That right there is a cool thing — between missions and leveling, I’ve got something to DO.
It made me really enjoy CoH more. It improved my experience, so kudos, design team.
Now let’s take it to the next level.
How about a series of missions you can do (like the police-band missions, yeah… tie it into that) that raise your rep with certain groups in the city, allowing you to get your hands on inventions, recipes, and enhancements that you can only get if you’re on their good side?
I’m not talking about a single mission to get you a Nemesis staff for three days, I’m talking about working SERIOUSLY with the Kings Row Police until they give you access to their “Riot Gear” inventions and craftable temp powers.
How about the idea that if you work your rep up really high with certain groups (Brickstown Police), it drops ESPECIALLY low with other groups (Crey Corp), who then randomly ambush you, because you’re on their most-hated list? Boom, you have a NEMESIS!
Repeat throughout the city. Repeat for the 35+ factions and groups around town. Wanna bet i wouldn’t dust off my level 50’s to ‘grind reputation’ with some of those groups? HELL yes.
Fiddly bits.
I think there’s an appeal here that goes beyond MMOs as well. Some games really attract their following through all the little fiddly bits that you get to tweak and play with on you character. DnD is definitely this way (and, to a comment De made, maybe so complicated it’s better handled by a computer), but also Champs, Tombstone, even Heroquest (little constant improvements), and maybe even Dogs (again, little constant improvements and character changes). Compare to other RPGs with few changes and ‘dings’ that are few and far between (AmberDRPG, even PTA).
Very interesting way to examine and evaluate some of the games on my shelf, and understand why I like some of them more than others.

Multiple Choice

The invention system on CoH gives me:
a) A way to improve my non-50 characters beyond the glacially slow leveling process.
b) A way to improve my 50s, at all, and in very neat and interesting ways (5% chance to heal 15% of my health every time I fire an energy blast? Psychic damage added to my holds? Yes please!)
c) Something useful and cool for my level 50’s to work on — dangerously like actual end-game content.
d) The ability to save and maybe even make money on these improvements through a little research, diligence, and personal effort, by making the stuff myself and selling off the good stuff I don’t need. (CoH develops its own Loot and Crafting system which, like the rest of the game, is a comic-book-simplified/streamlined version of that found on other MMOs — unfortunately with a much crappier interface.)
e) A slight headache.
f) All of the above.
Prompted by a few good drops Slip and Markov got last weekend during our TF run, I hopped onto CoH yesterday and poked around the Auction House for the first time. Got some new inventions. Picked up the ingredients for same. Made them. Slotted them. Found myself poorer, but quite pleased.
Logged in Hyperthermian. Repeat (though foolishly buying stuff made by other folks instead of stuff I made myself).
Logged in Hangtime… repeat… Bear Claws… Strategist… Pummelcite…
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Wiped out the bank accounts on a couple of them, but generally improved most of them and spotted a few REALLY WANT TO HAVES for each one. Good stuff. Actually made the utterly static level 50’s interesting to me again, and opened a world of fun for the mid-20 to mid-30 toons. Still need to check out Kethos, I think, though he’s not quite in the sweet-spot range (32 and up) where inventions are better than the stuff you can just buy from the store.
Anyway. Was finishing up Pummelcite (which involved a quick respec to move his slots around juuust a touch to really max the HELL out of Granite armor and take full advantage of his main attack powers) when I got a tell inviting him to a level 35 group-up.
Pumm’s level 34, and I really wanted to get him to 35 in time for Issue 10, so that he can run that new content and spend some quality time with the other folks who’ll be logging back in to run the TF — dude doesn’t even have the ATLAS MEDALLION, for pete’s sake.
Anyway. Joined the group. I wasn’t too optimistic of my leveling chances — he was BARELY 34, and solo leveling takes an age in CoH — more than any other MMO, they really reward you for group, and grouping BIG.
Lordy, does it ever. The group ran between 6 to 8 players for 2.5 hours. Pumm was the only tank, there were three defenders, and everything still dropped so fast I could barely establish aggro before everything dropped. Yowsa.
More importantly, I dinged level 35 and THEN some in the short time playing, picking up a new Area Effect attack (Tremor) and a couple fun inventions enhancements I could actually use.
Most importantly, it was fun. I miss playing the big guy — the amount of punishment he can absorb while in Granite Armor is positively unbelievable. I wanted a guy who could tank anything for a group of eight, at the cost of some soloability, and by god I’ve got it — he’s incredible.
Anyway. I also spotted Statesman standing around in Independence Port. Something about a Task Force? We should do that.


"City of Heroes" champions virtual queer prom

Hundreds of super-powered lesbians and gays let their magical hair down at a new LGBT prom recently. They danced, flirted, elected a prom king and (drag) queen, played outdoors in their underwear at a mountain ski resort, and levitated with robotic boots and angels’ wings until they crashed the server. Yes, they were in a virtual online world called “City of Heroes.”

It’s about friggin’ time, Batman.

Starting on Tuesday, July 17th, the Training Room Test Server will have two new game features enabled for testing: Character Transfer and Character Rename.
* Character Transfer will allow customers to move characters from one server to another.
* Character Rename will allow customers to rename a selected character.
Both of these features are not part of Issue 10: Invasion. Although we are beginning to test them now, we anticipate that they will not be enabled on the live service until after the launch of Issue 10.
We estimate that both features, Character Transfer and Character Rename, will carry a transaction fee of $9.99 each per use (there will be no fee for transfers to or renames on the Training Room). Should a Character Transfer have a name conflict on the destination server, a free Character Rename will be made available to resolve the conflict and rename the moving character.
These new features exemplify our commitment to improve the quality of the City of Heroes experience. We feel the price of these features is enough to prevent potential abuse, but also reasonable enough to not be prohibitive for those who want to improve their gaming experience by moving servers or changing a character name.
IMPORTANT! Customers who are interested in taking advantage of the Character Transfer service should know that it is possible in the future that we may make changes to the game that would remove the need to Transfer servers. One example of such a change would be a “server-less” game configuration where all players can group with anyone, without the restriction of which server they play on. We are not committing to this “server-less” configuration, and in fact there are no plans to implement a “server-less” environment this calendar year, but because we are charging a fee for these services, it is important that our players understand that the possibility exists. We want to be very clear in this regard so that those who do decide to make use of a Server Transfer, when it becomes available, understand that they may not need it in the future.
For those interested in assisting with the testing efforts of Character Transfer and Character Rename, keep your eye on the Official City of Heroes Announcement Forum for further details. Thank you for your continued support!

Game reflects Life

Although it’s ostensibly about WoW, this post from Terra Nova: “Our avatars, ourselves”, makes some great observations how we relate to (and interact with) stimuli in virtual worlds in general, specifically our and others’ avatars.
In brief, research to this point indicates we react to virtual stimuli exactly the same way as if it were real — for example, we don’t want our characters standing too close to other characters, because it’s a social convention in the real world that we all have our own individual space. ((This is particularly notable in WoW, where there is no “body buffer” as there is in CoH, and it’s possible to actually stand ‘inside’ or walk through people, but people go to GREAT (if unconscious) effort to prevent that from happening if at all possible.))
Also (and obviously) we react positively to attractive avatars, more ‘upbeat’ locales, environment conditions, and surroundings. Again, I’ve seen this. The avatar example is easy to see — there are toons whose abilities I really like, but whom I don’t play simply because I don’t like looking at them much (Zero at the Bone, or any undead WoW character) — but I know there are areas in both CoH and WoW I just won’t want to linger for long (they’re DEPRESSING), while others I enjoy (Talos waterfalls are neat, and there’s something very relaxing about doing some deep sea hunting with a potion of water breathing for a few hours.
As they say in the post, “You can take the person out of the real, but not the real out of the person.”


When shall we get our reality-bending Amber Pulp on, chilluns?

Mayday, mayday

Although they are just as flammable and thus, just as fun, the zeppelins of World of Warcraft are quite a bit smaller than the Big Uns folks then to think of when they think of Zeppelins for pulp games. The ‘passenger’ section (which is basically water-going ship design, handing from the hydrogen balloon on ropes) is only about 20 or 30 feet from stem to stern, with a top deck and an enclosed lower deck — in the Amber game or the regular SotC game, it’d be a ‘personal zeppelin’, which right there is a concept I hadn’t even thought of, and kind of love — an aerial houseboat. 🙂
Also, this shot of a downed ‘mini-zeppelin’ caught in a tree in WoW’s Stranglethorn Vale gives me ideas. 🙂

More Amber Pulp!

Jvstin of long-time Amber DRPG fame just finished up a pulp-Amber game using Spirit of the Century at “The Black Road” Amber-con. Details at The Children of Amber in… the Machinations of Duke Icarium.
I like the implementation — unlike the very detailed complete rewrite of the rules I’ve seen elsewhere, his implementation changes relatively little in the core rules themselves: renaming a couple skills, dropping Science and just leaving the Medicine aspect of it, and breaking Riding out from Survival (which I didn’t do simply because Riding just seemed too narrow a skill to me, in comparison to the rest of the list.
All in all, it totally works: I think TCoA is more of a traditional Amber setting, so dropping stuff like Science makes sense, as does lumping all Vehicles into one gestalt skill (though again that makes Riding seem kind of narrow) — for NPiP, I’m injecting a lot of non-canon technology, weird science and pulp trappings, as WELL as the pulp ‘feel,’ so those differences are understandable.
Either way, it demonstrates that Amber/SotC is an easy-peasey hack.
I like his take on Art as both the core skill behind a “Trump Artist” stunt (which I’m doing in my NPiP game) and the idea that the art skill also equates to a USER’S level of skill with interacting with Trumps (which didn’t occur to me); that’s kinda hot. Daddy like.
All in all, great stuff — I’m looking forward to finding out how the session itself ran.

When you know the indie designers are doing something right

“Story Game” (400 page, hard-bound, beautiful, hard-crunch, sci-fi blaster, smacking) Burning Empires won Origins’ RPG of the year award, beating out Exalted, 2nd Edition and the new RuneQuest.
There is a vanishingly small difference between a mainstream RPGs and indie productions in terms of print quality (since most use Indie Press, Lulu, or another POD), and has been evident in the last couple years, no difference at all in quality of design.

The new Holy (long, with a smile at the end)

Okay, so a few days ago, just for my own lazy-bookmarking, I linked to a guide on making a “AoE”-specced Paladin. The reason for this was because the instructions on that post (and here )revitalized my enjoyment of playing my sub-main, a dwarf paladin who’s been gathering dust for awhile now.
I’m going to talk about that in more detail in this post, because I keep thinking about it.
It was a great, fun day of playing with her, and since she was unceremoniously booted from her guild a month or so back for not being logged in enough (writing a book, helloooooo), those moments of enjoyment with this character have been few and far between.
So anyway, it’s Tuesday. I’ve hit level 59 with Grezz’k and I’m 1001 points from 60 (in one-third the play time it took me to hit 50 with Hangtime, and half the time it took me with Hype. *coff*), and I don’t want to level any further with him just yet — there were some lower-level quests I wanted to finish with him before dinging, so I left him sitting.
I’d been reading the paladin thing, so I logged on Kayti and followed Ze Instructions.

Continue reading “The new Holy (long, with a smile at the end)”

A game within a game

Last weekend, the WoW Insider guild on Zangarmarsh “It Came from the Blog” (200+ low-level alts and going strong) ran a scavenger hunt. The idea was to get screenshots of the following items:
1. A parrot
2. A Wanted Poster
3. An Ogre
4. A Yeti
5. A Well (water-type)
6. A Waterfall
7. A Kodo
8. A chemistry set
9. Lava
10. Dragonkin
11. An Outhouse
12. An Armor stand
13. A Tapestry
14. A Tiki mask
15. A zombie
16. A Boat
17. A gate
18. Hanging boxes
19. A Coffin
20. A fountain
21. A siege engine
22. Intestines
23. A Dead tree
24. A crashed flying machine
25. The rez angel
You don’t have to know WoW to (a) see how that could be pretty fun and (b) how such an idea could be ported easily to other games.
The results? I did horribly — and after looking at the collections from the two guys who tied for first with 24 of 25 — realized I should LOOK at the landscape more.
Cool idea. I think I might rip it off later. 🙂

Burning Aspects

This is a SotC rules tweak. I didn’t come up with it, though I am tweaking it.
FATE and Spirit of the Century already let you change a character’s aspects whenever it’s appropriate or interesting or just plain cool to do so. That’s well and good. It’s a kind of ‘staying put’ character advancement.
I want to put a spotlight on that, when it happens. Some of the most dramatic moments in stories come when characters experience a radical change of heart. In SotC, the character is exchanging one aspect for another. In the Shadow of Yesterday (which has MANY things in common with FATE and SotC) it would be when you Buy Off a Key, which is a pretty awesome thing in that game.
So combine the two.

Continue reading “Burning Aspects”

In a highly volatile nutshell

Fred Hicks asks:

What do *you* think needs to be in a 15-minute demo of Spirit of the Century?

The best, though not necessarily most useful response:

Small mook group to be scared/confused by the talky types, then mowed down by the brawlers, but not before the BigVillain joins in.
On a Zeppelin.
Which is on fire.
Over Manhattan.
With a bunch of cute socialites on board as passengers.
And the Zeppelin is heading straight down for an orphanage.
That you finance with your immense wealth. Someone stop me!

That would be an awesome 15 minute demo.

Too much awesome for a single sentence.

So one of the players coming by on Friday to make up a character for our spirit of the century game “The Century Club Presents…” writes:
“What year do we start in? I need to know if soap operas exist yet.”

*blows some dust off*

I’m finally done with all the stuff that’s been keeping me from playing any WoW or CoH — I’ve been offline so long (coming up on 5 or 6 weeks?) I’m not sure I remember how to log in.


I think, assuming that Birdwell Island is a Chancel (which is clearly is, otherwise all the mortals would have gone insane by now), Emily Elizabeth must be the Imperator.
I’ve tried to work it with her as a Noble and Clifford as her anchor, but it just doesn’t work, since he’s got like… three anchors himself.
So she’s the Imperator. Obviously aligned with the Light — no one else could be that positive.

And… Action!

As I already mentioned, we played some Primetime Adventures this weekend — this was the first episode after the series premiere of our “Weird War Two” show — and ***Dave has once again done fantastic work in putting together a great game log of Strange Allies, Episode 1, “Djinn”.
This was a revelatory session for me as a PTA producer — somewhere in there, I went from “okay, I think we’re at a conflict” to realizing “Oh, THIS is how you play Bangs in this game. WOW!”
Great stuff.
My only coulda-shoulda for the session is that I should have suggested that the climatic scene conflicts for Margie and Randy should have been more about their characters’ issues, but that’s a relatively minor thing.

Man, I am loving Primetime Adventures

So I’ve run two sessions of PTA now (the Pilot and now Episode One of “Strange Allies”: fighting the arcane plots of the Reich in WW2), and played in one.
Really, REALLY feel like we’re getting the hang of this system.
– Don’t say “okay, I think this is a conflict, the NPC wants this, you want that.” Think to yourself, ‘the NPC wants this’ and then have them DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, right in the character’s face, and say “Okay, given that situation, what do you want, player?” In other words, SHOW, don’t TELL. Awesome.
– Cut to the next cool thing, drop the scenes that you wouldn’t show in a TV show. This might be the best ‘rule of thumb’ to apply to really help you cut to the important stuff in a game.
– You can always squeeze the scenes harder. 🙂
Great parallels between Randy and Margie’s character’s storylines: rejected loves, dangerous beasts within, facing off against things that each represented the worst of what they might become…
… and poor Dave, the one human anchor point in this mad little storm.
I prepped three lines of text before the game, and we made a TV episode out of it, with demonic djinn and fascist Italian sorcerers and “I love yous” and marriage proposals in Paris and…
I’m very very pleased with how we’re figuring this game out. It’s like all the tough choices of Sorcerer, but playing characters you actually like. 🙂

“Now a regular weekly publication!”

It’s a Spirit of the Century-palooza. First, we had a character generation shindig down at Lee and De’s for Nine Princes in Pulp (Amber, with a thick layer of pulpy goodness), and now…

“The Century Club Presents…” is (a) a fictional pulp periodical that tells the heroic tales of the Century Club and (b) a pulp pick-up game using the Spirit of the Century system. That means a game influenced by the pulps — serial adventures of the early Twentieth Century starring iconic characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow and echoed today in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Rocketeer.
We’re aiming for each session to be relatively self-contained, so that the players participating each session can change with no real problems. The characters are all affiliated with the Century Club, and this loose structure provides continuity, while allowing the freedom to create nearly any sort of adventure and include whomever shows up that week to play.
The idea here is to get a regularly scheduled game going for which the specific day of the weekend, the locale, the participants, and even the GM change as we go, depending on who can make it that week.
As of Sunday, we’ve got seven characters mostly made up, but WE NEED. MORE. POWER.
I’ll be sending out another message today, organizing a “There’s still time to SAVE THE WORLD!” get together for this weekend. The more players we have, the better the chance that there’s always enough people to play. 🙂

Bang bang bang

I’ve talked (a lot) in the past about running games that are essentially built on nothing but Bangs (or as SotC would have it, decision points). In (very) brief, this is a mode of GMing in which (most commonly) you come up with dilemmas that the character has to deal with, somehow. That’s actually simplifying it: Bangs are about creating a situation in which the reaction says something interesting about the character.The elements of this situation (and this is important) have no ‘right’ choice in mind.
In game, play progresses up to this situation, then the situation is presented, then the player(s) look at their options (probably inventing new options as well), and make a decision. We all (even the player) learn a little something new about that character in a backhand way, and play continues in the direction their choice and actions dictate. *
I haven’t always explained the technique very well, despite using it pretty much exclusively for a number of years. Thankfully, someone else stepped in to talk about it.
Mike Holmes is one of the best GMs I’ve had the pleasure of playing it, and he is something of an expert in this style of play. During a recent discussion of ‘what a Bang is,’ someone asked Mike to start up a new thread in which he breaks down all the different kinds of Bangs you can bring into your game.
He took up the gauntlet here: Story Games for Everybody – Bang Types. Good stuff, presenting even more variations on the theme that I plan to shamelessly rip off, because there’s a BUNCH I hadn’t really considered.

Continue reading “Bang bang bang”

Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.

So I went down to Lee and De’s yesterday and, with Randy, Meera, and Kingsley, made up characters for a run of Spirit of the Century, in an Amber-that-never-quite-was.
Yeah. Amber.
An Amber with ray guns, planes that flap their own wings, clockwork-driven trump machines, a steam-driven monstrosity called Morgenstern, and growing fleets of zeppelins with Unicorn and Silver Rose emblems on the side.
The Great War is over, and things have changed.

Continue reading “Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.”

Conflict Resolution vs Task Resolution: FIGHT!

So there’s a conversation on Story Games about “Conflict Resolution” systems and “Task Resolution” systems, and asking which one people like better.
I liked the conversation. I’m going to distill my thoughts here.
The whoza-what-now? (where I explain what I’m talking about)
See, there are two main kinds of resolution mechanics talked about, because there are two main kinds identified in extant RPG systems, today.
Conflict Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Specified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do, you say “I want to find the important papers.” or “I want to find out who knows the Emperor.” or whatever. You specifically state what you want, and the rolls that follow determine if you get it.
Task Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Unspecified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do in those same two situations, you say “I want to open the lock on the safe.” or “I want to use my Charm skill on the princess.” or whatever. You specifically state what you are doing, and the rolls that follow determine if you successfully do that specific thing. Whether you get what you really wanted is not considered.
Got that? Hope so. I’m moving to the last bit.
What’s my point?
Well, I have a pretty strong preference for conflict resolution.
Why is that?
Here’s my thought: Everything interesting in RPGs is about resolving a conflict. Everything. Do I get that thing? Do I get away? Do I find my dad? Whatever.
The problem with task resolution (specifically, conflicts where ‘what you really want’ isn’t specifically … considered) is that the mechanics don’t resolve that conflict for you — they just tell you if you performed an action successfully.
The two have nothing to do with each other.
You can roll for all the successful tasks you want, but ultimately, succeed or fail, whether you actually achieve your goal is left to — well, 99% of the time, it’s up to the GM. Maaaybe opening the safe was what you needed to do to find the papers, maaaaybe the princess is the person you need to give info from. But maybe not, and if not, you just keep rolling meaningless rolls that waste time and do nothing, until you finally “click the right pixel” — something that has nothing to do with all the rolling you’ve been doing in first place.
In short, the task resolution whole system is there to keep you busy until the GM’s ready to let you have what you want. Or not.
That’s pretty shaky game design right there.
Foot notes:
((1)) “My GM wouldn’t do that,” is not a relevant argument. A good GM can counteract a bad design. The bad design, however, still exists.
((2)) Why yes, this does go back and touch on both “I want to play with all the rules” and “What do I need a GM for anyway?” (The answer, of course, is “for the FUN stuff.”)
((3))This isn’t about ‘story games’ versus ‘trad rpgs’ or anything like that — it’s about cutting right to the honest heart of the conflict and doing something with the system that RESOLVES it. Roll one die (like Trollbabe). Roll fifty (DitV). I don’t care; just so long as what we’re doing is honestly determining “do I get what I wanted or not?”

Wierd internet gestalt

So, I was at the Forge forum, and reading down the forum thread: [Forge Midwest]Interview with Ron Edwards, and promised myself to listen to it, cuz I met both the participants for the first time at the con, and that was really cool, and apparently the interview is good also.
Then, down toward the end, there’s this:

We all wonder, ‘why are you [story-game proponents] so pissed at systems like White Wolf? They inspire rich story in their setting and flavor text, and the rules are simple enough to get out of our way and let us tell our story.” And it becomes a badge of honor to say, “there are lots of times we don’t even ever roll dice, all night long!”
Hey, I’ve been that guy and part of me still is. But the thing is, what I think The Forge and Ron and so many others who’ve been growing the story games movement over the past seven years, what they’re saying is, “If you have to get your system out of the way in order to go into story mode, then you need a new system that actually can be used IN story mode.”

And I look at the last couple posts I’ve made and yeah… that’s at least part of what I’m saying.

I want to play with all the rules.

I’ve had a chance to play in a couple games outside my normal list in the last couple weeks, and they reminded me of some things I really prefer in my gaming.
One of them was very much a classic homebrew basement game — lots of combat system, and all the roleplay success hinging on the interpretation of the GM. The other was something that was sort of a mix of that with the more current hippie games, but still with a strong leaning toward “GM Fiat” as the means of determining difficulty levels and like.
Did I enjoy them? Yes. Excellent GMs made the experience enjoyable. Did I care for the games in the LARGER scheme of things? No, I didn’t. Largely because of the way the games depending on the GM’s personal take on whatever was going on to determine success. It meant that, if I played the same game with another GM, not only would the play be different (obviously), the acutual GAME SYSTEM would be different. I would not, in short, be playing the same game.
Lots of players will tell you “I don’t like having a set system around the roleplaying scenes. Yes, maybe a big character or a notorious character should have an effect on the NPC’s reaction to me as I roleplay but I trust the GM to judge that fairly and take it into account; I don’t want a system to do that. ”
First, to those players: you DO have a set system around your roleplaying scenes. A “system” is “the thing that we use to give one or more of us the authority to say ‘this is what happens’.” In the example above, the “system” is “the GM decides what happens.”
That IS a system. If you don’t think so, I direct you to the Amber DRPG — that’s the only system the game uses.
And I don’t mean to make a whipping boy out of ADRPG — LOTS of home campaigns replace the WRITTEN rules from published systems for at least a portion of the rules — whatever they don’t like — with that “the GM decides” system; they either do it consensually as a group, explicitly within the rules, or the GM is doing it behind the scenes and not telling anyone. Or the system does it explicitly. It happens all the time. Either way, the group probably trusts the GM to take on that job.
I don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong I may trust, say, Dave or Randy or whoever to wing something like this, but the don’t trust “the GM” as a generic person to do so. There are a couple reasons.
1. I play with lots of GMs. This kind of ‘system’ basically boils down to me trying to convince/charm/cajole the GM into giving me what I want. I don’t want to fucking argue (in the legalese sense) for something — I want to declare an action, engage with a mechanical system, and roleplay the result. If I wanted the quality of my arguing/roleplaying to be the thing on which my success hung, I would have become a lawyer.
2. Consistency. I want a mechanical, written down system that we use for every situation. The problem with this “GM decides” system is that it only works the way you expect if you’re playing with *your* GM. What happens if your *other* friend is GMing? You have to adjust. Do you still trust him? Sure, but it’s going to be different. How about if *I’m* GMing? Or you? Or that other guy? Every one of those changes means that any encounters (social, usually) that use “the GM decides” System are going change, sometimes dramatically, and “what will get me success” is also going to change, dramatically.
I mean, you wouldn’t want that to happen in combat, right? “Oh, Bob’s GMing, so I have to remember that the 5 of every suit is wild, and anything above 7’s are an automatic hit if I’m using a shotgun…” because that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.
I want a system in place when I’m striving for a goal.
A written-down system.
A consistently 100%-used system, so that if one week I’m playing with one GM and the next week I’m using the same rules with another GM (or if I am GMing) the game is essentially the same, apart from how the GM plays the NPCs and what sorts of conflict-laden Decision Points they hit the players with.
This point is particularly important to me right now, as I ponder a new Spirit of the Century game in which several people, perhaps many, will sit in the GM seat. If one week we have to think “oh, we’re playing X’s version of the rules” and the next week we have to think “oh, we’re playing Y’s version of the rules… they won’t use this and this and this rule, but they will use this…”
Well, I won’t play very fucking long.
Use all the rules. In these games we’re talking about, you can.
People look at games like Dogs in the Vineyard or Dead of Night or Heroquest and see very lean rules. They look at D20 and see really thick books, because d20 has more rules. D20 has lots more rules.
In practice, however, I think the NUMBER of rules actually being used by a d20 group and a DitV group is about the same.
Percentage-wise, a lot less of the d20 rules set is actually being used; it’s been replaced; this isn’t really anyone’s fault — I don’t think a normal human person CAN run that game with all the rules — there are too many, even in just the core 3 books, to remember, and some are just too much of a pain. Anyone use encumbrance? How about the NPC-reaction tables?
Dogs (compared to D20, for the sake of common familiarity) is small and lean because 100% of the rules are meant to be used, all the time. * Nothing in the game is optional. Period.
((At least with the homebrew game I was in this weekend, the rules aren’t ignored — whatever is there, IS used — there just aren’t rules written down for a big chunk of what people typically do in an RPG: an alien coming to earth and reading the rules wouldn’t know there was any part of play that involved portraying your character; it’s not mentioned, you just have to know that part. 🙂 ))
And I’ve played in good systems that effectively and enjoyably build a real system around even roleplaying scenes — a system that makes those scenes as interesting and involved as combat. It does happen. It’s not even that unusual anymore. Some of them aren’t even “Story Games.” Heroquest and Spirit of the Century are very very traditional games, yet they do this.
The equally good part? These games function exactly the same, regardless of who’s running the game, if the person in question USES ALL THE RULES.
There is an almost automatic, trained instinct in GMs who’ve run a lot of traditional games to pick up ANY game and look for “the thing that can be ignored in this system.”
These ‘little’ games just don’t have that part.

Continue reading “I want to play with all the rules.”

SotC Hack

John Harper (author of Agon) is playing in a Spirit of the Century game and hacking in some things that I really find useful and interesting. over at The Mighty Atom: SotC Hack is a post about tweaking the Stress/Consequences bars to make Consequences happen more and generally speed up combats a bit. It’s a direct yoink from the upcoming Dresden Files rules.
Actually, he’s got quite a few insightful SotC tweaks discussed over there (and Fred Hicks is conferring with him in the comments), so it’s worth checking the whole thing out: The Mighty Atom.

For the record…

Spirit of the Century is a great game for high-adventure pulp hero gaming. It’s not so appropriate for Chandleresque pulp-noir games. Fly From Evil, however, is going to be six kinds of awesome for that kind of game, and I intend to own it, oh yes.
Just as soon as it’s out.

As though I needed another reason

[Breaking the Ice] – You proved me wrong!

When I initially heard about Breaking the Ice however-long-ago that was, my immediate gut reaction was “Oh, come ON! That won’t be fun!” I don’t know what it was about the game (or rather, the idea of the game) that rubbed me the wrong way. But there it is: me, monstrously predisposed to hating Breaking the Ice.
The flip side of have strong gut reactions to lots of things is that you eventually learn that your gut isn’t always right. So, when I had the opportunity to try the game out, I did.
It was really, really fun.

Someday, I hope to get a chance to play that game. Until then, I’ll just carry it around and reread it. 🙂

I have played Spirit of the Century and I am exited.

There are a dozen reasons why, but the bottom line is that I think this is quite possibly *the* game to use for a regularly-scheduled, everyone-makes-up-a-character-and-whoever-shows-up-plays, campaign.
In quick summation:

  • The Century Club is the easy background that ties everyone together and explains why [random list of this evening’s participants] were called in for [current problem].
  • The adventure setups can easily be resolved in one session.
  • The characters are very very competent (nigh on Amberite-level), so it’s really no problem if only a few people can play that week, or if a bunch can — the opposition can remain the same.
  • Character progression is comparatively slow and applied to everyone (not just the folks who show up a lot), so you don’t need to worry about falling behind if you’re busy for awhile.
  • The episodic nature of the villain-of-the-week, coupled with the fact that half of any GM’s prep will be making up a list of PC Aspects to compel in interesting ways, plus that fact that less-played PCs don’t fall behind means that (a) Anyone can GM if they want and (b) the various GMs can have their own characters to pull out and play when they’re not in the hot seat. It is EASY to switch GMs around in the same setting with minimal fear of stepping on someone else’s uber storyline.

Picture everyone with a character. A wiki full of the NPCs we’ve introduced… a list of all the pulp novels we’ve “written”… and the sure knowledge that, say, “Saturdays are a Game Day.”
I am excited. 🙂

Boiling down Theory

Most of the roleplaying game theory out on the intertubes that originated on the Forge is part of the Big Model. You won’t have heard me talk about the Big Model before, because frankly I don’t get it — I talk about small parts of the Big Model, because I feel like (a) I get those, or (b) I possibly CAN get those, if I work at it.
Over at Knife Fight, someone posted a friends summary of the Big Model that pretty much boils it all down into a nice simple glaze I can pour over whatever food I happen to be cooking. It’s tasty, it’s basic, and it’s (in my head) straightforward. I have appended that post, with notes, below the cut, because i would always like to be able to find it.

Continue reading “Boiling down Theory”

What I keep coming back around to:

I enjoy games that have more story-focus than DnD… Don’t get me wrong: I like tactical games. I really do. I love DnD when that’s what i want to do; I wish I was in a regular Savage Worlds game, or something else with miniatures. Seriously. But I want some game going where the system acknowledges “my whole ‘thing’ is about X” and have the game system actually care about that. Not just the GM or the players, but the system.
PTA is the EXTREME version of that, where you’re pretty much all issue. I like PTA, but I feel like I’ve had… so far… more extended success with games like Heroquest and Sorcerer which are closer to a ‘normal’ game, but which still allow for those story elements.
I don’t know how much that matters, but I’m getting so damned frustrated with games that only make it two sessions and then crash for seven months, assuming they ever come back to life, and I’m trying to find the magic bullet game that (a) gives me what I want and (b) lasts a few sessions, cuz… dammit.
And I don’t think it’s the systems. I’ve had good long runs of newer games — I have to hope it’s largely circumstances and not just me fucking forgetting how to run a fun game.

Old School Holocaust

The boys of the Durham Three go super-old school with a game of Twilight 2000 and discuss what about the game is definitive old-school and what makes that awesome.
Quote of the podcast: “I just don’t have a problem beating up feral children… in a game. You put a feral child in front of me in a game, I’m not going to feel bad about blowing him up with his own grenade.”

“I’m so making a post from this email.”

So Dave is getting ready to run a Primetime Adventures game, and in between bouncing actual Show ideas around, we’re talking about PTA’s system itself, and getting used to the weird parts. I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff he’s been thinking about, and I thought the ensuing conversation was valuable, so I’m posting it here, somewhat rearranged from the emails so that it’s… umm… readable in this format.
Green is me, blue is Dave.

Continue reading ““I’m so making a post from this email.””

Theory, Hardcore

I was going to do two posts this morning; one about this, and one about someone using Spirit of the Century to run a Classic Traveler game, which is cool.
However, this is an important link, and I don’t want to distract from it.
Vincent’s Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore
This single page of posts, written by that Dogs in the Vineyard guy over the course of months, comprises the most lucid, easy to read, approachable discussion of ‘indie’ rpg theory you’ll ever find, period. Everyone who’s ever even kind of sorta looked sideways at all those Forge neologisms or dealt with one of those hippie games I play should read it. Everyone should read it.
More importantly, everyone SHOULD read it. Read, especially, “A Small Thing About Suspense” and “A Small Thing About Death” (I’m looking at you, Tombstone RPG!)
But read it all. It’s all good.

I hate that idea umm… Here’s what I like about that idea…

Remi, from the Durham Three podcast, posts some actual-play on Primetime Adventures, played at Camp Nerdly (which ran the same weekend I was all warm and sunny in Florida, so I don’t really feel bad for missing it.) [Camp Nerdly – PTA] Sexitricity.
Why am I linking it? Because in one part of the thread, Remi breaks down how he handles the Session Pitch — he said earlier that he disallows any negative input at that point in the game, and someone asks for more info, and he brings it:

First I ask everyone for something that’s gotten them jazzed in the last week or two. An idea, a TV show, a piece of music, whatever. I make it clear that the show is going to be a synthesis of what everyone’s excited about, and that I’ll be the one doing most of the formal synthesizing. I go around the table in whatever order people want to go. For this session Duty, The Bene Gesserritt, Babarella, and the Preacher comic book series were all mentioned.
Joshua mentioned the Bene Gesserritt and someone immediately picked up and said “Oh! We could be, like, the companions in Firefly!” and someone else said, “The companions were kind of cool, but the lame thing about them was . . .” and I stopped it cold, insisting the person only talk about what they liked about the companions, not disliked. The pitch session could have degenerated right there into people sniping one another’s ideas, which when you’re gathering material is death. The player immediately turned around and said what he’d like to see out of a companion-style idea, and we built from there.

This is something I wish I’d read before the “Tarot Game” Mortal Coil session. As that did not happen, I’ll have to settle for enforcing that guideline unswervingly in future play, in any game, even in-game (especially with strong narrative-switching like PTA) — a kind of “never say no to the scene” improve acting rule/technique.

The “we just had a joke” timer.

GameCraft :: View topic – The Disruption Hourglass of Death (table rule, any game system)

Anyway, I do love our style of roleplaying, and it’s just a big habit of mine to, even in the middle of a serious moment, to break it up with a bad pun, or a joke, or a double-entendre or something. Rick has recently been doing the same thing, and even more so. This hasn’t disrupted things to the point of, “Shut up, you dick, you’re breaking my concentration!” or anything like that. But we all agree, even the comment-giver, that:
* Levity is AWESOME, and welcome in certain amounts.
* However, busting caps right in the middle of a dramatic moment with a pun can really take the spotlight from them.
* And more often than not, since the mood has a ‘crack’ in it, it’s very easy to follow it up with more jokes (Rick says something funny, Quintin follows up on it, I get in, and 5 minutes later we’re like, “OK, what were we doing again?”)
* Which leads to derailing the drama.
One crack every 5-10 minutes or so? Harmless.
However, we know ourselves better, and know that that first crack usually starts a chain reaction which derails the discsussion or roleplaying moment.

I’ll simply point out that the group Andy describes in the post sounds a LOT like the local Denver group, where one joke inevitably leads to another; or where one quote from a movie inevitably leads to another quote (or, more inexplicable, the SAME one, repeated, as though to confirm we heard).


I dreamt a game mechanic last night, based on the five Chinese elements and Rock-Paper-Scissors, as in “Fire scours Earth. Earth blocks Water. Metal slices Air. Like that.
Except I think almost everything beat Air and Metal, the way I dreamed it.
So anyway, the character sheet has a kind of pentagram on it, where the five points were the elements and the lines between them were arrows that pointed toward which elements they beat, creating a big star… and each point was a circle you could put chips in to show how strong you were in that element… though I don’t really know what being strong in that element would do for you — maybe let you win in a conflict you’d normal lose (like Earth turning around and beating Fire, or something) or the number of times you could “play” that element in a conflict, per session, or something.
I don’t know what the bloody point was, but it looked cool in my dream-head, and I don’t have time to think about it right now, or do anything about it, so I’m putting it here.
Click to embiggen.

Primetime Adventures: Finally!

Dave’s still putting up the AP from the Pilot Episode, but I wanted to get a link up to PrimetimeAdventures / Strange Allies. We finally got to play this game! Woo!
It was a little wonky, getting started, but we hit our groove near the end of the session and I do believe I’m still buzzing from this thing, a day later. Good good stuff. Some could-shouldas to consider, but good, good stuff.

When is a game “finished?”

Lots of talk in the last couple days about what constitutes a “finished” game. (My threads on teaching your game flowed out of that conversation actually.)
Matt Wilson, who wrote Primetime Adventures and Galactic, gives up the best rule of thumb on this I’ve seen so far:
“You need players to consistently be able to sit down and play your game out of the box, without help, without you available as an unpublished supplement.”
There you go. It’s nice that so many of these indie games have the author easily available to answer questions, but the best ones — Dogs and PTA spring to mind, as they have for a few days now, but Conspiracy of Shadows and TSoY are there too (they may not be in-game-referencing-friendly, but the rules make sense without lots of online help — are the ones where that’s not necessary; where you are reading Actual Play threads not to understand what the hell to do, but just to get cool ideas.

Teaching Your Game: Using Adult Learning Techniques to Deliver Game Content

In an email, Jason Morningstar wrote:

Hey Doyce!
Your comment:
“I’m a professional editor for technical publications and training delivery (which I’ve found game texts may benefit from stealing from, in terms of information delivery and teaching the game).”
was very exciting to me. I want to learn; let’s figure out how to make that happen. Mostly I’m interested in how your experience relates to a game text and play instructions. Want to start a dialogue at S-G about this?

And actually I was already working on (a) some learning materials for work and (b) a post that used most of the same stuff from the work document, applied to game design, so I started a series of posts on the subject.

Forge Con, the “quick” version

I left my journal/notebook at home today (along with a bunch of otther stuff I should have remembered), which included all my detailed notes on the happenings at ForgeCon Midwest, which I attended this weekend. Without the notes, I’ll just hit a few highlights:

  1. Contrary to my grandiose plans, I didn’t end up playing one ‘new’ game (defined here as ‘something I haven’t played before’, not necessarily ‘hot off the presses’). This was due partly to circumstances (I’d hoped to play Primetime Adventures or Agon, but no one was running it) and partly due to my own choices (since I had several options at times and chose games I was already familiar with over other stuff, for a number of reasons). With all that said, it was still really cool for folks like Ron Edwards to seeks me out and specifically ask me to jump into a session of It Was a Mutual Decision (the story of a romantic break-up, with wererats), even if I didn’t play it. This is also a good thing, since I won’t be coming back from the Con with my hair all blown back and white, proclaiming the next great game we GOTTA play — it reinforced my appreciation of games I already know I really like.
  2. So what did I play?
    • The Mountain Witch (GMd it) — this was during the first gaming slot, which got slarted late in general, and ended up being more of a two-hour demo of the rules than a full-on-and-proper session. That said, we had three ronin with some great abilities and neat backstory, a nice negotiation with my favorite tMW NPC, Uncle Tengu; a fight with some zombie soldiers in my favorite tMW ‘set’, the Black Meadow; an encounter with the Witch’s Mistress, and ended with a duel between a ronin with a sword, and a ronin with a rock. The one with the rock won. it wasn’t even close.
    • Heroquest (played) — this was a lot of fun for me, since I was playing with Mike Holmes, who essentially taught me how to run this game via his long-running ‘live’ IRC-chat-based game that is now into it’s third season, third in-game decade, and fourth year of play. We did a six-person horror-themed one shot in a traditional Glorantha village, and verily it was cool. I enjoy failing in that system as much as I do winning in other games, and spent a lot of time working out ‘bonus’ abilities like “bum hip” for my grouchy old sherrif. Tons o’ fun.
    • The Shadow of Yesterday: Brokedown Castle (GMd, with some actual prep) — this game took place in the evening and actually had a nice turnout, though pretty much no one who played were the people who’d voiced interest in playing prior to the con. Heroquest-Mike turned around and became the player for this session and proceeded to hand me a great NPC in the form of his Goblin translator named Glarb. Has Margie can attest, I have a lot of fun mangling the translation of things from player to the next, and Glarb became a plot-turning pivot on which several scenes hinged. Result: Lots of fun, lots of laughs, a good Bringing Down the Pain contest between the (PC) albino ratkin sorcerer and the (NPC) arcanely schooled nobleman. To contrast that, I should have prepped a stronger situation going in — I went in with some very sketchy NPCs with some leading bits of information about each of them, and asked the players to plug into that relationship map — that worked, and the stuff they came up with did (as I’d planned for) create a whole-cloth conspiracy out of the scraps I’d brought to the table, but just a leeeeetle more momentum from the NPCs would have helped things move a skosh more briskly.
    • Galactic
    • (Played — playtest) — Matt Wilson was down for the con and, once rested, wanted to try out his new version of Galactic. I GMd a playtest group for the game already, and REALLY wanted to see what he’d been doing with the game, so I jumped at the chance. This lead to some really great design talk with Paul Czege (creator of My Life with Master), Eric Finley, and Matt, and I think we really sanded down the last few ragged edges on that thing. Result: this is a tight, tight game. As good as the clunky draft of the game was, this is SO MUCH BETTER. Tighter. Cleaner. More focused. Gone or replaced are many of fiddley bits, leaving one system with a really unified, elegant feel. It’s not genius yet, but it’s totally fun and playable right now, and it’s going to get better — it cant not at this point, I think. Matt still hasn’t had a chance to playtest the system all the way through a whole ‘arc’ and into the end game. I pointed out that my play group is all ABOUT longer-form play and getting to the end game, and told him to get me the damn rules already. There was a lot of nodding.

  3. I should have brought Nine Worlds. My roomate Iskander/Alexander is very much in love with this system, which I’ve owned for awhile and haven’t read, and talked about a couple sessions they’ve played that seems to bring out a great kind of Nobilis-Lost-500 feeling that’s a lot of fun. Must go back and read that thing.

And that was about it. Lots and lots of visiting, and talking about gaming and games and stuff we liked and what we didn’t, about the direction the indie scene is going, and the fact that people in the indie scene don’t use editors, and really really should… and good things like that.
If nothing else, the con let me meet some people I should have met ages ago (Jae, Matt, Mike, Ron, Aaron, Eric, Blankshield… just off the top of my head), meet some folks I really enjoyed and have only recently become aware of through the forums (Clyde, Keith, Thor) and really get a sense of the people behind the UserIDs. Great stuff.
Also, there was a lot of talking about Space Hulk and Warhammer — that’s always good. 🙂
And I’m now totally okay with not liking Capes. Or Shock:. I know I’m not alone, and I know my reasons are much like the reasons that other people have — people with whom I share many other gaming preferences. It’s not this thing that i don’t get — it’s this thing that just isn’t for me, for a number of reasons both artistically, enjoymentally (a new word) and just plain TECHNICALLY.
Like any of these sorts of things — it was a lot of time spent with folks who enjoy the same fun you do, talking, playing, and just enjoying being a part of a really grand hobby.
That’s a good thing. 🙂

Bringing Down the Finnish Pain

The Bringing Down the Pain “Group” rules from the Finnish version of TSOY, translated back into English. It’s worth noting that the guy who translated the game is also a very good rules wonk and tweaked things here and there in the rules, so seeing his version of the rules are really interesting and often enlightening.
At any rate, it’s not that his version of the Group BDtP rules are different than the English version, they’re just looking at the whole situation, and explaining it, from an very different angle (134 degrees rotated horizontally, 32 degrees vertically :). It might be useful to get your head around it.

Random Thought on Tweaking a Game System for a ‘weird’ setting

So here’s a thought, grown from an offhand comment in a podcast last week.
If you’re going to run a game in a setting, and plan on tweaking a game system to run it — specifically, a game system that’s designed for something else — you should first, foremost, and without exception run at least a short game with that system, in that system’s default… let’s say “genre.” By that I mean:
– If you’re going to use Sorcerer to run kid’s fairytales, use it for a normal game first.
– If you’re going to use Dogs in the Vineyards for a Vampire game, use it normally first.
– If you’re going to run Conspiracy of Shadows for a Delta Green/Resident Evil game, do the dark fantasy game first.
– If you’re going to use Spirit of the Century to run a 18th century swashbucking game, play a standard Pulp thing first.
– If you’re going to use Heroquest to run Firefly or Star Wars or Amber, use it to run some kind of fantasy game first.
– If you’re going to use Shadow of Yesterday to run Jack McGraw and the Mind-Kings of Jupiter or Shadowrun, use it to run a fantasy game in the world of Near first.
What I’m saying: access the system as intended before you decide what comes and goes during a customization; drive the car before you try to rebuild it into a 4×4. They don’t have to be long games, but they should dig deeply into the system’s conflict mechanics and the reward system and how progression works, before you pull an Italian Job on the system and start tearing off ‘unnecessary engine parts’.
This isn’t relevant to any particular game or situation — I’m as guilty of jumping right to the Modified Version as anyone (Petrana, and that’s fairly mild; Firefly, which wasn’t), but I think it’s a good rule to keep in mind.

Organizing my game books

Specifically, organizing each book, internally. I’ve done this a lot in the past, simply because the games I was running (DnD 3.5 , Star Wars d20, Nobilis, BESM — all for different reasons) sort of required some quick-reference tabs to keep in-game rules-checking moving as quickly as possible. Need to look for Combat? Flip to the RED, FOR THE BLOOD OF MY ENEMIES tab.
Now that we’re getting rolling into some new games, I’m looking at doing something similar, for different reasons:
– The Shadow of Yesterday: Great game, but laid out… you know, it’s actually not organized that poorly, but there aren’t PAGE BREAKS where there should be (at the start of key sections). This is probably to reduce the overall page count, and I appreciate that need in an indie publisher, but it makes finding the sections on Attributes, Skills, Keys, Secrets, and Conflicts (almost all of which start somewhere mid-page) a pain in the tuchas. I’ll drop some tabs in there to make such look-ups go more quickly (as well as tabbing some parts of the section on Near that I find useful), but I actually don’t expect to need them forever — while I’m looking a lot of stuff up now, I don’t expect that I’ll need to do that forever — I think the rules will internalize quickly, at which point I won’t need the tabs anymore.
– Conspiracy of Shadows: Similar reasons to TSoY, only moreso — the layout for the book is simply wonky as all get out.
– Primetime Adventures: Tabs should not be necessary — the rules can be summarized orally in about two minutes.
– Agon: I expect as many tabs in this as my DnD books, and that’s a good thing. Nothing wrong with a little crunch.
– Savage Worlds: See Agon.
– Dogs in the Vineyard: despite the organic layout, I simply don’t think that any additional tabbed references should be necessary, except MAYBE for the rules on Demons and Possession and the like, which I don’t use enough to just remember. Again, it’s such a pretty book that I don’t want to add some permanent technical tag to it.
For my older game books (the ones I mentioned previously) I used those colored plastic tabs that you insert little cardboard slips into. They were both annoyingly permanent additions to the book, and simultaneously temporary, because the little cardboard tags would slide out and get lost, leaving only the ugly empty plastic tab.
My new weapon of choice: these things. Non-permanent, yet less likely to just fall off and get lost. My boss at my last job used this all the time in his notebook/journal to flag stuff he was currently working on, then tossed the tags as that particular note became irrelevant.
Tabbed reference points that stick around as long as I need them, but not permanent additions to the book’s pages — I find this combination appeals to me immensely.

Not-so WoW

WoW PvP Frustration — not coming from where you’d expect.
There’s some pretty cool stuff you can get for your character by gaining honor in the various PvP Battlegrounds in WoW. The battlegrounds work a bit like an Arena match in CoH, except you pretty much just sign up to play in ‘the next one available’ and get teleported there (with a confirm window in case you’re no longer interested) when it comes up. Everyone getting sorted into similar-level matches broken up as 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, et cetera.
So… these rewards you can sort of bank on your honor to get from the battle masters? There’s a really cool mount I’d like to get at level 60. To get it, I need 30 ‘honor tokens’ — denoting participation — from each of the three battlegrounds that someone who’s level 60 can participate in. The three BGs are Warsong Gulch (the first BG: a bog-standard capture the flag game on a smallish map), Arathi Basin (a really neat one where you try to capture and hold as many of the five resource-generating spots on the map as you can, for as long as you can, until one side or the other racks up 2000 resource-points), and Alterac Valley (which I know nothing about, since I can’t get there until level 51).
And honestly? I’m enjoying myself — otherwise not even the cool mount could keep me in their — playing against live players makes me a better player in PvE as well (and vice versa, I’ve found), and it’s actually really fun to fight people for awhile before going back to the content-driven quests. Also, I just I like seeing my ‘lifetime kills’ number go up. 🙂
So… where am I on the quest for the cool mount? I have all the 30 chits I need from Arathi Basin — it was the first Battleground I tried, and I liked it a lot, so I kept doing it. Each “win” got me 3 chits, so 10 runs in there got me all the chits I needed.
I have about a third of the chits I need from Warsong’s capture-the-flag. I started doing this BG later, plus it’s not as much fun, but I’m doing it. This part is also taking longer because Horde doesn’t WIN as much in this battleground (we tend to win most of the time in AB), and each match, which should be fast, instead takes AGES, and Losing only gets me one chit instead of three. 😛
Lee assures me that Alterac Valley is even cooler, combining the best parts of both previous Battlegrounds, so I don’t worry that I can get all the chits I need from there, before sixty.
The problem?
I just hit level Fifty, which means I get sorted into the next highest tier of combatants (levels 50-59). This has caused me two problems:
1. It takes ages for a Warsong match to start up in my new tier. I assume this is because people in the fifties are instead running in the AB or AV battlegrounds, having already gotten all the Warsong battle honors they need, and also probably fed up with running those matches.
2. At fifty, I’m the lowest level guy in any given match, while my average opponent is 8 or 9 levels higher than me and doing commensurately more damage (and taking less from me) — this means that even when I do get into a match, I’m getting wiped out in seconds when I actually go up against someone, and spend a lot of time running back to the fight from the resurrection point.
What I need to do is just wait until I get about five more levels, and then go back in. What I WANT to do is run Warsong until I get the 30 chits, so I never have to do it again, but at this stage, that could take as many as 20 more matches. 😛


Grezzk (my first/main character in World of Warcraft) dinged level fifty a few nights ago. Almost simultaneously, he achieved Exalted relationship status with his first faction (and I’m closing in with a couple others). He has his Skinning skill maxed out, my First Aid skill (invaluable for solo pet- and self-repair) is nearly maxed as well (284 of 300), and I’m finally making decent headway on Leatherworking — cranking out some pretty neat magical bits.
That’s all nice, but more important are my play-time stats. WoW lists them in Weeks, Days, Hours, et cetera, but it boils down to 256 hours of playtime to get to level fifty. That’s less than a third of the time I spent on CoH getting Hang Time to 50. I’d have to log in to check, but it’s less than half the online time (at least) that it took me to get Hyperthermian to 50. This has been rewarding time spent, as well: I can’t think of a night of ‘serious play time’ (where I’d play from say seven to bedtime) where I haven’t either dinged or made some really significant headway on some skill or talent or side project or something. In general, every good night of play = a level up or some equivalent. That’s fun. Best of all, there’s a PILE of stuff to do after you hit 70 (which is why they didn’t make leveling progressively harder), and also good: I know I only hit about half of the content available to Horde players during my time playing Grezzk, which means I could level another Hordie up and see very little redundant content… and that doesn’t even address Alliance characters.
All that’s nice, but here’s the important part: those 256 hours of online time with Grezzk were spread out from mid-December (starting the weekend of the First Big Blizzard) to mid-April, which works out to about sixteen hours a week. Sixteen. I can’t even begin to convey what a change in time-involvement that is for me compared to my time on CoH (where something closer to 40 hours was a low week for me), especially since on any given week I’ve got one day that accounts for a big chunk of time. I’m very very pleased with myself about that.
Even if you factor in my other characters (one at level 34 whom I haven’t touched in at least a month), and five characters between levels 10 to 16 that amount to a net effort of maybe 20 hours, total for all five of them… I’m controlling my MMO time pretty damn well.
And having fun with the time I spend.

This makes me happy

Capcom Entertainment, a leading worldwide developer and publisher of video games, have been given a license to produce a digitally downloadable version of Talisman. The game takes place in a fantasy realm and is based very closely on the Talisman board game through a 3D representation of the map with animated productions. Players scour dungeons, attack other creatures, cast effects-laden spells and use magical items and weapons to enhance their actions. Talisman will be rolling this winter, to complement the highly anticipated launch of the board game in October 2007.

I used to love playing Talisman in college — we’d save for months to get the expansions.


In this post, I wrote:

I don’t think I have too many ‘headspace’ or ‘immersive’ characters to begin with. Of those, it’s unusual for me to have one that’s notably opposite from myself — in the cases where that’s happened (and I can think of three) they reflected some strong negative emotion I was feeling toward the game itself.

That actually provides me with a very strong indicator that I can use to analyze myself when I’m making up a character for a game — if I’m making up someone who’s really a negative of myself, it would seem to indicate that I’m reflecting some negative thing in myself out on the paper, which in turn indicates that I’m feeling some kind of negative emotion toward the game in question, apparently subconsciously.
Recognizing that, I can stop and figure out what that is, and maybe do something about it.
(Granted, this is a hypothetical practice/benefit at this point.)

I totally stole this from Knife Fight

But I don’t care: it’s a really interesting question.
1) Name a roleplaying game character you can think like, outside of the game, like right now sitting at your computer. (If you can’t name such a character, say in the comments that you can’t, that’s more than okay — that’s really really interesting and valuable information.) Also, name the game.
2) Say a few words about how that character thinks, or how different it feels to think like that character, or something.
3) How much backstory did you create before you started playing that character?
I don’t have a hypothesis or agenda, I just want to know how you play. I honestly don’t know how many people I play with really socket into their character’s headspace that way — more to the point, I don’t know how many players I play with would like to. I have a sneaking suspicion that my ‘look at the wizard behind the curtain’ method of GMing might make that difficult at times, and frustratining.


So a couple weeks ago, Alexander the Hoax (long story) talked me into going to the Forge Midwest gaming convention. That’s good.
The scheduling of games for the convention, which usually numbers about fifty people, is REALLY informal. Totally. There’s a thread on the Forge forum where people say what they want to play, and what they want to GM, and a list of the time slots, and the con organizer (wisely) just lets everyone find similarly interested folks and sort out what they’re playing and who they’re playing with, in the thread.
So I post to the thread and list off all those neat games that I have that I haven’t had a chance to play yet, and then I list a couple of the games I think I’d be willing to GM — Sorcerer, Mountain WItch, Mortal Coil, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Shadow of Yesterday.
The next guy who posts says he’d be willing to run Agon (yay!) and would be really interested in a Shadow of Yesterday game.
Okay… I wasn’t expecting that, as it was basically an afterthought on my list, but cool. I mean… yeah, it’s cool. I’ve never REALLY had a group fire on all cylinders with that system, yet (largely because we can’t seem to SCHEDULE GAME SESSIONS), but I’m sure it’ll come together, and hey, that’s just one guy? Maybe no one else will be interested in that.
The next guy posts that he’d like to play TSoY.
Then there’s a few other posts…
Then another guy says he’d like to play TSoY…
So I jump on the thread and say “Hey, this is cool, we’ve got three people interested in Shadow of Yesterday. Awesome. What time slot? Also, I’ll take one, maybe two more interested people — any takers?”
The very next post says “Doyce, I’d like to play in that TSOY game with you guys.”
The post author? Clinton R. Nixon.
The guy that WROTE THE GAME.

I’m not panicking. I’m not. I swear.

Continue reading “*Gulp*”

Mortal Coil

This weekend, Kate’s in town and I wanted to have a social kind of gaming thing — while both she and I game, we really haven’t done much gaming together at all — basically two games I’ve run had a few too many players and were both kind of chaotic (either as a result of the group size, or intentionally, or both).
So anyway, due to the super-creative nature of the player’s we’d be doing this with, and the fact that the my regular group’s history involves a fair amount of diceless stuff, I decided on running Mortal Coil, which I’ve been excited to run, and seeing what happened.
The problem: I haven’t actually run MC before.
The solution: test run with two of my ‘regular’ players (Dave and Margie) to go through the whole ‘pitch session’, character creation, and a sample conflict to see where the hitches and questions arose.
The result: [AP] From the Casebook of Donne & Donne, Detectives — lots of fun and, as you can see from my post to the Forge, lots of rules questions.
The whole thing DID prompt me to go back to the Mortal Coil section of RandomWiki though, and reread MortalCoil – Conflict Examples. These were all written by the game’s author; I thought they were cool and useful before I’d run the game — having now run it, I think they’re damned near invaluable.

Minions Assemble!

Minion Cards!

Minions, being the salt and bone of Spirit of the century, need heavy use and lots and lots of variation. For this I think Minion Cards are good help for hard-pressed Game Masters and the reason for this Thread.

I’m such a visual person. It’s totally stuff like this that gets me revved up to run or play in a game. MAN this would be cool! I want to engage in wrestling and fisticuffs with Ape-man Scientists!

Awesome… (and yet, ‘wary’)

((With thanks to Andy Kitkowski for the post title.))
How… interesting.

Wizards of the Coast is offering a limited supply of advanced reading copies of:
Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress
A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game
By Shelly Mazzanoble
With tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of self-mockery, Shelly Mazzanoble chronicles her unexpected descent into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Shelly’s a girlie-girl through and through, but when a friend asks her to join his D&D game as an 134-year-old sorceress named Astrid Bellagio, she agrees, never expecting to actually like it. In spite of all the stereotypes—or maybe because of them—she actually finds herself getting game.
Part Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, part D&D for Dummies, this book lays out how to create a character, make D&D-themed snacks (Magic Missile Meatballs, anyone?) and play the game, all the while taking a light-hearted look at the myths and realities of gamer stereotypes. For teen girls who love reading fantasy, for librarians running gaming clubs, or for those of you who want to figure out how to start one, here’s your stepping stone to a fun, rewarding, and totally geek-chic experience at the library, at school, or at home.
Coming September 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7869-4726-3
Nonfiction—YA to adult

Advance Ordering
Author Bio:

Shelly Mazzanoble believes her childhood was too functional to become a really good writer, so she has decided to go insane. She likes to think of herself as the Snow White of Seattle, living among loads of personified inanimate objects and imaginary friends, including her teddy bear Pooh and her condo, Betty. When not playing with and feeding her ghost dog tuna sandwiches from Subway, Shelly is busy fending off slander lawsuits from family and editing her collection of short stories about a girl who lives in Seattle with loads of imaginary friends and ghost dog. Shelly loves binge-eating, over-exercising and HGTV.

I’d almost buy the book on the bio alone.

Captain America

Marvel’s Civil War storyline (which directly addresses things like 9/11 and the Patriot Act) makes a pretty bold move. (Huge spoilers if you haven’t been keeping up with the story, but plan to read it later.)
I found the article pretty interesting for a lot of reasons: it talks about the way a story for a supers character can develop, why certain things sort of *need* to happen, and it involves one of my personal favorite characters in comics (along with Wolverine and Spidey).


Related to that last post: steampunk magazine – putting the punk back into steampunk

Before the age of homogenization and micro-machinery, before the tyrannous efficiency of internal combustion and the domestication of electricity, lived beautiful, monstrous machines that lived and breathed and exploded unexpectedly at inconvenient moments. It was a time where art and craft were united, where unique wonders were invented and forgotten, and punks roamed the streets, living in squats and fighting against despotic governance through wit, will and wile.
Even if we had to make it all up.

Also Steampunk Rayguns!

A little of this and a little of that.

Linear vs. Gestalt vs. Emergent Play
Very interesting post from Brand. One of the reason I really like the “Gestalt” kind of game (as he defines it) is because of the players I know — assuming you’re all setting out to tell a story (granted, not always the case) — what better way to harness the creative power of so many cool people than a game where everyone has the right and ability to influence the setting and story?
Interesting stuff.

Wouldn’t it be Nice

Okay, I haven’t done a lot (read: any) gaming of pretty much any kind in the last few weeks, due to a couple important writing deadlines, so instead I’ll tell you what I’m pining for.
WoW. Since starting up the Blood and Thunder guild on Farstriders server with Grezzk as a way to group up all the characters being run by myself and the NYC guys, I haven’t been able to do very much play, due to the deadlines I already mentioned. This means this has been the first week where Grezzk hasn’t dinged at least two levels since I started playing. Ditto Kayti the paladin, who got a cool new axe that’s gathering dust.
Mountain Witch. All posting for that game is on hold until I’m done, so it’s languished a bit — I’d like to wrap that game up with one or two ‘normal’ gaming sessions, using a text chat tool. I think that would let us wrap things up nicely.
Shadow of Yesterday: Petrana — I see a lot of good stuff for that game, potentially. Scheduling problems keep pushing our second ‘real’ sessions further and further out, however.
Mortal Coil — my brain keeps coming back to running a Mortal Coil game — something about the dynamics of that diceless system… it just calls to me.
Primetime Adventures — this just seems like something where, once we play it, we’ll slap our foreheads and say “why did we wait so LONG?”
And for come nice old-school tactical battle crunch… I want to play some AGON.
So… there. Wistful longing for now… and gaming later! (I hope.)

“It’s a Seeeeecret!”

The Durham 3 talk about Secrets in Gaming — very specifically, in the first couple minutes they talk about secrets in Shadow of Yesterday, which makes it REALLY relevant for the players in the Petrana game. To whit: if you have a ‘big secret thing’ that you’re character’s all about, and you don’t tell anyone about it, there’s no way to get awarded for it by the game system, which is how ‘big things my character is all about’ are measured.

Just in general, though, I think it’s an excellent discussion of how to HAVE secrets as character, NOT have them as players, and still ENJOYING them in the game.

Generally, as a ‘nothing up my sleeve’ player/GM, I like this approach a lot, I support it — I like having that kind of open discussion and open work on character Secrets — we’re using that level of openess in The Mountain Witch, to an extent, and I think it helps everyone socket into the game. Also, discusses GM-secrets and how to approach that.
It’s just a good podcast. Recommended.

Week in Review

Can’t seem to get the momentum back up to pre-holiday rates on the Mountain Witch. Not sure what to do about it, as I’d really like to get that sucker moving again — it’s not like a play by post game needs any help being slow.
Got (I’d say) about half of the first honest session going in the “City of Petrana” steampunk TSoY game. I’m not thrilled with the amount completed, but I’m not surprised either, and I think we actually did pretty well — we made the characters up almost two months ago, haven’t touched them or the system (which we didn’t really use this go-round anyway) since, and haven’t seen each other really in almost as long — I felt a strong urge to just sit around and chat, compare notes on children’s programming, and share steampunk invention ideas with Margie for her character. 🙂 That said, the scenes (all of which were freeform roleplay) had a lot of zing to them, especially with the ducal heir (Leo) and Dave’s Pietro — which is as it should be, given their relationship. I’d really like to get a much richer, thicker cast of NPCs introduced, and to that end I really need to sit down and get a solid relationship map for the Ducal palace worked out. The first mini-arc — call it the pilot episode — doesn’t really help me with that, since it takes them away from the city, but this is the pilot and lets us look much more heavily at the main characters instead.
Wouldn’t mind a couple more people in this one — should see if Lee and De are interested or something.
Timing: Saturday and/or Sunday afternoons are, I think, the way to go at this point — I might eventually run (or play?) in a Friday night game, but that’s only a realistic option on alternate Fridays, so I don’t have Kaylee. By starting in early afternoon on a weekend day, we don’t have as many interruptions (meals, bedtimes, time to travel home), and that theoretically allows for more focus. The requisite bedtimes and ordering supper can then mark the end of the game-play and the beginning of ‘visiting and being social’ — this might be the best thing, since we know that we’ll be ‘digressing’ LATER, and can focus on the game NOW.
Anyway — I was the worst digresser of the lot this week — just felt like an age since I’d seen anyone. Only one way to fix that. 🙂
Didn’t do anything in the way of CoH this week. Only have a few toons in regular rotation as it is (Aeric, Markov), and they tend to get some playtime mostly as a social conduit more than as a game avatar.
I’m not really doing much on WoW at the moment, either — I’m essentially not allowed to play Grezz’k much, or I’ll level past whatever we’re doing with the NYC people, and I’m limiting my playtime on Kayti: when I run out of ‘double xp time’ I log her back off, and I’m basically following the same rule with the ‘little’ warlock I have as well. This means not a lot of time on, but I usually ding when I do log on — a level on Grezz’k, two on Kayti, and five or something on Kessana the Faith-look-alike warlock. I’ve got a few truly low-level characters I’m just screwing around with, but those are my three main ones.
I still don’t feel like I have a very good handle on group dynamics in WoW — even small groups — this is in part because I almost never get into a PuG when I’m playing (unfair to the other players, since KK could wake up at any point and pull me AFK — I’d rather that particular event only regularly killed *me*), except with the NYC group, and we only group when we’re doing an Instanced Dungeon, which doesn’t happen often and usually means it’s been two or three levels since the last time we grouped, and everyone has a new trick they want to use, so the tactics keep changing. That said, I’ve found that the game is quite satisfying solo, if (obviously) not as social — I compensate by cracking wise on the public channels.
At any rate, I’ve a lot to do in the next couple weeks with writing anyway, so it’s all probably just as well. Related: I’m not going to get the Burning Crusade expansion until I’ve sent out my next revision of Hidden Things, so as much as I’d like to try out the new races, it isn’t going to happen soon.

Week in review.

In brief:
No face to face gaming.
No CoH.
A little progress on Mountain Witch, but I’m still working to get the momentum back up to the pre-holiday level, but for myself and the players.
Did some WoW stuff with Grezzk (who’s now level 30 and was ‘halfway’ for about three days… until the new expansion came out and made the ‘halfway’ point level 35.) Ran Blackfathoms Deep with him and the guys from NYC, using Ventrilo, which was really really cool — sped things up tremendously, allowed for quite complex tactics, and really eased the delivery of good smack talk.
Also played some on Kayti the dwarven paladin. She’s level 26 now and heading into the same zones as Grezzk, but from the Alliance side of things — it’s really impressive how much the contested areas of the world really FEEL contested — I’m told that on a true PvP server the areas I’m in now with both these characters are effectively non-stop killing fields… feels plenty dangerous to me anyway.
Anyway, The Burning Crusade expansion came out today, so I took all my characters and moved them to Inns and/or major towns so that they will accumulate Double XP time for being well rested, so that when I get back on they’ll get all ‘caught up’ to where they will be.
Subject change: that double-xp system for logging your guy out in ‘safe’ areas is just genius. To put it in CoH terms — if you log out in your Supergroup Base — assuming that was possible — and each chunk of time your there, online or offline, you’ve got X amount of ‘combat’ xp that will double when you get back on. Instead of ‘double xp weekends’ when you feel like you HAVE to log on, you can take a week off to get other stuff done, knowing that when you DO get back on, you’ll ‘catch up’ super fast because you’re xp will be doubled — that means you’re leveling faster, per hour spent playing, getting more quality out of your play time, and DON’T feel compelled to be on every single minute.
It’s so smart — Blizzard gets paid the same amount of money whether I’m on every single day or two days a week, so why not give me (almost) the same amount of leveling progression, either way, provided that my character was resting up somewhere safe between adventures? Contrast that with “It’s a double XP weekend… On Valentines!” and I think there’s a clear marketing winner there for people with grownup stuff to do.
ANYWAY: I’ve got two major and one minor writing project that I either MUST or really want to get done by the end of this month, and since the WoW servers will be getting hammered for a week or two thanks to the Burning Crusade, with level 60’s trying to get to 70 and a slew of brand new characters of the two new races (available via an expansion pack that I’m not getting right away), I’m taking a break and writing writing writing.
… and reading Odd Thomas. *Creepy* book.

Week in Review

Again, no Face to Face gaming, due to no faces to face with. Holidays are Suck.
In the Digital realms:
The Mountain With game continues apace. (A slow pace, but apace, nonetheless.)
Got Aeric (Bored/WalkingAbout Prince of Niffleheim Ice/Storm Controller) up to level 16. Ran the holy ice crystals out of the Winter Event, finally ran the King’s Row Bank/Safeguard mission successfully, got flight, got 15, started the shiny new Faultline Story Arcs with Sophie, and dinged 16, picking up Freezing Rain. (I respecced him somewhere in there to get closer to Stamina, sooner, and the loss of an Area Attack isn’t… TOO annoying. Just kinda.) Clearly, he’s gotten all my CoH time. I’m still working out the Controller-with-Scrapper dynamic (I think it’s funny that I have a Controller/Tank mindset that really finds scrappers annoying, and a Scrapper/Blaster mindset where I do ALL THE SAME STUFF I HATE.)
I would like to get Damosel Distress, Zero at the Bone, Dolmen, and Strat through the restarted winter event — Anyone else past that… like Gilly… is a bonus.
Grezzk (orc hunter resurrected from my time on Forest’s Edge) is about level 27 on the Kirin Tor server. I’m playing him mostly solo (inasmuch as a Hunter is ever truly solo), then teaming up with the NYC guys for running Instances (think CoH Task Forces with multiple goals that all take place in a single, large location — a mission map the size of a small city zone, maybe — it’s essenitally that kind of time involvement). Last weekend, we annihilated the Wailing Caverns (except for one TPK that my pet might or might not have inadvertently caused), and I think we’re doing Blackfathom Deep this weekend — I’m a few levels ahead of everyone else, so the instances are pretty easy, but with cool stories and good fun.
Kayti (dwarven paladin) is level 21 and has her sites set on the Deadmines dungeon instance. Due to the situation with her, this will be a PuG group, so I’m a little leery. I’m also working her through a paladin-only quest that teaches her a few new powers and gets her a cool shield and a positively FANTASTIC main weapon (which quest in turn will take her into two more instanced dungeons). I’m in a really good guild (a casual-player-friendly, RP-friendly-but-not-mandatory, we’re-all-grownups-with-lives-who-like-to-play, with a massive playerbase and smart people — called “Knights and Weekends”), but most of the players are higher level than Kayti, so I can’t get a lot of help on these missions from them at this point. And I really WANT to get into group things with her, because large fights in the middle of melee are a LOT more difficult to do than Grezzk’s “stand back and shoot them to ribbons while Tusker the Super Pig tanks”.
it’s very interesting comparing the two games — there’s stuff that each game does better than the other — though both are very interesting, fun games. I think the most impressive thing is how different the power levels feel on the game — I’ve gotten two characters into the 20’s on WoW MUCH faster than I could on CoH, and with less experience, but “one, maybe two, enemies at a time” is still VERY much the rule to live and die by in that game — it’s very harshly realistic in that way. If you don’t feel ‘super’ in CoH (where I routinely bypass large parts of a mission even with my wimpy controller by just running by guys and ignoring their attacks), then play WoW for a bit — you WILL. 🙂 Both games capture their genre (comics, versus gritty ‘every fight is a fight to the DEATH that could go wrong and kill you’ fantasy) extremely well.

Once more, with feeling

City of Heroes Official Forums: Winter Event returns.

A cold front on the horizon brings back winter to the streets of Paragon and outlying Rogue Isles! On Monday the 8th of January, the Winter Event returns! Cold weather is expected to last through the week, ending on Monday the 15th.
So put on your scarves and gloves back on! Old Father Time will be back with presents galore, and there’s plenty of opportunity to collect the winter badges you might have missed!

Here’s your chance to get badges for the last couple of your toons that might have missed it (or given it a mistaken pass).


With the holidays just winding down, there hasn’t been much gaming going on around the Casa, but I’ll mention what there has, and speculate about what’s coming up.
Current — and mostly MMOs
Kate brought her lappy with her on this trip to get some work done, and with the blizzard confining us for a couple days, we did do quite a bit of CoH playing — probably about 10 hours, all told. Generally, this all had to do with the Christmas event. I got most of the badges and powers on Hangtime (and Hang-time, with the Deepfreeze Debutante) and Aeric (my Ice/Storm controller, teamed up with Kate’s Sophie), who even got the Sekrit Fifth Badge and also dinged level 14 and got proper Flight (the only problem I’ve had with him is a 4 for 4 failure rate on Safegaurd Missions with him — the only toon I’ve tried them with so far). Hype and Pummelcite ran the winter missions enough to get the two “temp” powers (both of which have such a long duration on them they’re effectively permanent), which was actually a lot of fun. Pummelcite is fun to team up with Noelle, but Hype and Noelle are (and always have been) really fun and just plain EASY to team together. So many Hold Powers. 🙂 Pummelcite hit level 34 at some point in there, and actually got pretty far along the way to 35, thanks to running a couple of Noelle’s missions after we got all our wintry goodness taken care of.
Mister Brightside and Lady Optimism also got mixed up in the winter hijinx (and also ran a couple regular missions) — both dinged 15.
Markov and Shadowslip did the bare minimum of winter missions necessary for the powers, then switched to regular missions and dinged Shadowslip to 28.
During the weekend I tried to solo the winter mission with Strategist, Damosel Distress, Dolmen, and a couple others — absolutely no luck, and only Damosel and Dolmen really came close to having a chance. Only Aeric actually soloed the missions successfully (and several times over) — he was the first guy I tried to do it with, early on, and it left me really surprised at the survivability of that character in certain situations that killed lots of other toons.
Kate also did some solo work with Deepfreeze Debutante and Shadowslip, but I honestly couldn’t tell if she was running missions or collecting as many Christmas Presents as possible — she seemed to be having fun regardless. While she was doing that, I spent some time on Kirin Tor WoW server, mostly playing my dwarven paladin Kayti, though I did team up with the NYC group, playing my orcish hunter Grezzk — nice to team up with folks I knew.
The Mountain Witch Play-by-Forum game was on a bit of hold during the holidays, but we’re getting started up again today. Good stuff — lots of fun.
Starting Back Up
Dogs in the Vineyard Game, running regularly, with Dave, Margie, Randy, and Jackie. There’s at least a few more towns worth of play there.
The TSoY-based “Italiante Steampunk” game with Dave, Margie, and Randy — we’ve done chargen, now it’s time to start PLAYING.
A Dictionary of Mu game with participants undecided.
Alternately, I’m really interested in running or playing in Primetime Adventures, Agon, and/or Mortal Coil.
Looking forward to seeing what the new year brings.


Geek Omerta: talk about gaming like it’s a normal pass time like golfing or quilting? Perish the thought! Gush effusively with other geeks? Of course!
Don’t even bother debating whether or not that’s what 98% of most gamers do. The questions are: “Why is that?” and “How does one get around it and put gaming in that ‘normal hobby’ category?” How do you frame it to the straights so you don’t some bugfuck or fringe-culty?

Tis a day of podcastiness

Son of Kryos Podcast #27: Given everyone screen time (an ongoing concern of mine). Playing RPGs online, such as over IM, E-mail, and Forums (something I’m doing right now with Mountain Witch). Plus what to do when you pick up a game that you’ve not played in a long time (something that comes up alllllll the time). There’s just not anything in there that isn’t useful or relevant to me right now.

Play the GM

Have you never GM’d? Have you GM’d only a little? Have you just be kinda curious about GMing and, along those lines, GMing indie hippy games like Primetime Adventures or The Mountain Witch?
Are you a vet GM with lots of ‘trad’ experience, looking to spread the authority of the GM around a little bit, or just get a little more ‘play’ time?
Read this thread: Story Games for Everybody – Calling all Non-GM’s — it’s a good poll of folks who don’t usually GM who have tried out the reins with indie/hippy games of various kinds, what they’ve found they’ve liked and don’t like. Good, good stuff.

World Design Questions

Setting Design Jumpstart, from Tony L-B, who take Aria: Worlds and does it in a much more useable format.
I’m going to list the questions he suggested you answer about a nascent Game Setting down below the cut, but I think what I might do with it first is use it on the “Petrana” setting that I’m using for the Shadow of Yesterday Steampunk game we’re starting in January… maybe as a collaborative Wiki effort with me and the players.
In any case, it’s a very useful tool for world building.

Continue reading “World Design Questions”

Online Gaming Tool

Gametable: shared whiteboard/mapping/tactical space, plus die-rolling. Perfect tool to run alongside Skype, when your players are geographically dispersed.


I haven’t posted any screenies from CoH in awhile, so before I get into a bunch of costume changes with the i8 stuff (Bear is SO getting a kilt), here’s some older ones I’d been meaning to share:

Continue reading “Screenies!”

Snow! It was the Snow! I swear!

This has nothing to do with why I’m working from home today. Seriously. It’s because of the snow. I didn’t even hear about this until after I got like… whole HOURS worth of work done. I swear.

AP: tMV in PbP (Actual Play: the Mountain Witch in Play-by-Post)

It’s not entirely true that I didn’t get any gaming time in this weekend: I’ve recently started up Play-by-Forum-Post game of The Mountain Witch, hosted on a new forum install I put up just for this purpose. We’ve been actively doing stuff with the game for about 10 days, and already have all the characters created, backstories worked out, setting background sketched in, and have just finished our first scene (in which introductions and foreshadowing were done). The game plays fast (1 to 4 sessions) in face to face, so I believe the pace and short format will counteract the glacial speed of forum play. So far, it seems as though it has. Good stuff. Also, it lets me run something with a mix of Denver and NYC people at the same time.
Keeley’s talking about doing something similar with the forum and My Life With Master after Mountain Witch wraps up — I’m very very intrigued and interested in that — My Life with Master was, in fact, the very first “Indie” game I bought, and the thing that got me reading the Forge and the games that were coming out of it. I’ve always wanted to play a game.

Uneventful weekend

“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it.”
— Mary Wilson Little
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much to do this long weekend, and was kind of mobility impaired with Kaylee, so when I wasn’t watching Baby Einstein or playing with wooden blocks, I did something I haven’t done in a long while, and played a lot of CoH.
How many characters can you ding in one solid day of playing? Seven (or 10, if you count actual dings). Granted, one of those dings led to getting the Dark Melee version of Assassin Strike, finding out it was the same stupid, constipated-looking pose as most of the rest of the ATs (except claws and Ninja blade) and deleting the toon, but it still counts. Other than that, played around with the base builder alot, and read. Not a big gaming weekend.


No-prep, quick-start play using the 400+ pulp extravaganza, Spirit of the Century? Yes.


strange maps, a fun blog with a ton of interesting bits on it, complete with — of course — maps. Maps of the planet where most of the Flash Gordon action took place. Maps illustrating where the phrase “beyond the pale” comes from.
All in all, good stuff.

Note: I am not a cat person

Before the dawn of Time, all the creatures of the world came together for a great competition. The benefit to the winners were many, the most obvious being the honor due the greatest of all creatures. In return, the mightest participants in the competition had to agree to protect the weakest for all eternity.
Cats win.
Humans come in dead last.
The result: Cat.


After nine months of dancing around the idea, I finally got a chance to run a game for the ‘geeks’ out in NYC. It came about in a funny way.
Their main GM has been gone (theatre work out of town) for awhile and has just returned. Talks as to what to play/run have commenced, and Kate mentioned that Keeley was wondering if I had any thoughts on the subject, and if I’d bring em along to share at a game-day thing on Sunday while I was in town.
The method of conveying this information left me thinking “I should run something.” I prepared to run something. (Specifically a run of the Freebooters scenario I’ve run before, using The Shadow of Yesterday, which I love, but haven’t touched since the last time I ran Freebooters.)
I chatted a bit with Keeley, and got that it was more of an informational chatting thing over card and board games. Ahh. Okay. I emailed myself my prep (to have for some other time) and unpacked all but one printed-out copy of the rules, ostensibly to leave with Keeley or Jay (their main GM) to check out.
Conversations over the weekend led me to say “Hey, I want to run something: pirates and zombies — who’s in?”
Response was good. Too good, maybe: six people showed up to play for a game where I had 4 pregens. Keeley and Kate made up their own people, of which I think Kate’s was more successful, just because I had more time to think about how to include her character in the scenario.
Everyone showed up. We played.
The Good:
Lots of fun. I laughed really hard. There were some funny scenes, and some REALLY funny scenes.
Several folks noticed parts of the system they really liked. Jay dug the Harm mechanic, and Timothy really got it well. Everyone seemed to dig Keys and Pools and Gift Dice and how they all worked. (I particularly liked Matt’s decision to give me a LOT of Gift Dice to use against Rob in a conflict, just because he thought it would be really cool if the witch of Rope Hill got what she wanted in the conflict. That is a can of awesome — player’s diving in and saying “This story would kick ass. I’m going to invest in making that happen.”)
It seems like a small thing, but everyone got the rules. Within the time it took to run the session (6:30 to 10:30) we’d done normal conflicts, multiple Bringing Down the Pain exchanges, bought new abilities, pools, and Secrets, taken Harm, used up Pools… even Kate (who does not usually think in terms of System stuff) pointed out a logic-error I was making in a major conflict; and observation that really helped straighten the whole thing out.
The Bad
I hadn’t touched the rules in awhile, and didn’t want to reference them much at the table (only did one time), and as a result I messed up a couple scenes a bit, notably the one with the Witch of Rope Hill, which was funny, but a bit confused and didn’t get straightened out until near the end. That shouldn’t have happened.
The group was too big. Five would have been okay. Six was too many.
The Ugly:
I didn’t have time, with everyone there, to give equal attention to al the players, and those at the far end of the table suffered for it. Apologies to Jay and Keeley and Matt, specifically. 🙁 With that many folks, I would rather have played without a table. I think it would have worked better.
The new-ness of the system didn’t give me a chance to work some of the characters Keys into the scenes well enough. In other runs, folks have hit 3 or 4 advances in a night — in this run, only about half the people at the table even got one advance, even though they covered just as much ground. Part of that was…
“Don’t Split the Party.” This is a die-hard, carved-in-stone tenet of that particular gaming group (due to the fairly bloody nature of most of the game systems they play normally). The group’s normal GM went to great lengths to come up with IC reasons to get everyone working together, and within a few minutes of leaving the ship, five of the six characters were ganging up on various challenges that were meant to be fairly tough for one guy and reasonably challenging for two. They steamrolled pretty much everyone — the Witch of Rope Hill was the only thing that took them more than a few minutes of game play to crush. Interestingly, the grouping up ALSO cut into amount of XP the people were getting from hitting their keys, simply because people didn’t have a chance to hit them — Key of the Wanted Man is hard to make ‘important’ when you’re in a big group, for example. Very interesting.
All in all: A fun time. I’ve already played with most of these guys before, and I had a great time, found some fun moments, and basically walked away with a big grin and a strong desire to try it all again, but with more prep and a more personalized set up.

Week in Review

Marginally frustrating week, in that I keep trying to get some games going, and the combination of everyone’s schedules and the holidays continues to confound my efforts.
Said frustration was countered by a couple fun sessions of CoH, which hasn’t happened in awhile.

Continue reading “Week in Review”

“Isn’t that interesting? Doesn’t that just make you go ‘Oooh?'”

Eden Studios ends production of Buffy/Angel RPGs

For a number of months now, Eden Studios has been negotiating with Fox to settle accounts on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel roleplaying game licenses. This has been completed to both parties satisfaction, but the resulting arrangement does not include renewal terms. As a result, Eden Studios will cease producing new Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel game books or supplements. We will, however, continue to support those who play our games in our online forums and through our web sites dedicated to those games.

Let’s see: good game, good rules, familiar setting and tropes, continuing company support, and no more endless strings of supplemental expansion “splatbooks” the consumer has to worry about picking up?
Sounds like the perfect time to buy the game, honestly.

Weeks and weeks and weeks in review

Been traveling for awhile, and scheduling is always hard during the holidays, so there hasn’t been much gaming going on.
Played the second session of Dogs in the Vineyard, which I need to write up a log for. Next game… maybe Sunday.
Played some CoH — mostly Pummelcite, but a smattering of other characters, including Hype.
Played and finished Prince of Persia – Sands of Time. Fun.
Played and quit Prince of Persia – Warrior Within. Not fun.
Reinstalled Warrior Within and approached it with a significantly different mindset. The first one is still more fun and more reminiscent of the original game, but I’m not hating PoP-WW this time — except that one of my fingers hurts from pressing the same button so damn much.

Gaming with Kids

Have Games, Will Travel discusses Faery’s Tale, The Princes Kingdom, and “playing well with others.” Good stuff, as always, and just the thing to have on the headphones on a Friday leading into a game-less weekend.


Somehow, I forgot to write down the Actual Play from the second Dogs session. That’s just wacky. I will fix soon.

GNS & Exploration

GNS my session
Ron and a Rifts player talk about the Big Model and GNS. I dunno if the end result will be fruitful, but this opening thing from Ron is good, if only for correcting a mistake *I* make in my understanding:

Imagine a little platform made of green-painted wood, standing a few inches high off the ground on its little legs. That’s Exploration, the necessary imaginative communication for role-playing to occur at all. Perhaps it’s a very pretty shade of green or particularly well-crafted in terms of pegs and glue. Doesn’t matter. It’s not the Creative Agenda.
Now imagine a secondary wooden structure built on top of it, reaching a whole foot off the ground at its tip. That’s your game in action. Whatever shared goal or priority puts it there, or (in the analogy) whatever shape or material it is, that’s your Creative Agenda. It’s what you and the group do with the platform.
A Simulationist CA happens to be made of wood and happens to be painted green. That’s why people are always mistaking Exploration for Simulationism, when it’s not. It’s still a secondary structure on top of the platform. It also so happens that Gamist and Narrativist CAs are always brutally, recognizably distinct from the platform that supports them – made of plastic or aluminum, and always painted a different color or not painted at all. That’s why people are always forgetting that no matter what, those agendas need the platform too.
Andreas, I’m going through this kindergarten imagery because, in your post, I see a lot of rhapsodizing about “wonder moments” and all that. I anticipate that you are going to claim that’s some kind of Simulationist presence in your group. Well, if you think that’s Simulationist, lose that mistaken idea right now. That’s foundational Exploration, the platform. Maybe your group’s CA on top of it is “the same stuff,” and hence Simulationist, and maybe it’s not. We have to look at it to see.

Extensible community.

I direct your attention to the “Random Chat” link on the right sidebar. Just playing around, but it might be vaguely interesting. 🙂


Took a minute to go look at the CoH forums and take stock of all the crap I’ve written up there and have yet to move.
Eh. Wondering if it’s worth it. Much as I like some of the Epitaph stuff (amnesia — what is it about amnesia stories?), and being moderately impressed with the… sheer MASS of the Hang Time stuff…
I mean, the writing (when I was actually writing and not just grabbing logs of online rp) was decent, but it’s not as though I can’t write something else just as good or better that hasn’t got sticky little ‘legal use’ issues glommed onto it.
Well. We’ll see.

Have Games, will Roach

Have Games, Will Travel #74 talks about Don’t Rest Your Head (dark “supers” in the vein of Dark City, Matrix, Neverwhere, awesomeness written by Fred Hicks) and the Shab al-Hiri Roach.
I’m just… incredibly awed by how well Paul Tevis explains an entire game (setting, mechanics, and play) in 10 minutes. He is REALLY, really, good at it.
Heh. Good quote re: Shab al-Hiri Roach:

“I don’t want you to think this is a game you can play to win… but it is definitely a game you SHOULD play to win.”

… if you’ve played, you know what he means. 🙂

have Spy, will travel

Have Games, Will Travel — Go to #73. Play it. Skip to 11 minutes in and listen to him talking about Wilderness of Mirrors.
“This game fixes every problem I’ve ever had with the spy genre.”
His description of how the ‘mission prep’ works in Wilderness of Mirrors, versus how “planning” works in other spy games makes me laugh in regret over Spycraft’s system, and hungry for the awesome way it works in WoM. It’s HOT.
I want this thing so bad, and it’s just not available yet. 🙁

Stealing from DitV: “Slicing” conflicts into more digestible parts

Okay, I’m just brainstorming here, and I more than welcome input and thoughts.
I got Dogs a couple years back — one of the first couple conflict-resolution-level games that I really tried running with my home group (I think maybe InSpectres was before that) — we didn’t get very far at the time, for a number of reasons. Since then, I’ve run two Sorcerer campaigns, two HQ games, a couple TSoY one-shots. Last week, we returned to DitV, same characters, possessing (a) more general group familiarity with dirty-hippe narr/Conflict Resolution games and (b) better GM understanding of the Dogs rules.
The original take on the conflict rules (two years back) were that the dice were sort of ‘in the way’ of every single pose or statement made in a conflict, but the new take is something like this:

The dice mechanic is conflict-based, not task-based, but unlike some others we’ve been doing, there’s plenty of RP and “posing” during the conflicts to make it not feel too dice-driven or “everything depends on this one roll” kind of thing.

Now, this perception that something like HQ or Sorcerer or Galactic is essentially ‘roleplay the scene to conflict, then one die (or clump of dice) gets rolled and the results dictate the resolution of conflict’ is, at least in part a failing of the GM, in my opinion — in some cases (the first Sorcerer game, and grokking the Galactic rules), we are or have been in the past very ‘jerky’ in our transitions from the three ‘phases’ of Roleplay, Engage Conflict System, Do End Narration.
So the simple solution, already undertaken by me, is to make those transitions more organic and natural. Great, but that’s not my point here.
What I want to look at is how to borrow some of the good in DitV and use it in games like HQ or Galactic.

Continue reading “Stealing from DitV: “Slicing” conflicts into more digestible parts”

Wear your Roach on your Sleeve

Bully Pulpit’s Spreadshirt Store, with a number of fun Pemberton Panthercat shirts, and some fun “MURUB” (Copulate with this person!) Shab al-Hiri Roach shirts. I’m personally very interested in the brown Panthercats shirt, but the Green ring-tee is cool, also.
I asked Jason, and he said he had to take the pink girls MURUB shirt with the sparkly-paint Roach logo down for the time being, because they’re having trouble with the sparkle-ink.
This makes me sad: I mean, who doesn’t need more shirts with sparkle ink on them?

Roached, again

Saturday, we picked up our Roach game again, and got quite a bit further through the razing of Pemberton University.
A Word on Our Playing Speed:
I’ve commented before on the fact that, unless I set up a game with none of the kids around offering up distractions, we just don’t get as much done as we would otherwise. For instance, I’ve run John Harpers “Freebooters” TSoY scenario twice, and in one case (no kids around) I finished the whole thing up in about four hours — in the other (kids around) we took about 5 or 6 hours to get about two-thirds of the way through.
Now, while I might like to set up a regular game that’s ostensibly kid-free, I shouldn’t like to let people think that I’m particularly frustrated by this — we have kids, we love our kids being around, and that’s just one of the downsides of the unquestionable good.
Or, as De commented near the end of the evening, “We could be playing through this faster than we are, but how we’re doing it really suits us.”
Well said. We had a lot of fun setting up the minutia and particulars of each scene during the events, with everyone jumping in and contributing additional NPCs and material.
To review:
* Doyce, as Douglas Dean (“Double D”) Blackburn, Asst. Prof of Poetry and Theatre Arts, into sports and debauchery.
* De, as “Kitty”, a hard of hearing full professor of Chemistry, into cruelty and deceit.
* Lee, as “Penny”, I think… damn I had a problem remembering his name Asst. Prof. of Art, also into cruelty and deceit.
* Margie, as “Benny”, I think… Asst Prof of Geology, into Gossip and… Something.
* Dave as “Pansy”, Full Professor of Botany, into Wit and young fresh men. err… Freshmen. Right.
I’m using the nicknames everyone had rather than their full names because I flat out don’t remember them — we used the nicknames almost exclusively during the game.
So, with our first Event done already, we started up with the WINE AND CHEESE SOCIAL.

Continue reading “Roached, again”

Dogs in the Vineyard: about damned time

Okay, so… it’s been two years since I got Dogs. More than that; I had one of the first pre-Gen Con copies of DitV and I loved it. My enthusiasm for promoting the game to the folks I play with was pretty high, and we even got some characters made, back in October of 2004, and put them through their initiations before it got too late to continue on to the first town. The response was… mixed — “cool setting, cool characters… but man… it feels like the dice get in the way of every single line I want to say when we’re RPing.”
And … after that, what happened? Nothing.
See, November rolled around a week later — I was GMing two ‘regular’ games and secretly participating in my third NaNoWriMo… I was putting down stone tiles in my kitchen and bathroom (which I’d never done before), the holidays were on the way, and on November 28th, I found out my daughter was nine short months away from needing a bedroom. In short, we never got back to the game.
Hell, I really didn’t get back to any game for well OVER a year… damn near two.
So, fast forward to a couple months ago. Things have quieted down a bit — a lot of different things are going on in my life now, but it feels like there’s a rhythm… like I’ve got a system that works, and that wouldn’t be shattered by some gaming, and whether or not I love gaming, I for damn sure hate sitting around with nothing to do, so…
So there’s been a lot of talk about some games, and of course I start pushing all the dirty-hippie games on my shelf, start up a short-lived HQ game, and head back over to the Forge for probably the first time in six months and start reading.
… and read.
… and read.
And there’s so much that’s out that’s new and good. And old and good… and oh my word, there so much I want to play.
And I start talking about all this on my blog, and Dave sort of picks up the vibe some and allows that yeah, he’d both like to play some of this stuff, and y’know, he’d like to GM some too, maybe. Heck, he’s always loved Dogs in the Vineyard, and we never got to play it… maybe he should run it.
And I say “You should!”
And then I say “But… y’know… before that… I could finish running the story for those guys we all made up.
And I read the new DitV book again.
And I read the old characters again.
And I find the first town I wrote up, as an experiment of transferring a relationship map from one source into a totally different genre, and I saw how it could be better…
And I get really excited.
And Friday, 23 months after we made up the characters, we played the first town. Virtue.
Here’s what happened.

Gaming podcasty goodness

PodCast: Sons of Kryos (note: this is a sound file)
Good stuff in this broadcast:
* What to do when not everyone can make it — have an emergency ‘spare tire’ game ready to go, and what games are good for that kind of play. I totally agree with the games they listed as well — except for Contenders, I own every single one. Really want to run Mountain Witch.
* Character Control
* The Myth of the GM social caste

Analyzing System

Ron talks with Levi about his new system, The Exchange (which sounds cool, though maybe not as cool as The Cog War, a diceless thing that sounds very very cool and is apparently almost ready for distribution.
I particularly like this bit of history on reward systems in games.

Quick conceptual point: reward and resolution
In most games before the mid-1990s, character improvement was the main perceived reward. It occurred in units of one or more sessions (often more), and only between rather than during sessions. A number of house-rules, starting ‘way back when, used the points of character-improvement as dice-modifiers, usually re-rolls or take-backs, although this didn’t show up in official game texts for a long time.
In other words, a reward mechanic limited to character improvement and only taking place between sessions (sometimes many sessions) wasn’t enough to satisfy the needs of a reward system, in a lot of cases. People sometimes wanted a reward mechanic that affected how play itself was conducted. Later, interestingly, character improvement became an important part of play as well (I don’t know what game was first; one mid-1990s example is Morpheus, and a later one is Obsidian). At this late date, it seems to me that mechanics like Luck/Unluck in Champions or Good Stuff/Bad Stuff in Amber were kind of transitional between a D&D model and a (for example) Shadow of Yesterday one, where reward/improvement is continuous and ongoing.
To put all this into a nutshell, one trend about reward mechanics is that they moved from fixed-effect, between-play, relatively rare events into constant, during-play, manipulable-effect events, and as such, highly integrated with specific moments of resolution, not just reward. I’m not saying this trend started with bad and ended up with good. I’m saying that now, the whole spectrum of reward-to-resolution is available to be tailored for a particular game.

I think one of the reasons that TSoY actually jolts folks is because of that ‘in game’ reward system, ticking away — it’s really not something folks are used to. By comparison, TSoY runs this different than any other ‘indie’ narr game:
* Sorcerer’s system of stat-improvement is very much ‘over multiple sessions’ in the traditional vein
* PTA has no means of character improvement, and Fan Mail, which IS the main reward in the game, feels more like an ergonomic ‘dice sharing’ system than “XP”.
* Dogs in the Vineyard comes closest to that middle-of-the-game model, with Fallout Experience (very probably) accruing after every conflict, but that’s a bit different than TSoY as well — DitV has dice rolls that tell you ‘okay, you can have XP now,’ thus absolving the player of the ‘guilt’ of enjoying it when they get rewarded — the dice told them to, after all. In TSoY, you have to actively reach out and claim the points you earn for the things you’re doing, and people shy away from that, conditioned for years by the gamer attitude that wanting XP and improvement is somehow juvenile. TSoY vets call it “Key Guilt.”
Eh. Tangent — at any rate, it’s shaping up to be another interesting conversation between Ron and Levi, and less Socratic than the first one.

The Typhoid Bay Buccaneers will sail again! :)

Via Story Games:

I really loved Blood Bowl. I loved the idea. I loved all the little asides in the books, the pictures, the gags, the teams and races, imagining this absurd game of fantasy football. The Star Player (yellow) and Companion (red) are still sitting on my shelf, and the game itself is buried somewhere along with some painted miniatures. I used to be dreaming up teams, matches, whole seasons. There were a couple of problems, though:
1) There were never enough players available for running a whole league or something, and it took loooong.
2) There was never enough money to buy all those minis and seldom the skill and leisure to paint them.
3) The actual game wasn’t that much fun since the rules were kind of imbalanced and, well, crappy.
For 13 long years, I didn’t think a lot about Blood Bowl. I loved the game it could have been, not the game it was. And then I learned, only now, that it has become that game.
FUMBBL :: Online Blood Bowl League
((Like I need more ways to waste time, but MAN…))

Play what you Know

Story Games for Everybody – Go with what you know. My comments therein:

… it’s a different kind of strength you’re bringing as the ‘subject matter expert’ on a fictional setting — not necessarily less or more, but different — Jason’s pulling up real-world experience as knowledge… if I’m running something in my ‘Duchy of Caer Maighdean’, I’m making stuff up.
Now, I might be able to tell you about all of the Duchess’s family members, and that she goes armed and armored most places, and how her family is as much or more descended from the local northern barbarian tribes than from the conquering nobility of the south, and how that ties in with the ancient tombs-beneath-the-cemetery near the capitol city and the former ruling family tinged with ogre blood and alliances with dark sorcery, but it… well, it’s fiction.
If the Duchess’s hair falls a certain way, and she uses a particular facial expression when she’s thinking, and turns her wine glass between her fingers just so… that’s a mesh of my real-life experience, retasked for the purpose.
There’s… cold hard facts… and those moments of verisimilitude that they create… I dunno — I’m not sure those are moments you can wholly achieve without at least a few ‘real’ elements woven into the fiction.
You create from what you know, y’know?
I think creating something new out of ‘real’ bits you know is one of the coolest things creators do, really — contructing a very real-feeling place that simply doesn’t exist anywhere but in the fiction.

I think the thing I like about these ‘story games’ is that they make me think about the stucture and nature of “Story” in general and specifically in ways I can apply to my writing as well, far more so than playing four years of a d20 campaign ever will. I wrote an email to mtfierce last night about making up a relationship map that drives conflict and then turned around, fingers flying, and pounded out a page of notes on Spindle and pushing things harder in that story. It’s good stuff.

Variant Roach

Story Games for Everybody – Conflict of Interest Hack for Shab Al-Hiri Roach.
Is it really a rules hack when the guy that wrote the game says “I like your way better?”
For what it’s worth, we’ve been playing pretty much the way Iago mentioned near the bottom of the thread: “I will frame a scene that specifically screws with THAT PLAYER’S GUY, RIGHT THERE,” and thus I will have opposition. Alternately, make yourself such a juicy target that everyone will aim conflicts at you. 🙂

What is the “Social Contract” in a game?

I first read the phrase in Nobilis, but this quote from Mike Holmes breaks it down the best for me:

“…there is one and only one requirement to being able to have a good social contract for play, and that’s an understanding that every player has a right to speak about what they do or do not like as players.”

We’ve been talking a lot more about what we like and what we don’t like in games — I think that’s a really valuable thing to do, and to keep doing.
One thing I remember from one discussion was about the fact that a particular player liked games where folks were working together, or where you didn’t have to worry about the other characters suddenly turning on you.
… and I really have to remember to ask that player about The Shab al-Hiri Roach, because they’re playing it and, as near as I can tell, enjoying it. I’m curious how it manages to slip by that dislike, because I think that’s what’s happening — it’s not that the dislike is GONE — it just doesn’t really APPLY in that case.

The number shall be Five

Most folks have been mentioning this for a year, but I’m just getting caught up: Five Geek Social Fallacies

Geek Social Fallacy #2: Friends Accept Me As I Am
The origins of GSF2 are closely allied to the origins of GSF1. After being victimized by social exclusion, many geeks experience their “tribe” as a non-judgmental haven where they can take refuge from the cruel world outside.
This seems straightforward and reasonable. It’s important for people to have a space where they feel safe and accepted. Ideally, everyone’s social group would be a safe haven. When people who rely too heavily upon that refuge feel insecure in that haven, however, a commendable ideal mutates into its pathological form, GSF2.
Carriers of GSF2 believe that since a friend accepts them as they are, anyone who criticizes them is not their friend. Thus, they can’t take criticism from friends — criticism is experienced as a treacherous betrayal of the friendship, no matter how inappropriate the criticized behavior may be.

There isn’t one of the five GSFs listed that I haven’t witnessed any number of times. It’s not a ‘nice’ list, but it’s not wrong.


Comments should remember who you are now.
Subscriptions to individual comments MIGHT be working — it’s sort of hard for me to tell. 😛

Death! Debauchery! Tenure!

Saturday the 9th I rode down to Lee and De’s new place about an hour and a half away with Dave and Margie in tow. I’ve been trying to get our gaming quotient up a bit, and I walked in the door with five games prepped (in the sense that I had sufficient supplies to run each of them) — Jungle Speed (which I dropped on the table with a sticky note that read ‘not optional’), PTA, Shadow of Yesterday, Mortal Coil, and the Shab al-Hiri Roach. I just pulled every game out and set them out on the table to see what folks were interested in. I was pretty much open to anything, but if I was going to lay odds, I’d have guessed that we’d end up playing a one-shot of the Roach and that De would want to borrow Mortal Coil and angle for an ongoing game of same.
I would have been right.

Continue reading “Death! Debauchery! Tenure!”

Galactic, Session Two

Denver Session 2: short on scenes, long on RP, fun, and future promise.
Kate can attest: I came off this session engergized — wired to the point of being nearly intelligible. 🙂 Little Chatty Kathy, that’s me.

Three shall be the number…

Well of Urd: Technique: Jared’s Rule of Three

If you have the opportunity to describe something, give it one to three short, succinct details that make it stand out. Use the technique for characters, locations, objects, or anything else that you want to introduce into the narrative fiction that you and your friends are creating.

I’ll point out, as Rob D does in the comments to that post, that Roger Zelazny’s been quoted a couple times as ascribing to this method of conveying character in his books, and Zelazny does nothing better than introducing characters in one or two sentences that jump off the page and slap you in the face so you remember them.
Hell, this isn’t good advice for gaming, this is good advice for creation of story in general — while I’m tweaking up Hidden Things with some recent input, I think I might boil down some of the characters when they’re introduced and see what happens. A little voice in my head is telling me that most of my characters are introduced with about three details already. I hope that’s true.
I overdetailed Rowena Gower in my Galactic game yesterday… not a lot, but a bit. (Not counting all the ecological evangelizing she did, just facts about her.) Hmm.
Anyway. Really really good rule.


Every time I give up on Capes and say “You know what? I just don’t know if it’s something I’ll enjoy very much,” someone goes and posts some Actual Play that’s just… good.
Not just good story, but something that makes the game itself sound fun and playable and… oh yeah, fun.

Dilemma Play

Another quote from the Fruitful Void thread, and this one is awesome.

Both Narrativism and Gamism strike me as “dilemma” play: if there’s an obvious best answer (morally, for Narrativism; tactically, for Gamism), play dies; the enjoyment is in making difficult choices among equally valid but imperfect options. A Gamist design or scenario that had (explicit or implicit) a single optimal strategy [Doyce: I’m going to mention, as an example, CoH’s design-flaw of 95% of all character ‘need’ the Stamina power pool” as a crappy example] would be the equivalent of a Narrativist game where the designer or GM had already answered the Premise: The only role for the players is to discover the “lesson” and bow down before its wondrousness.

“The enjoyment is in making difficult choices among equally valid but imperfect options.”
Give me a game system that facilitates my ability to do that both tactically AND for the ‘story’, and I am one satisfied guy.*
Dogs does this whole-enchilada thing. Sorcerer does this. I think TSoY does this, but I need to play it more to say.
D20 totally does this for the tactical aspect of it.

Continue reading “Dilemma Play”

We were talking about this a few weeks ago in some other context…

anyway: The Fruitful Void in Game Design

A game design must demand that its human audience reach into it to put it right. A game design must be already tumbling down a hill. How can I make these metaphors into practical design advice?

Let me talk about Forge Lingo for a second. One of the main, most-often-referenced reasons it’s support with the fervor that it is on the Forge and related sites is simply because all those talky talkers had to have a common language so they could spend time talking about what they were trying to do with thier games without arguing about what to call “that thing where we play for a little bit, then roll, then play through the conclusion” (“Fortune in the Middle: all agreed say Aye? Right, moving on.”)
That’s a good reason. I agree with it.
There are certain indie game guys I like a little more than others. Vincent is one of em, and at least in part because he doesn’t use the jargon. Yes, maybe when he’s talking directly to a Forge-grognard and he knows that that’s going to be the best language to help them understand what he’s saying, but when he’s writing to anyone? When he’s writing to anyone, he writes to EVERYONE. To whit:

Everybody who’s talking about the “SIS” needs to say what you really mean instead, please. I’ve hated the term “SIS” since its inception and I don’t think you’re all using it consistently.
There will be no arguments here about the term or its definition. Just stop using it; construct your posts without it.

Construct your posts without it = say what you really mean, and do so clearly.
So if you have an aversion to Forge-speak: this discussion about the Fruitful Void in Games on his site is cool, and it’s not too jargony, and it’s interesting. (It’s also over: having taken place almost a year ago, but it’s damned interesting.)

Smashed flat in the Social Footprint

TonyLB starts a conversation about the Social Footprint inherent in various game and non-game activities — the potential time required to get ready for an activity and then actually do it… including the ‘follow-on’ time required for a continuing activity, like an RPG campaign.
Telling quote here, relevant to the massive dearth of FtF RPG activity around the Casa in the last year and change:

I think when you consider a computer game like World of Warcraft [doyce: insert obvious CoH comparison here], which, technically, has a very small social footprint (sit down, log on, play for half an hour, log off), you can see why it is gobbling up a lot of traditional roleplayers, as traditional rpgs have a very sizeable social footprint, especially if you’re the GM.

Now, purposely-addictive gameplay aside, this is a really great point: one of the best things ABOUT CoH play for me (still true), is that if I have an urge to game on a random Tuesday evening, I can log in, start a mission, beat up some bad guys, finish the mission, and log out… and during that time there is (or was — not so true now) a fairly good chance that I’d be able to chat with a fellow player I knew, and socialize.
That’s fucking hard to compete against in the real world, where even with a lot of players around, it’s hard to just call someone up and say ‘let’s do something’, without warning, and having something to play that’s actually FUN with just you and one other guy. Yes, watch a movie, or tv-on-dvd or something, but that’s passive. Even quick-and-fast Jungle Speed really needs about 4 people, preferably more…
I’m betting that’s why Cataan works so well out in NYC — “I’m bored, let’s do something,” and with three people, you can, and still sort of get your Escapism on.
So the question:
How do you combat that? We mostly have disposable incomes — do we purposefully go out and acquire games like Bang and Cataan and Memoir ’44 and Battlelore in order to have that kind of “small Social Footprint, but appealing” stuff at the ready? I think maybe we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’) do.
And yes, I know we (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘Dave and Margie’) have a lot of party games, but when you’re in the mood to Smash Evil, Turbo Cranium just doesn’t get it done — it doesn’t even sound attractive. Thus the question.

Quote of the Day

“Every game works better when the players trust each other enough to fully get into collaborative retelling of the world. Especially golf.”

Blog tweaking

Yeah, I’m fiddling with the design. I don’t intend to stay with what’s up here right now, but I wante to change what I had, cuz I was sick of it, and picked something bland so I’d be motivated to update it soon.

Measuring specific amounts of Peanut Butter and Chocolate

Okay, I can’t leave this alone yet, so… check it.
Let’s say we want to chart coherently Narrativist games on an x-y axis.
I’m going to arbitrarily make the x-axis the “RPG-ish” axis, and the y-axis the “Story-gamey” axis.
And the scale is… well, because of what I could think of (or crib) for criteria — 0 to 7 on both axis. You have seven criteria you check off for each axis, and that equates directly to the ‘score’ for that axis.
X-Axis: Protagonist-based
[ ] Strong person-to-character ownership
[ ] In-game currency tends to be character-specific
[ ] Story structure is largely focused through character POV.
[ ] Play structure tends toward scene/conflict
[ ] Use of task-resolution, or conflict resolution can ‘break down’ into higher-detail mode
[ ] Adversity mostly provided by one person (GM)
[ ] Limited narration distribution
Y-Axis: Story-based
[ ] Character ownership varies
[ ] In-game currency tends to be whole-group or player-specific
[ ] Story structure is largely focused at narrator-level POV.
[ ] Play structure tends towards “turns”
[ ] Conflict-resolution-based system.
[ ] Adversity-creation is distributed across participants.
[ ] Automatically distributed narration
As an example…

Continue reading “Measuring specific amounts of Peanut Butter and Chocolate”

The common reference point of which all others are but Shadow

You know… all this searching for common language in terms of game-stuff made me realize something else.
I might never play another Amber game the rest of my life, but (at least here, with the people I’m likely to be talking about this stuff with) the Amber setting and NPCs provides an excellent ‘common language’ for example situations of play. 🙂

Building a Barn — group campaign creation

Over in the chocolate/peanut butter post, MT said:

I keep thinking that there are challenges that were made by players (character background, character choices in-game), challenges built by GMs (modules and scenarios, world events), and challenges agreed to by the group as a whole (well, more results-oriented “group agrees that that’s the evolution/eventuality). (And maybe system challenges: random encounters?)

I’m going to challenge the term ‘challenge’ as it’s used in this paragraph. I think ‘conflicts’ or ‘potential conflicts’ might be clearer and speak more to what each participant is bringing to the table. Example: “I hate Corwin” is a potential conflict introduced by character background. So is “I love Deirdre.”
Now, in that example above, the best GM-conflict that I can quickly think of is this: “Dierdre wants you to help Corwin” — and I’m shameless — I would totally hit that sucker like a kid getting to ring the dinner bell. It’s not a module or scenario or a world event, but a crisis-point, packed with significance: no matter what the player chooses to do, including nothing, says something very significant about that character, and expands out like a pebble-ripple to color the tone of the whole game. I think that making up good Bangs is really all the prep you need to do for a lot of character-oriented games.2 They are of much less use in games like Capes, or they look very different.
Now, you can take this further — you might ask all the players to tie themselves into three NPCs from a pre-set list, giving them a relationship to them where something important is at risk; you might ask each player for a ‘super-bang’ of their own devising — something that happens at the beginning of play that takes ‘the way things are’ and makes it impossible to simple ‘continue as i have been’ — there’s lots of ways to get the players to give you more player-authored conflicts or potential conflicts. 3

I think that’s a different (if related by marriage) issue. You talk about rewards. I see you looking at how human intervention (GM/PC) connects to game structure (rule-set, etc.) and the resulting rewards. Are you looking mostly at in-game rewards, or does story=reward? (Or both? Or neither?)

Both. Definitely both, especially for these types of games that we’re discussing.1
I’m just going to make this whole initial post an exercise in ripping off Sorcerer ideas for Amber, aren’t I?
What you might do in Amber is require a player-authored Kicker and give that player a “spend” aftere they resolve that Kicker in play — usually, resolving it means the end to that character’s current ‘arc’, and that makes a good point to reassess and reevaluate (and spend points! Woo!) Then they write up a new Kicker for the next session, and play continues.4
The out of game reward requires a little meta-talk about what the theme is going to be in the game. “Family Loyalty” or “The Worth of a Promise” or “Paying Your Debts” or something. (I’d give you an example from one of my Amber games, but I really can’t — I don’t think we had one.) Once that’s done, and the GM is constructing Bangs that (a) hit those ‘flags’ the players built into their characters and (b) echo back into the agreed-on theme, you get that non-mechanical “dude, cool” moments out of play that equates to a non-game reward.
Footnotes below (so that I can pretend this post isn’t as long as it really is).

Continue reading “Building a Barn — group campaign creation”

In summation…

So… driving home after the Shab al-Hiri Roach game (which I still haven’t written about. :P), I had this simple thought: “there are indie-hippie-narr games that are more like traditional RPGs, and others that are much more ‘story-games’, and I really should be paying attention to which way a new game leans, so I can set expectations with people when I pitch one.”
And I posted my thoughts on that, and … yeah.
We wandered all over the map in that thread — different agendas that different RPGs have, blah blah blah — much more than I’d intended, but all really, I think, very cool and very useful and an excellent kind of common language or points of reference for talking about this stuff.
And best of all, I think it’s something that we developed ourselves (though tinted somewhat with the theory crap I’ve read before), and therefore just that much more relevant and valuable.
Good stuff. Really glad it happened.
Now then…

Continue reading “In summation…”

Chat with Kate (the dirty truth comes out)

me: hi 🙂
    writing big comments.
Kate: i saw some of ’em.
    My eyes glazed over…
me: Yep.
    Half of it is figuring out what I think, honestly.
Kate: but i think you’re a genius!
me: "He has to be smart — everything he says bores me to tears!"
Kate: heh
me: It all boils down to this: I want to be able to tell folks about a game in a way that doesn’t leave them expecting something they don’t get.
Kate: which is a good reason to sort all this out
me: "It’s a fucking cool ass Roleplaying game." means something so very different to each person that hears it.
    Me, versus you, versus Jay, versus Keeley, versus Margie, versus Dave… all very different images just popped into our heads.
    So better language needs to be used, so I dont’ have the worst possible thing happen: someone I care about comes away from the table disappointed and/or frustrated.
Kate: how noble!
me: Nope! 🙂
    I like being able to brag that I ran a kick ass game.
    I can’t do that if someone’s pouty. 🙂
    It’s really all about me
Kate: I see…

Is “subjective fun” redundant, or an oxymoron?

Awhile back, I posted a question up to the story games site, esentially asking seriously, how many sessions have your TSoY games run? Parenthetical to that, but more interesting in the long run, was the question of ‘how many advances per session were your players earning?
The results of that were really interesting, and ranged from “something like 60 advances (bought with 5 xp each) in 8 sessions” to “20 advances, total, over 30 sessions” — the gist of the whole thing being “your group is going to normalize toward what’s most comfortable for them.”
Which… all this debate about what’s an RPG versus a story-game versus gamist, versus narrativist aside… is really the point.
Go. Play.
What your group likes and enjoys will, like a buried zombie that senses the tread of a hapless teenager nearby, rise to the top.

Chocolate with Peanut Butter, or Peanut Butter with Chocolate?

So… after playing the Shab all-Hiri Roach tonight (which was fun and a really good time for all) and discussing Capes in broad terms over the last couple days on my blog with the players in my group, I’ve figured out a significant distinction between different types of games that I think avoids some misconceptions and frustration when introducing or even just discussing a new game with folks.
Of the games I’ve been playing in the last, say… two to three years (not counting d20), there are essentially two types:
1. Roleplaying games that have a ‘story, now’ focus in them (frex: Sorcerer, HeroQuest, The Shadow of Yesterday, Dogs in the Vineyard). By that I mean, you have ‘your guy’, you play them, and story arises from the conflict and Crises of Choice with which they’re faced.
2. Storytelling games, perhaps somewhat descendants of, say, Once Upon a Time or the Baron Munchausen game, that focus on telling a Story, with roleplay as a secondary element, usually as a delivery method of said story. (My Life with Master, Shock:, Bacchanal, Shab al-Hiri Roach, Capes).
It’s not always clear-cut — InSpectres is *probably* in category 2, but it’s such a goofy romp thing — I dunno, it’s hard to say. Primetime Adventures I *think* is in category 1, but it explores the elements of Story so well, it’s again hard to say. I think that certainly there’s a WHOLE range of places a game can fall on a scale — maybe with… say… Capes on one end and super-crunchy Burning Wheel on the other.
And also, with more comfort with a game like the Roach, perhaps the system goes away and the game moves to more RP focus — that said, the Roach structure lends itself more to being aware of said structure… I mean, my perception of SaHR might change with familiarity, but… Capes? Capes isn’t going to. It’s *about* constructing a cool super-heroic story MUCH more than ‘playing your guy’, and I should add that it’s GOOD at that, I think, but it’s not the same thing as, say, Sorcerer.
At all.
Why does this matter?
Well… if I’m aware of that, and I analyze the game from that point of view when I’m first reading it and learning it, and then put that out there with people when I talk about it: “This is a story-telling game. We’ll be doing some roleplaying, but the focus is sort of narrator-level, Baron Munchauseny story-telling with some RP” — if that expectation is SET, you don’t get as much potential frustration from someone who was looking for the cathartic release that comes from killing something and taking its stuff.
I mean, when you’ve got a guy in your group (or you ARE the guy in your group) who wants to play a super-hero guy, beat up some bad guys, maybe make a couple tough moral choices, but essentially play his guy and let the story flow from that… Capes will piss him off. I’m not picking on Capes. Capes is a good game, but it will not be what he was in the mood for — what he wanted. It COULD be, on another day, or when expectations are clearly set ahead of time, but not if they aren’t.
It’s good to know what you’re gonna get, and it’s clear to me (now, finally) that it’s not enough to say it’s a ‘hippie indie/Forge rpg’. There are layers. Nuances. Out and out significant and important differences.

The Princes(ses)’ Kingdom!

Last night, I got to run The Princes’ Kingdom for Katherine. I write about it over on the Forge in [TPK] First-time Princes’ Kingdom, with a six-year-old!
So awesome.

I asked her if she had any traits that would help, and we went down the sheet:
“Would your… Swimming help?”
“Would your…. Karate help?”
“You could kick your teacher in the face.”
“*giggles* Don’t be silly, Uncle Doyce.”
.. and so on.

I can’t stop grinning.

Not this, but that.

Randy and I were talking last night, and I mentioned Capes — parenthetically commenting that it and games like it (which is to say, games with more player authorial input like Amber, Nobilis, Sorcerer, Mortal Coil, TSoY, Galactic, Primetime Adventures, Shab all-Hiri Roach and even FATE, depending on how you run it) appealed to me was because it meant I got to use players’ creativity more in the game or (with the full-on no-GM games like Capes or SaHRoach) I got to flat out be-a-player more.
His reply was “well, you don’t like being a player anyway.”
And… okay, yeah, I do GM a lot, and I’m bad at being a player, but neither of those things are because I don’t LIKE being a player.
1. I like contributing bits of ‘scene’ at a director/author level to stuff that’s going on. In most traditional games (with the exception of Amber/Nobilis and the like, and those are HARDly traditional RPGs, just old) that level of input ability is solely under the control of the GM. If I want to DO that, I have to GM. Period. I can look at Fate or Mortal Coil and say “hey, there are concrete mechanics in place in this otherwise pretty traditional game that give me the ability to do that kind of stuff EVEN WHEN I’M A PLAYER,” and I get tingley in my naughty places.
1a. Giving players this ability scares the shit out of potential GMs that I could be playing with, and it shouldn’t — Amber players have been doing this for years.* Nobilis players have been doing it for (fewer years, but still) years. *I* have been GMing games where the players steer and/or change the story for well over a decade, with progressively more and more freedom to do this and overt acknowledgement that they’re doing it, AND been successful at this, and I am NOT THAT FUCKING SMART. Other people than me can do it. Other people do it all the time.
1b. GMless gaming is such a bogeyman in RPG circles. Why? MOST GAMES in the world do NOT have a “Player Who Does Not Play, But Just Runs Stuff” — games where all the players involved are responsible for understanding the basic rules of the game they’re all playing and, through that understanding a strong social agreement, keeping everyone basically all playing within the same Shared Imaginary Space. It’s not new. It’s not even HARD.
2. I’m a bad player because I don’t get much practice. See 1, above.
Now, I *have* played in some games where (a) i did a good job being a simple player (b) I (mostly) didn’t do any scene imagery contributions (at least not official ones) and (c) I had a good time, consistently, and for long periods. Those are rare.
So… yeah. Partly, i want to run these dirty-hippie-indie games so that someone picks one up and says “hey, I wanna run this.” That’s not the only reason, because I *do* like GMing, but thats part of it. 🙂

Super in a non-supers way

It occured to me a few days ago that I have very very few character City of Heroes or City of Villains that actually fit into the mold of a superhero comic book. Out of the (vast) stable of characters at my disposal, Hang Time, Strategist, and maybe Hyperthermian are the only characters I’ve got that could be dropped into a silver- or modern-age super hero comic with no one noticing. I think one of the reasons those three characters have gotten the lion’s share of my play time and roleplay and fiction-creation (still true, even now when I’ve got a lot of other toons at high-ish levels) is BECAUSE they fit the genre the best.
No great revelation there, but I think it’s interesting none the less.
I wonder if some of those other characters would be more compelling to me in the context of Paragon City if I tweaked their concepts a bit — would ToonX be more playable for me if I altered him to the point where he’d be a good Teen Titan or Avengers fit?

Capes cogitating

So I’ve been (slowly) reading and trying to parse Capes, from Muse of Fire Games. It’s slow going.
… and then I actually went to the site and started going through the Flash Demo of the game. That’s f’in slick, y’all — even if you have no interest in a GM-less supers game, I recommend looking checking it out as (a) a wicked-cool game demo (b) some pretty neat mechanics (c) a wicked-cool g– nevermind. Said that already.
Anyway. Pretty darn neat game.


Over here, one of the Jason’s poses the question “What is your ‘Thing’.”
What he means is… well, he gives examples rather than spelling it out, but the sort of thing that you do with characters to sort of make them feel really comfortable to you.
And it’s weird. I can think of the “thing” for like, everyone I game with. I couldn’t really think of mine.
Like… okay:
Dave tends to gravitate toward support-role characters, generally. Bards. Medics. Fawning, enthusiastic, cat-girl rogues.
Margie likes to have the means to figure things out — by that I mean, the means to acquire all the pieces of the puzzle — or even just most of them — she’ll handle putting them togehter herself. 🙂
Jackie characters are totally secure in their convictions, which leads them into trouble when they encounter other views.
Randy likes to see the oncoming weather forecasts and get people organized in time to batten down all the hatches. (And he likes to be able to get around quickly.)
With Lee and De… I’m not sure I’ve played enough games with them to see patterns.
And I puzzled on mine a bit. In fiction, I explore (repeatedly) the cycle of mourning that surrounds traumatic loss, but I don’t really think I do that with my roleplaying characters. Dunno. Maybe Jacob, at least originally.
Looking at patterns:
I play a lot of face-men types — bards who focus on storytelling; rogues focusing on the con-men aspect coupled with some showy skills; the ‘disguise/infiltration’ expert in a spy game. Maybe that’s my thing, but that feels more like a delivery system than the virus. Hmm.
Okay… taking it further…
I had to play a cleric in one game, so I made him the Boss (at least in his own mind) to give me a means to achieve the face-man fix. In the Champs game I played a long time, my horrible-charisma martial artist still became the team leader — his TV interviews were a delightful horrorshow.
There are very very very few characters I’ve played who weren’t geared to be ‘the one who speaks for the group’ — if not the leader, then at least the diplomat. The ones that weren’t that — I generally didn’t enjoy, long-term. (Though they might have been very very fun, short-term.)
So… what’s your type? (And did I guess right on the one’s I guessed?)

RW Emerson, on MMORPGs

You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), _Journals_ (Oct. 1842)
Heh. Yeah. I’ll take joy.
You know the funny thing about this whole mess with the ‘private’ areas of the Alliance forums being made public? It doesn’t matter to me.
Yeah, I said some not nice things, but I daresay I never said not-nice things to folks that I was, in some OTHER venue, nice to. I might have said things differently if the forums sections had been public, but I would have said the SAME things. If someone out there read something I said, and it made them mad — well, I’m sorry about that, but I’d be astonished if any of it surprised anyone.
I said the same exact thing in January, and I’ll say it again now: I’m not ashamed of anything I said, and (aside from the time I wasted on writing out all that admin crap that just wasn’t worth the time spent) I don’t regret any of it. Period.
And, well, not everyone can say that. There is a lot of stuff up there that the authors are really wishing had never seen the light of day, cuz there just isn’t any way to spin when both of your faces are exposed.

The Aging Gamer

Story Games for Everybody – Designing for the 25-35 Demographic

3) I have disposable income, better than I had at an earlier age, but I need to be more selective with it.
I can spend $50 on a game, or I can spend $50 on a movie or beer. I _know_ I’m going to drink the beer or see the movie. I’m not as surre about the game, no matter what I’d like to have happen.
4)If I can get 4 people together for 4 hours, 2 of them are going to be kibbitzing. It also might only happen once a month.
If we end up playing a game, something had better happen. 4 hours of chargen? I think not. 4 hours of a single combat? It’d better be an epic battle, not two rooms and a couple weedy goblins.

Good stuff, and more good stuff down thread, notably:
1. There’s no point in capping the age range at 35.
2. Related to number 3 above, TIME is just as much if not MORE of a resource allocation problem than money.
3. Chargen shouldn’t take a four hour session… but what if chargen itSELF is fun… what if it’s ALSO play?
Good thinking juice.

Random CoX Character Updates

Haven’t done one of these in awhile, and they will, I don’t doubt, tail off as time goes on. Updates continue here, when necessary.
Hang Time participated in the 4th Shadow Shard TF — the last AV went down with shocking, almost laughable speed, especially considering that he’s the 3-times-harder version of the guy that TPK’d Hype’s team six or seven times. Good group of toons and players. Also moved him into the Storm Knights, which has some in-character reasoning that might be fun to play around with.
Strat hit 35 and picked up some decent AoE defense, finally. Moved him into the Boomtown Saints.
Bear Claws is 28th. I still enjoy playing him a ton, and the core group of the Munchies is all in that same level range, but with shifting and such, I don’t know how much longer the momentum will last. I really really hope we all make it through Croatoa.
Markov’s about five bubbles from a proper travel power (at level 28) — up to this point he’s been making do just fine with Siphon Speed and a plethora of stolen rocket packs, but I’ve almost used up all the fuel on those — I think the last one will sputter out and die right about when I hit 28th. I like the “Invis-stealth-kill boss-end mission” fun of Markov and Slip. Good stuff.
Mister Brightside is at about 14th, but opted to put off a ‘real’ travel power for a few more levels (working on the Stamina chain), since he’s already got a pair of Jump Boots and a rocket pack that should see him through another 4 or 6 levels (the Jump Boots are particularly great — he burns much less fuel getting around, since Superjump is so much faster. I’m really enjoying playing Brightside and Lady Optimism — they’re a good match power-wise and a lot of fun on the Broadcast Channel on Virtue… “They put the ‘personal’ in ‘personal injury.'”
That’s pretty much it, really — I’m doing a lot of gaming prep stuff, and which I might play CoH to blow off some steam after a long day, there’s a lot of other stuff I can do to accomplish the same thing. I enjoy it the most when I use it to spend time with my friends, so doing that is when I tend to log on.
And as for the kind of… quaint uproar amongst the remnants of the Alliance, I’ll thank WIST for this quote:

It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our
power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive.
— C.W. Leadbeater (1846-1934)

Anyone who thinks that that business affected me beyond the time it took to log in a couple characters and switch to different SGs… well, yah don’t know me.
But that fact should be self-evident. 🙂

One frog, squished into two pages

For no particular reason, I decided to see if I could (via harsh editing and severe formatting) squish the Frogger rpg I wrote down to two pages.
Downside: I lose all the great illustrative quotes that kept me chuckling while I wrote the original rules.
Upside: everything is much more concise — I wish I’d done this during the 24-hour time frame, then let it expand back to normal dimensions and more explaining — it would have been better.

This is insanely cool…

Reversed Engineer

The challenge- Design a character sheet. NOT A GAME. Just a character sheet. You have 2 weeks to do this. Everyone may submit a design, but they may only submit 1.
At the end of the two week entrance period the sheets will be randomly distributed to the designers (you will not get your own). Using only the character sheet as a guide, the designers will have an additional 2 weeks to design a game that uses that character sheet.

I’m friggin’ sorry as hell I missed this. I love.. LOVE a good character sheet. 🙂

So where’ve I been for the last 24 hours?

So here’s what happened.
Over on Story-Games, someone posted this:

You played it till your thumbs blistered, now write it up RPG style!
It occurs to me that many people today who browse the 1KM1KT website have only played computer games and have no (or very little) experience with tabletop games.
This 24 Hour RPG contest is about introducing our computer gaming audience to the world of tabletop gaming!
Adapt a computer game into a tabletop RPG in 24 Hours! Any computer game will do: Doom3, PacMan, Zaxxon or World of Warcraft (for the uninspired).
The goal is to breech the gap between hardcore computer gamers and the awesomeness that is tabletop role-playing. Read that: “Try and make your content accessible to new gamers.”
The submissions will be judged by the folks here at and the winner will have their game heralded in our newsletter, bumped to the front page, and will receive a fabulous 1KM1KT fun pack! The fun pack consists of an official 1KM1KT T-shirt and T-shirt packing material! (T-shirt packaging material may present a choking hazard)
The Rules:
1) Games must be based on PC or console style video games.
2) Games must be completed within a continuous 24 hour period.

And I thought:


And I didn’t really think anything of it.
And then I thought:

Maybe X-Com.

And I did, in fact, actually work out about five post-it notes worth of thinking on the X-com idea. Meanwhile, on the original thread, people were talking about some whacked out stuff like Katamari Damacy and stuff like that. One guy took 90 seconds to write up Pong, using two quarters, and I’m sorta looking at the X-com thing and knowing I could never give it the tactical grit that I love in that game, not in a 24 hour span, not really.
And I told Kate about the whole thing, and Kate was like:

Man, you should totally do like… Frogger! Or… ooh! Pitfall. I used to LOOOOVE Pitfall!

And I was like… yeah, heh. Funny. X-com x-com x-com… I even started up my old saved game of X-Com from last year and played a few nights away. Good game.
And then someone in the Story-games thread posted a link to Lifemeter, which is like a site where people draw art based on old console games… and there was This One.
And I thought… damn… office guy… why an office frog?
And then I went and looked at the old art for the side of the Frogger stand-up console. You’ll see what I mean.
And this goddamn game got stuck in my head.

This is the nightmare of modern office life: work that crushes the spirit, office cubicles as cells, and managers as wardens. The office is a dehumanizing environment for the employees – the kind of thing that makes you a cog in the machine – a number. Nothing.
Faced with that, driven to a breaking point, human beings generally do one of two things: create their own petty fiefdoms and delusions of importance… or Get Out.
Frogger is about Getting Out. You remember the artwork on the side of the old Frogger arcade console? (Here’s a hint: look at the picture on the front cover of this game.) A frog, rushing somewhere, vest and tie awry, briefcase in hand. It’s easy to think that he’s imitating the White Rabbit, muttering “I’m late, I’m late…”, except that you know from the game itself that he’s trying to get Home. He’s an office worker, trying to get away, get across all these obstacles, and get to the thing he wants – the thing he needs.
Something happened to our worker bee that made him want to get away from the buzz; something hit that cog and made it slip off.

I grabbed the idea of that little game… and Office Space.
…Falling Down.
…Lost in Translation.
…Harold and Kumar go to White Castle…
And then…
…Shawn of the Dead
…Grosse Pointe Blank
…Road to Perdition.
This is what I ended up with.
Frogger, by Doyce Testerman – 24 Hour RPG submission – 2006

Galactic Playtest, Session One

Played the first ‘real’ session of the Galactic playtest on Saturday. Here’s what happened.
Forgive, please, the extra-super details on who rolled exactly what dice in each conflict — this is a playtest, and the game’s author has asked for lots of detail on how the conflicts balance out. Aside from that, the start of the stories are pretty cool.

I’m feeling Afraid…

Afraid: a new game from Vincent Baker, using the Dogs mechanics, for playing horror. Link is to the playtest docs, which in turn sort of require understanding/owning DitV to get what’s going on, but the final game will be it’s own thing.
Also, Vincent’s just finished up Mechaton, which is a good game for doing battles with mecha built from legos. My only problem with this is that I don’t have legos, but I do have a lot of old battletech minis. Darn.